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How Technology Evolves
series: Invention and Innovation
16 December 2004
George E. Pake Auditorium
New technologies are constructed from components that previously exist. These in turn offer themselves as possible components or building blocks for yet further technologies. For example, in 1912 the amplifier circuit was constructed from the triode vacuum tube in combination with other circuit elements. The amplifier in its turn made possible the oscillator; and this with other components made possible modern radio transmission. Over time, technology bootstraps itself from few building-block elements to many elements and from simple elements to more complicated ones. How does this take place? Just how do complex technologies come into being from primitive ones? I will illustrate my answers using an artificial world within which technology builds itself from itself.
Brian Arthur is a visiting Researcher at PARC, and External Professor at the Santa Fe Institute. He is best known for his pioneering theoretical work on positive feedbacks or increasing returns in the economy-what happens when products that gain market share find it easier to gain further market share-and their role in locking markets in to the domination of one or two players. He is also one of the pioneers of the science of complexity-the science of how patterns and structures self-organize. In 1988 he ran the Santa Fe Institute's first research program and now serves on SFI's Science Board. He is currently writing a book on the nature of technology and innovation.
From 1983 to 1996 Arthur was Morrison Professor of Economics and Population Studies at Stanford. He holds degrees in operations research, economics, mathematics and electrical engineering. In 1990 he won the Schumpeter Prize in Economics. He is a Fellow of the Econometric Society and of the World Economic Forum.
ABOUT THE SERIES ON INVENTION AND INNOVATION: This is the final forum in an 11-forum series of talks all about invention and innovation -- hosted by Mark Stefik. The forums focus on different parts of the "innovation ecology" -- from inventors to VC's, from university settings to corporate research settings, from the here-and-now to big perspectives. Also available on the theme of invention and innovation, Mark and Barbara Stefik's new book, "Breakthrough: Stories and Strategies for Breakthrough Innovation" was published in October, 2004 by the MIT Press.
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