InfoCommons

On the Origin of Web 2.0: From Disruptive to Civic and Virtuous Technology

Posted in Uncategorized by coda on October 15, 2009

So what would a theory of evolution for technology look like? Do technologies descend by some unambiguous process from the collective of earlier technologies

Good questions.

I find Darwin’s central idea of evolution and natural selection particularly relevant to the context we find ourselves in – Cyberspace. Is the idea of technological evolution a fanciful idea or is there some truth in this? Rutherford et al think that:

As long as there have been people, there has been technology. Indeed, the techniques of shaping tools are taken as the chief evidence of the beginning of human culture. On the whole, technology has been a powerful force in the development of civilization, all the more so as its link with science has been forged. Technology—like language, ritual, values, commerce, and the arts—is an intrinsic part of a cultural system and it both shapes and reflects the system’s values. In today’s world, technology is a complex social enterprise that includes not only research, design, and crafts but also finance, manufacturing, management, labor, marketing, and maintenance.

In the broadest sense, technology extends our abilities to change the world: to cut, shape, or put together materials; to move things from one place to another; to reach farther with our hands, voices, and senses. We use technology to try to change the world to suit us better. The changes may relate to survival needs such as food, shelter, or defense, or they may relate to human aspirations such as knowledge, art, or control. But the results of changing the world are often complicated and unpredictable. They can include unexpected benefits, unexpected costs, and unexpected risks—any of which may fall on different social groups at different times. Anticipating the effects of technology is therefore as important as advancing its capabilities.

Brian Arthur, in The Nature of Technology views technology as having a natural evolutionary cycle.
Can technologies, like biological organisms evolve? Brian Arthur seems to be convinced of this.Here is the blurb:

is an elegant and powerful theory of the origins and evolution of technology. It accomplishes for the progress of technology what Thomas Kuhn’s The Structure of Scientific Revolutions did for scientific progress. Arthur explains how transformative new technologies arise and how innovation really works. Conventional thinking ascribes the invention of technologies to “thinking outside the box,” or vaguely to genius or creativity, but Arthur shows that such explanations are inadequate. Rather, technologies are put together from pieces — themselves technologies — that already exist. Technologies therefore share common ancestries, and combine, morph, and combine again, to create further technologies. Technology evolves much as a coral reef builds itself from activities of small organisms — it creates itself from itself; and all technologies are descended from earlier technologies.

Drawