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Leading scientific theorist W. Brian Arthur puts forth the first complete theory of the origins and evolution of technology, in a major work that achieves for the invention of new technologies what Darwin’s theory achieved for the emergence of new species. Brian Arthur is a pioneer of complexity theory and the discoverer of the highly influential "theory of increasing retu Leading scientific theorist W. Brian Arthur puts forth the first complete theory of the origins and evolution of technology, in a major work that achieves for the invention of new technologies what Darwin’s theory achieved for the emergence of new species. Brian Arthur is a pioneer of complexity theory and the discoverer of the highly influential "theory of increasing returns," which took Silicon Valley by storm, famously explaining why some high-tech companies achieve breakaway success. Now, in this long-awaited and ground-breaking book, he solves the great outstanding puzzle of technology—where do transformative new technologies come from?—putting forth the first full theory of how new technologies emerge and offering a definitive answer to the mystery of why some cultures—Silicon Valley, Cambridge, England in the 1920s—are so extraordinarily inventive. He has discovered that rather than springing from insight moments of individual genius, new technologies arise in a process akin to evolution. Technology evolves by creating itself out of itself, much as a coral reef builds itself from activities of small organisms. Drawing on a wealth of examples, from the most ancient to cutting-edge inventions of today, Arthur takes readers on a delightful intellectual journey, bringing to life the wonders of this process of technological evolution. The Nature of Technology is the work of one of our greatest thinkers at the top of his game, composing a classic for our times that is sure to generate wide acclaim.


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Leading scientific theorist W. Brian Arthur puts forth the first complete theory of the origins and evolution of technology, in a major work that achieves for the invention of new technologies what Darwin’s theory achieved for the emergence of new species. Brian Arthur is a pioneer of complexity theory and the discoverer of the highly influential "theory of increasing retu Leading scientific theorist W. Brian Arthur puts forth the first complete theory of the origins and evolution of technology, in a major work that achieves for the invention of new technologies what Darwin’s theory achieved for the emergence of new species. Brian Arthur is a pioneer of complexity theory and the discoverer of the highly influential "theory of increasing returns," which took Silicon Valley by storm, famously explaining why some high-tech companies achieve breakaway success. Now, in this long-awaited and ground-breaking book, he solves the great outstanding puzzle of technology—where do transformative new technologies come from?—putting forth the first full theory of how new technologies emerge and offering a definitive answer to the mystery of why some cultures—Silicon Valley, Cambridge, England in the 1920s—are so extraordinarily inventive. He has discovered that rather than springing from insight moments of individual genius, new technologies arise in a process akin to evolution. Technology evolves by creating itself out of itself, much as a coral reef builds itself from activities of small organisms. Drawing on a wealth of examples, from the most ancient to cutting-edge inventions of today, Arthur takes readers on a delightful intellectual journey, bringing to life the wonders of this process of technological evolution. The Nature of Technology is the work of one of our greatest thinkers at the top of his game, composing a classic for our times that is sure to generate wide acclaim.

30 review for The Nature of Technology: What It Is and How It Evolves

  1. 4 out of 5

    Michael Quinn

    This book is nothing short of a classic, even though most readers are going to find this a little too dense and dry. It lays out a comprehensive analysis of the structure, development and economic effects of technology, a field that is almost entirely overlooked. This makes its mandatory reading for scientists, engineers and economists who want a broader, systematic view of the field. Highlights include an explanation of combinatorial evolution (instead of evolution by selection, which is what we This book is nothing short of a classic, even though most readers are going to find this a little too dense and dry. It lays out a comprehensive analysis of the structure, development and economic effects of technology, a field that is almost entirely overlooked. This makes its mandatory reading for scientists, engineers and economists who want a broader, systematic view of the field. Highlights include an explanation of combinatorial evolution (instead of evolution by selection, which is what we see in nature), the recursive structure of technologies (any technology is compose of smaller technologies), self-generated transformation (each technology presents solutions to problems and new problems, which will require more technological growth to solve), the growth of technological compartmentalization and complexity (individual solutions to problems in the technology require technological solutions), and the technological skeleton of the economy. Arthur's writing style is straightforward and to-the-point, and he does an admirable job making the book accessible without sacrificing substance. Short anecdotes (on things like the development of the maser and the jet engine) help illustrate abstract subjects. Fortunately, they are always brief and do not distract from the book's underlying thesis. For people who get frustrated by the journalistic style of reporting history through personal stories (myself included), this makes the book a breath of fresh air.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Hong

    Questions that this book addresses: - Why technologies get complicated as it progresses? - Will the development of technology slows down in the future? - Why innovations of a field tends to be highly concentrated geographically? - How do inventions come about? - Why does technological developments explode in recent years? How do I like it? - Concisely written. Often times, general statements are made, forcing readers to think of an example to fit in. This could be fun, and occasionally confusing. - Idea Questions that this book addresses: - Why technologies get complicated as it progresses? - Will the development of technology slows down in the future? - Why innovations of a field tends to be highly concentrated geographically? - How do inventions come about? - Why does technological developments explode in recent years? How do I like it? - Concisely written. Often times, general statements are made, forcing readers to think of an example to fit in. This could be fun, and occasionally confusing. - Ideas are explicitly expressed in a straightforward manner, which I like. - Sometimes the given examples are too brief. In particular, including interviews with scientist who invented things could be useful. - This book points to the phenomena I have been thinking but haven't put into an organized thought.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Ken Liu

    A brilliant, brilliant book. Changed the way I think about technology.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Paul Hartzog

    As a scholar of both technology and complex systems, I offer this in-depth review. This book has some good points towards the end, but it took me a long time to finish it (weeks rather than days) because it just wasn't interesting going along. Brian Arthur's work is great, and you know that he really thought his topic through, but it just doesn't come through in the text. A few things are illustrative here: First, a key part of Arthur's conclusion is that simply recombining many small parts doesn't As a scholar of both technology and complex systems, I offer this in-depth review. This book has some good points towards the end, but it took me a long time to finish it (weeks rather than days) because it just wasn't interesting going along. Brian Arthur's work is great, and you know that he really thought his topic through, but it just doesn't come through in the text. A few things are illustrative here: First, a key part of Arthur's conclusion is that simply recombining many small parts doesn't lead to the production of highly complex assemblies because the state-space is just too large. However, creating sub-assemblies, and then combining THOSE, in several stages of punctuated equilibria, DOES get you to richer more complex assemblies later. Somehow, the stages either reduce the state-space or make it faster to sweep. This is not too far off from what Stuart Kauffman has said about recombining proteins and auto-catalysis. Arthur seems to be witnessing auto-catalysis in technological evolution as well. But he just isn't very good at explaining that. He talks about these as technology "avalanches" and if you know the field then you also know why -- because of Per Bak's work on self-organized criticality and avalanches in sandpiles. But Arthur doesn't tell you that. In fact, he doesn't talk about self-organized criticality at all. Ultimately, he has an important point that he wants to get to, and he does get there. He notes how it took 40 years for new technology to replace steam engines in factories -- not because humans needed to adapt to the new technology, but the opposite: because the technology needed to adapt to human needs. (In this case, they had to redesign the very architecture of factories and workers). This enables him to get to what I think is the thing he actually cares about saying, namely that we need to make choices about using our technology in humanizing ways. Nevertheless, the most interesting things get only an offhand mention, even though you KNOW that he knows these things in more depth. For example, he says that the change from wooden frames to metal frames totally changed the way airplanes had to be designed. And that's it. Nothing more. Perhaps it is the publisher's influence but on the whole the book feels like Arthur had something really intricate and complex to convey, but the substantive material was left out so the book could have a wider appeal. It didn't work. The end result is a book that is too hard for the general reader, and not interesting enough for a serious student of the topic. Alas.

  5. 4 out of 5

    May Ling

    Summary: The book can be great depending on your purpose in reading it. It actually addresses the nature and evolution of technology. It is not going to tell you how to do it, mostly b/c if you read how he's thinking about evolution, that's not how it gets done. I agree so rounded up from 4.5 to 5. Those that wrote slightly more negative views wanted more meat and application. Beginning point of view is everything when people pick up a piece and have expectations. I instead, read the title and und Summary: The book can be great depending on your purpose in reading it. It actually addresses the nature and evolution of technology. It is not going to tell you how to do it, mostly b/c if you read how he's thinking about evolution, that's not how it gets done. I agree so rounded up from 4.5 to 5. Those that wrote slightly more negative views wanted more meat and application. Beginning point of view is everything when people pick up a piece and have expectations. I instead, read the title and understood it as Arthur did, i.e. what is technology exactly. In that regard, the book addresses the topic correctly. It's not machines and devices and if you think of it this way, you will not be particularly good at tech, applying it in complex situations, or innovating effectively (I'm drawing the implied conclusion, he does not say that). P. 12 "This book is not about the benefits or evils of technology, there are other books that look at these. It is an attempt to understand this thing that creates so much of our world and causes us so much unconscious unease." This sentence is quite important. He's trying to fit the concept of technology into something that is more approachable.If you read the book in a different way, then I think you won't like it. P. 19 He introduces this combination concept, but he's adding in his def of technology all "new ways of doing things." Technology is a combination of new ways of doing things, in other words. P. 21 He talks about the fact he's going to address what I call the tech clustering effect or his word: Combinatorial Evolution. This is the main idea for those who reviewed and had a tougher time. P. 53 Up until this point he's trying to drive to a concept of technology outside of devices. Here he states "A technology is an orchestration of phenomena to our use." This then implies a host of things, i.e. "our use" that are further addressed. P. 100 Ultimately he leads to this concept "Design is a matter of choosing solutions." This is great, b/c I hear every single other thing sometimes when working with people on what they think UI design is (aesthetics, modernity, etc) none of that matters if it doesn't create a solution. Similarly, a lot of people will hypothesize about what they want to do within tech and how to do it, i.e. scrum agile, etc... how about you just create an actual prototype and we can have a real conversation about whether you're anywhere near solving my problem or just creating more problems for me. p. 115 "At the creative heart of invention lies appropriation, some part of mental borrowing that comes in the form of a half-conscious suggestion." This is great and also where some were let down. I think people would have liked for him to go further in how to systematically do this. I already have my own approach to this, so I was very cool with just borrowing how he's articulating himself. p. 174-176 - The idea that technology creates a need for more technology is important and relevant. But he does this concept in a slightly different way. Many love to think of clustering with a particular one at the front. Instead, this one is attempting to describe in a more interactive with the environment way. My regurgitation of his concept is most will say, the internet created a host of possibilities. He's not saying that. He's saying, the internet was created. It was the natural evolution of a problem one was trying to solve. That this was solved resulted in a different picture. From this picture other stuff was then postulated to be interesting to address. This is the evolution of needs. I dig it. P. 204 - "Novel technologies are created out of building blocks that are themselves technologies, and become potential building blocks for the construction of further new technologies." I think this was where he was ultimately criticized. I however am cool with this b/c I think as we continue forward past this decade to next, it will be more obvious he's right. I think at the time of the book in 2010, there less sub-tools that existed. Now there are even micro-tools designed to facilitate parts. Over all, I'm a fan.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Michael Burnam-Fink

    I first read this book in 2010, the summer before I started a PhD in science and technology studies. I remember picking it up at Kramerbooks in Dupont Circle, grabbing a beer at Afterwords, and then staying up all night reading it. Since then, I've read countless pages and megabytes of theory and history about technology, innovation, and the entanglements of politics and things. If anything, The Nature of Technology holds up even better than it did then. Arthur offers a simple, yet powerful, mode I first read this book in 2010, the summer before I started a PhD in science and technology studies. I remember picking it up at Kramerbooks in Dupont Circle, grabbing a beer at Afterwords, and then staying up all night reading it. Since then, I've read countless pages and megabytes of theory and history about technology, innovation, and the entanglements of politics and things. If anything, The Nature of Technology holds up even better than it did then. Arthur offers a simple, yet powerful, model for understanding technology. A technology is one or more physical phenomenon captured to fulfill human needs. Technologies exhibit modular structure, from the literal nuts and bolts that fasten sub-units together, to a global transportation system that lets you airmail a package from Washington to Ulan Bator with a simple address. Physical principles are like veins of ore in the Earth, exposed and made ready for use by science, and grouped into domains by similarity (the electrical phenomenon, the thermal phenomenon, etc). Engineers gain fluency in the design principles of a domain, which they use to extend the range and power of technology. Innovation is based around combinatorial evolution, a statement backed up by experiments on circuit design using genetic algorithms and NAND gates. Technologies become instantiated in modules, which are hooked up in different configurations. Innovation is accelerating, because modules are cheaper and easier to connect than before. Gradual evolution is punctuated by transitions to new domains, radical redefinition of technology that blow past previous limits, once the initial bugs are worked out. There is some fuzziness around the nature of domains, and the links between science and technology, and the actual structure of innovation, but Arthur gets closer to capturing these processes on paper than other writer that I know.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Alexander

    I felt W. Brian Arthur's book highlighted an underlying axiom that I find true: great things, material or incorporeal, are built from smaller things and are not spontaneously synthesized from nothing, but are sub-creations formed from observations of our existing environment. That is a wordy way of saying I fell in love with this book because the ideas it presented rang true to me. W. Brian Arthur presents his ideas intelligently and comprehensively. He used examples that clarified more complica I felt W. Brian Arthur's book highlighted an underlying axiom that I find true: great things, material or incorporeal, are built from smaller things and are not spontaneously synthesized from nothing, but are sub-creations formed from observations of our existing environment. That is a wordy way of saying I fell in love with this book because the ideas it presented rang true to me. W. Brian Arthur presents his ideas intelligently and comprehensively. He used examples that clarified more complicated ideas and still allowed moments for the reader to apply their own examples. He explains why technology exist (to exploit a natural phenomenon in order to achieve a goal) and what technology is (a combination of components which are themselves smaller technologies). Then goes on the describe how it evolves. So long as your not expecting a text book on the subject, or a taxonomy of technology for dummies, then I think you will find this book an insightful and dare I say, fun read.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Rajesh Kandaswamy

    Excellent book that gives a framework on what technology is, what it consists of and how it evolves. Lucid writing.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Jeff

    Brian Arthur is one of the most insightful thinkers about the nature of technology and business, and this book adds to his reputation. He made the conscious choice to aim it towards business readers rather than academics, but it combines the rigor of academic research with the accessibility of mainstream business books. Arthur provides a useful framework and vocabulary for describing aspects of technological change that may appear obvious but have tremendous subtlety and powerful implications.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Sarah

    Surprisingly insightful and meaningful. Arthur frames and explores our current technology systems, which is really an exploration of human creativity and the systems, institutions, and environments that cultivate innovation.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Laurent Franckx

    Brian W Arthur is rightly famous for his insight that network effects combined with increasing returns to scale can lead to monopolies where the winner is determined by accidents of history rather than by the superiority of his products (think of VHS versus Betamax) - an insight that explains pretty much all the antitrust issues that tech has confronted us with over the last decades. In this book, he sets out to explain the fundamental nature of technology - and, this time, I am not convinced at Brian W Arthur is rightly famous for his insight that network effects combined with increasing returns to scale can lead to monopolies where the winner is determined by accidents of history rather than by the superiority of his products (think of VHS versus Betamax) - an insight that explains pretty much all the antitrust issues that tech has confronted us with over the last decades. In this book, he sets out to explain the fundamental nature of technology - and, this time, I am not convinced at all. The book is so abstract and difficult to read that one almost forgets in the process of reading what it is about - let alone that you understand what those insights really are, or how they are practically relevant. Arthur theorizes and theorizes for dozens of pages in a row, with only an occasional example to illustrate his point - which is bit of a pity, given that the examples are sometimes really interesting. Usually, I complain that books are too long - for once, this is a book that should have contained more, many more, examples. Or that should have been limited to the introduction and the conclusion.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Roberto Rigolin F Lopes

    We are in 2009, Arthur is discussing the isomorphisms between the evolution of technologies and the evolution of living things like yourself. He starts with the provocative hypothesis that, in essence, technologies are alive and getting closer and closer to biological systems. If that is the case, kudos for Dawkins who said that evolution is the greatest show on earth, the only game in town. Thrilling. We are alive and evolving. Evolving using technology. By consequence, technology is speeding u We are in 2009, Arthur is discussing the isomorphisms between the evolution of technologies and the evolution of living things like yourself. He starts with the provocative hypothesis that, in essence, technologies are alive and getting closer and closer to biological systems. If that is the case, kudos for Dawkins who said that evolution is the greatest show on earth, the only game in town. Thrilling. We are alive and evolving. Evolving using technology. By consequence, technology is speeding up our evolution. So, we evolve technology to evolve ourselves in a recursive loop. It is symbiosis! And Arthur did a great job knitting everything together.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Jimt43

    this should have been a great book. The chance to give a taxonomy of technology is something that the world really needs. I quit on this book at about the page 27 mark. Maybe I will pick it up again sometime...

  14. 4 out of 5

    Jimmy Ele

    Clear, logical, succinct, and well organized, "The Nature of Technology" was an intellectual treat to read. I loved it for it's deep insight into Technology. The blueprint for the book is summed up perfectly with the following quote: "My plan is to start from a completely blank state, taking nothing about technology for granted. I will build the argument piece by piece from three fundamental principles. The first will be the one I have been talking about: that technologies, all technologies, are Clear, logical, succinct, and well organized, "The Nature of Technology" was an intellectual treat to read. I loved it for it's deep insight into Technology. The blueprint for the book is summed up perfectly with the following quote: "My plan is to start from a completely blank state, taking nothing about technology for granted. I will build the argument piece by piece from three fundamental principles. The first will be the one I have been talking about: that technologies, all technologies, are combinations. This simply means that individual technologies are constructed or put together-combined-from components or assemblies or subsystems at hand. The second will be that each component of technology is itself in miniature a technology. This sounds odd and I will have to justify it, but for now think of it as meaning that because components carry out specific purposes just as overall technologies do, they too qualify as technologies. And the third fundamental principle will be that all technologies harness and exploit some effect or phenomenon, usually several.” W. Brian Arthur reveals to us the essence of Technology with the next quote: “The Essence of Technology" "We now have a more direct description of technology than saying it is a means to a purpose. A technology is a phenomenon captured and put to use. Or more accurately I should say it is a collection of phenomena captured and put to use. I use the word "captured" here, but many other words would do as well. I could say the phenomenon is harnessed, seized, secured, used, employed, taken advantage of, or exploited for some purpose. To my mind though, "captured and put to use" states what I mean the best.” W. Brian Arthur then goes on to show us how “Technology builds from harnessing phenomena largely uncovered by science. And equally science builds from technology-or, better to say, forms from its technologies-from the use of the instruments and methods and experiments it develops. Science and technology co-evolve in a symbiotic relationship. Each takes part in the continued creation of the other, and as it does, takes in, digests, and uses the other; and in so doing becomes thoroughly intermingled with the other. The two cannot be separated, they rely completely on one another. Science is necessary to uncover and understand deeply buried phenomena, and technology is necessary to advance science.” Arthur's deep analysis that technology shapes science and science shapes technology is defended well and is extended to the idea that eras do not create technology, but that technology creates the era: “An era does not just create technology. Technology creates the era. And so the history of technology is not just the chronicle of individual discoveries and individual technologies: the printing press, the steam engine, the Bessemer process, radio, the computer. It is also the chronicle of epochs-whole periods-that are defined by how their purposes are put together.” My favorite parts of the book were when W. Brian Arthur describes technology as having a "grammar" and goes so far as to compare technology to poetry or a Mahler symphony. “In fact, just as articulate expression within a spoken language depends on more than mere grammar (it depends upon deep knowledge of the words in the language and their cultural associations), so too articulate expression in technology depends on more than grammar alone. Articulate utterance in technology requires deep knowledge of the domain in question: a fluency in the vocabulary of components used; a familiarity with standard modules, previous designs, standard materials, fastening technologies; a "knowingness" of what is natural and accepted in the culture of that domain. Intuitive knowledge, cross communication, feeling, past use, imagination, taste-all these count.” "Good design in fact is like good poetry. Not in any sense of sublimity, but in the sheer rightness of choice from the many possible for each part. Each part must fit tightly, must work accurately, must conform to the interaction of the rest. The beauty in good design is that of appropriateness, of least effort for what is achieved. It derives from a feeling that all that is in place is properly in place, that not a piece can be rearranged, that nothing is to excess. Beauty in technology does not quite require originality. In technology both form and phrases are heavily borrowed from other utterances, so in this sense we could say that, ironically, design works by combining and manipulating cliches. Still, a beautiful design always contains some unexpected combination that shocks us with its appropriateness.” “In technology, as in writing or speech-or haute cuisine-there are varying degrees of fluency, of articulateness, of self-expression. A beginning practitioner in architecture, like a beginner at a foreign language, will use the same base combinations-the same phrases-over and over, even if not quite appropriate. A practiced architect, steeped in the art of the domain, will have discarded any notion of the grammar as pure rules, and will use instead an intuitive knowledge of what fits together. And a true master will push the envelope, will write poetry in the domain, will leave his or her "signature" in the habit-combinations used.” “A Mahler symphony is normally just an aesthetic experience, and a software company is normally just an organization. But we should remember that these too are "technologies" if we choose to see them this way. Mahler is very deliberately "programming" phenomena in our brains. To be specific he is arranging to set up responses in our cochlear nuclei, brain stems, cerebellums, and auditory cortices. At least in this sense Mahler is an engineer.” W. Brian Arthur also brilliantly compares the building of proofs on the foundations of theorems in mathematics and the building of science on the foundations of truths, to the building of technology: "What about origination in mathematics? This is also a linking, but this time of what needs to be demonstrated-usually a theorem-to certain conceptual forms or principles that will together construct the demonstration. Think of a theorem as a carefully constructed logical argument. It is valid if it can be constructed under accepted logical rules from other valid components of mathematics-other theorems, definitions, and lemmas that form the available parts and assemblies in mathematics. Typically the mathematcian "sees" or struggles to see one or two overarching principles: conceptual ideas that if provable provide the overall route to a solution. To be proved, these must be constructed from other accepted subprinciples or theorems. Each part moves the argument part of the way. Andrew Wiles' proof of Fermat's theorem uses as its base principle a conjecture by the Japanese mathematicians Taniyama and Shimura that connects two main structures he needs, modular forms and elliptic equations. To prove this conjecture and link the components of the argument, Wiles uses many subprinciples. "You turn to a page and there's a brief appearance of some fundamental theorem by Deligne," says mathematician Kenneth Ribet, "and then you turn to another page and in some incidental way there's a theorem by Hellegouarch-all of these things are just called into play and used for a moment before going on to the next idea." The whole is a concatenation of principles-conceptual ideas-architected together to achieve the purpose. And each component principle, or theorem, derives from some earlier concatenation. Each, as with technology, provides some generic functionality-some key piece of the argument-used in the overall structure. That origination in science or in mathematics is not fundamentally different from that in technology should not be surprising. The correspondences exist not because science and mathematics are the same as technology. They exist because all three are purposed systems-means to purposes, broadly interpreted-and therefore must follow the same logic. All three are constructed from forms or principles: in the case of technology, conceptual methods; in the case of science, explanatory structures; in the case of mathematics, truth structures consistent with basic axioms. Technology, scientific explanation, and mathematics therefore come into being via similar types of heuristic process-fundamentally a linking between a problem and the forms that will satisfy it.” Of course all is not similar between technology and language, or poetry, music, and mathematics; there are other differences between building using these mediums as an act of expression and building using technology as an act of expression. The following quotes sum up the difficulties in using technology as an act of expression: “Mastery in a technology in fact is difficult to achieve because a technology grammar, unlike a linguistic one, changes rapidly. Technology grammars are primitive and dimly perceived at first; they deepen as the base knowledge that comprises them grows; and they evolve as new combinations that work well are discovered and as the daily use of working designs reveals difficulties. There is never closure to them. As a result, even adepts can never fully keep up with all the principles of combination in their domain. One result of this heavy investment in a domain is that a designer rarely puts a technology together from considerations of all domains available. The artist adapts himself, Paul Klee said, to the contents of his paintbox. "The painter...does not fit the paints to the world. He fits himself to the paint." As in art, so in technology. Designers construct from the domains they know.” The engineer expresses himself through his design just as much as the writer, poet, painter, and musician express themselves through their design. The difference is that the nuances within the technology being built can not be appreciated by every man. This is because the paintbox/toolkit used by engineers to create their designs is steeped in arcane technologies. One must be inducted through higher degrees of knowledge and technical expertise to reach a higher sense of admiration and wonder. The book ends brilliantly comparing how technologies arise and become a dominating guiding force for economies as well as societies as a whole, and then also how technologies experience cataclysmic extinctions through the adoption of more superior technologies (or the uncovering of the workings of some new phenomena). “When we examined the detailed history of the evolution, we found large gaps of time in which little happened at all. Then we saw the sudden appearance of a key circuit (an enabling technology) and quick use of this for further technologies. A full adder circuit might appear after say 32,000 steps; and 2-,3-,and 4-bit adders fairly quickly after that. In other words, we found periods of quiescence, followed by miniature "Cambrian explosions" of rapid evolution. We also found, not surprisingly, that the evolution was history dependent. In different runs of the experiment the same simple technologies would emerge, but in a different sequence. Because more complicated technologies are constructed from simpler ones, they would often be put together from different building blocks. (If bronze appears before iron in the real world, many artifacts are made of bronze; if iron appears before bronze, the same artifacts would be made of iron.) We also found that some complex needs for circuits such as adders or comparators with many inputs-different ones each time-would not be fulfilled at all. And we found avalanches of destruction. Superior technologies replaced previously functioning ones. And this meant that circuits used only for these now obsolete technologies were themselves no longer needed, and so these in turn were replaced. This yielded avalanches we could study and measure. In these ways we were able to examine the evolution of technology in action, and it bore out the story I gave earlier in this chapter.” W. Brian Arthur then concludes the book with deep insight into the merging of technology and biology. All the while giving praise to the cell by stating that “No engineering technology is remotely as complicated in its workings as the cell.” and that: "Conceptually at least, biology is becoming technology. And physically, technology is becoming biology. The two are starting to close on each other, and indeed as we move deeper into genomics and nanotechnology, more than this, they are starting to intermingle." In conclusion I have decided to give this book its proper dues by awarding it a well deserved 5 star rating. My mind has been expanded as to the Nature of Technology and I will never look at technology in the same way again. I will instead see it by the revealing light that this book has so graciously bestowed upon the idea of technology. Furthermore, what else could you rate a book that ends with an example from Star Wars? “In the movie Star Wars, the malign aspect of technology is the Death Star. It is an object huge and disconnected from humanness that reduces its clients to clones-recognizably human, but all identically in thrall to the machine, all drained of color and drained of will. Its protagonist, Darth Vader, is not a full human being either. He is constructed-part technology, part human body. The heroes, Luke Skywalker and Han Solo, by contrast are fully human. They have individuality, they have will, and they hang with creatures in a haunt called the Mos Eisley Cantina-creatures that are strange, distorted, and perverse, but that brim with messy vitality. If you look at the heroes, they have technology as well. But their technology is different. It is not hidden and dehumanizing; their starships are rickety and organic and have to be kicked to get running. This is crucial. Their technology is human. It is an extension of their natures, fallible, human, individual, and therefore beneficent. They have not traded their humanness for technology, nor surrendered their will to technology. Technology has surrendered to them. And in doing so it extends their naturalness.”

  15. 4 out of 5

    Grace

    I managed to get through about 2/3s before throwing in the towel. Here's a basic summary, so you don't have to drag yourself through this horribly dry book: -Technology can be enormous amalgamations of several small technologies (such as a bridge) or the smallest possible pieces of such amalgamations -Ideas and processes can be technologies -Sudden inventions of entirely new technologies rarely happen, and arguably never So yeah, I wouldn't say that The Nature of Technology is an enjoyable read. The I managed to get through about 2/3s before throwing in the towel. Here's a basic summary, so you don't have to drag yourself through this horribly dry book: -Technology can be enormous amalgamations of several small technologies (such as a bridge) or the smallest possible pieces of such amalgamations -Ideas and processes can be technologies -Sudden inventions of entirely new technologies rarely happen, and arguably never So yeah, I wouldn't say that The Nature of Technology is an enjoyable read. The examples used are very specific and definition-heavy; the background information required to actually understand what the author is trying to convey is just something that I don't have. But even if I were more educated about the topic, I might have just found this to be interesting, at the very least. While there is a buildup to his main point, there was a lot of hem-hawing around and a confusing chapter order.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Jesse

    One of my favorite books. It carefully defines complex concepts such as technology, science, engineering, and innovation, and continues to explain how these concepts are related. I found many insightful perspectives on these concepts. But by far my favorite is the perspective on how technology relates to nature. Instead of a dichotomy between the natural and the artificial, technology can be seen as a systematic, and increasingly complex orchestration of natural phenomena to fulfill human needs. One of my favorite books. It carefully defines complex concepts such as technology, science, engineering, and innovation, and continues to explain how these concepts are related. I found many insightful perspectives on these concepts. But by far my favorite is the perspective on how technology relates to nature. Instead of a dichotomy between the natural and the artificial, technology can be seen as a systematic, and increasingly complex orchestration of natural phenomena to fulfill human needs. Technology is deeply rooted in nature and its curious behavior. Reading this makes me proud to be an engineer and scientist, and eager to find out more about how things work. Let's continue building great things for people.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Gary Cohen

    This is a very academic book. The premise is very interesting and I did hear the author speak back in 2012. However, the narrative is much longer and deeper than it needs to be from my lay perspective. I thought the two best things I got from the book were: 1. Technology builds on top of each other (which I guess is intuitive, but still an important concept) 2. The author's chapter on Structural Deepening explains the lifecycle of certain technologies, from initial appearance to internal replacemen This is a very academic book. The premise is very interesting and I did hear the author speak back in 2012. However, the narrative is much longer and deeper than it needs to be from my lay perspective. I thought the two best things I got from the book were: 1. Technology builds on top of each other (which I guess is intuitive, but still an important concept) 2. The author's chapter on Structural Deepening explains the lifecycle of certain technologies, from initial appearance to internal replacement to structural deepening to lock-in and adaptive stretch to the emergence of a replacement technology. I am not an academic, so I was reading the book just out of high level interest in the concept. If you are looking for a very detailed treatment of the question about how to look at the cycle of technological development from an academic view, this is a good book to read.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Nico Janow

    I found it too dry to be enjoyable. Maybe it contains insights of value to scholars who sit around discussing these issues in detail, but I'm not of that level, so I don't know. I did finish it, but I can't remember any of the details, so it's a failure in that respect. I was surprised that he didn't mention one particular aspect of the evolution of technology: that the human mind creates many ideas (mutations or cross-breeding of existing ideas), and most of them don't survive for further consid I found it too dry to be enjoyable. Maybe it contains insights of value to scholars who sit around discussing these issues in detail, but I'm not of that level, so I don't know. I did finish it, but I can't remember any of the details, so it's a failure in that respect. I was surprised that he didn't mention one particular aspect of the evolution of technology: that the human mind creates many ideas (mutations or cross-breeding of existing ideas), and most of them don't survive for further consideration.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Diego

    W. Brian Arthur Ingeniero, Economista y uno de los tecnologos más importantes del mundo ofrece una interpretación brillante del rol de la tecnología, la ciencia, la innovación y su juego dentro de la economía. La mejor reseña de su libro la ofrece él mismo en el capitulo 11 del mismo: "Theories start with general propositions or principles, and we started with three: that all technologies are combinations of elements; that these elements themselves are technologies; and that all technologies use W. Brian Arthur Ingeniero, Economista y uno de los tecnologos más importantes del mundo ofrece una interpretación brillante del rol de la tecnología, la ciencia, la innovación y su juego dentro de la economía. La mejor reseña de su libro la ofrece él mismo en el capitulo 11 del mismo: "Theories start with general propositions or principles, and we started with three: that all technologies are combinations of elements; that these elements themselves are technologies; and that all technologies use phenomena to some purpose. This third principle in particular told us that in its essence, technology is a programming of nature. It is a capturing of phenomena and a harnessing of these to human purposes. An individual technology “programs” many phenomena; it orchestrates these to achieve a particular purpose. Once new technologies, individual ones, exist they become potential building blocks for the construction of further new technologies. The result is a form of evolution, combinatorial evolution, whose base mechanism differs from the standard Darwinian one. Novel technologies are created out of building blocks that are themselves technologies, and become potential building blocks for the construction of further new technologies. Feeding this evolution is the progressive capturing and harnessing of novel phenomena, but this requires existing technologies both for the capturing and the harnessing. From these last two statements we can say that technology creates itself out of itself. In this way the collection of mechanical arts that are available to a culture bootstraps itself upward from few building-block elements to many, and from simple elements to more complicated ones. This form of evolution appears simple. But as with Darwinian evolution it is not; there are many details and mechanisms. The central mechanism is of course the one by which radically novel technologies originate. New “species” in technology arise by linking some need with some effect (or effects) that can fulfill it. This linking is a process, a lengthy one of envisioning a concept—the idea of a set of effects in action—and finding a combination of components and assemblies that will make the concept possible. The process is recursive. Getting a concept to work brings up problems, and the potential solution of these brings up further subproblems. The process goes back and forth between problems and solutions at different levels before it is complete. Combination, putting together suitable parts and functionalities mentally or physically to form a solution, is at the heart of this. But it is not the only force driving technology’s evolution. The other one is need, the deneeds for novel ways of doing things. And needs themselves derive more from technology itself than directly from human wants; they derive in the main from limitations encountered and problems engendered by technologies themselves. These must be solved by still further technologies, so that with technology need follows solution as much as solution follows need. Combinatorial evolution is every bit as much about the buildout of needs as about solutions to these. The overall process by which all this happens is neither uniform nor smooth. At all times, the collective of technology is evolving by adding and dropping technologies, by creating opportunity niches for further technologies, and by uncovering novel phenomena. Bodies of technology are evolving too, in the narrower sense of continual development: they emerge, constantly change the “vocabularies” they provide, and are absorbed into the economy’s industries. And individual technologies are evolving—developing—too. To deliver better performance, they continually change their internal parts and add more complex assemblies. The result is a constant roiling at all levels. At all levels new combinations appear, new technologies are added, and old ones disappear. In this way technology constantly explores into the unknown, constantly creates further solutions and further needs, and along with this, perpetual novelty. The process is organic: the new layers form on top of the old, and creations and replacements overlap in time. In its collective sense, technology is not merely a catalog of individual parts. It is a metabolic chemistry, an almost limitless collective of entities that interact and build from what is there to produce new entities—and further needs. The economy directs and mediates all this. It signals needs, tests ideas for commercial viability, and provides demands for new versions of technologies. But it is not a simple receptor of technology, not a machine that receives upgrades to its parts every so often. The economy is an expression of its technologies. Its skeletal structure consists in a mutually supporting set of arrangements—businesses, means of production, institutions, and organizations—that are themselves technologies in the broad sense. Around these the activities and actions of commerce take place. These “arrangements” create opportunities for further “arrangements,” and the sequence by which they follow one another constitutes structural change in the economy. The resulting economy inherits all the qualities of its technologies. It too, on a long-term scale, seethes with change. And like technology, it is open, history-dependent, hierarchical, indeterminate. And ever changing."

  20. 5 out of 5

    Mike

    I finally stopped at about 32% out of 68% (at 68% kindle length the Notes start and the book is over). This is just not worth the amount of sentences written to convey so little 'new' information. There is page after page of verbage where the author defines how 'he' defines techonolgy and technologies and single instances of technology. Summary: Technology is combination of other technologies and design/engineering is problem solving and combining. Time is valuable, folks. I finally stopped at about 32% out of 68% (at 68% kindle length the Notes start and the book is over). This is just not worth the amount of sentences written to convey so little 'new' information. There is page after page of verbage where the author defines how 'he' defines techonolgy and technologies and single instances of technology. Summary: Technology is combination of other technologies and design/engineering is problem solving and combining. Time is valuable, folks.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Denis Romanovsky

    This book is not perfect, but the approach, the look at the topic, the depth of the concepts are really fascinating. The author studies technology as a phenomenon from its basic characteristics to the entire global economy. He looks at it from dynamics and combinations standpoints, compares it with the concepts of living organisms, ecology and uses a lot from the complexity science. Highly recommended for those who want to understand technology complexly and on a high-level.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Tim

    A very interesting exploration of what technology is and how it evolves (OK, the title pretty much describes the book). But it is an interesting attempt to think about something which often seems to be treated as the slightly embarrassing offspring of science and economics; "merely" a trade rather than the pure thought of more abstract (and therefore more worthy) pursuits. A very interesting exploration of what technology is and how it evolves (OK, the title pretty much describes the book). But it is an interesting attempt to think about something which often seems to be treated as the slightly embarrassing offspring of science and economics; "merely" a trade rather than the pure thought of more abstract (and therefore more worthy) pursuits.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Melanie Windridge

    Interesting thoughts on what technology is and how it evolves. Sometimes it feels a bit repetitive but this is just the author developing and explaining his argument. Good book to read if you are interested in technology and the economy.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Kevin Rhodes

    I’ve been on a campaign for the past year and a half to try to understand what’s going on in our world in terms of the collision of technology, the economic, jobs and the workplace. In that context, I recently discovered W. Brian Arthur and his work in complex systems theory. He is my latest hero in terms of making sense of the world. Complexity theory just work for me -- it’s probably as close to a theory of everything as anything I’ve come across. It’s how the economy works, how the brain, the I’ve been on a campaign for the past year and a half to try to understand what’s going on in our world in terms of the collision of technology, the economic, jobs and the workplace. In that context, I recently discovered W. Brian Arthur and his work in complex systems theory. He is my latest hero in terms of making sense of the world. Complexity theory just work for me -- it’s probably as close to a theory of everything as anything I’ve come across. It’s how the economy works, how the brain, the human body, culture, creativity… how all these things work. Mr. Arthur has been at this for a long time, and he’s gained such a level of proficiency that he makes it look easy.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Florin Pitea

    Dense, over-arching, informative and educative. Recommended.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Matt Watkinson

    The world simply did not look the same upon completion of this book. I cannot overstate how profoundly it affected my understanding of our largely technocratic society. A deeply satisfying read.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Brendan

    This book is a masterpiece, and a must read for anyone who is interested or works in the science and technology space.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Hugh MASON

    The most comprehensive, convincing account of how technology changes.

  29. 5 out of 5

    sam

    read for a class interesting concepts, just highly redundant which lead to dragged out reading experience. could've been easily condensed. read for a class interesting concepts, just highly redundant which lead to dragged out reading experience. could've been easily condensed.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Federico

    Most underrated book I've read. Most underrated book I've read.

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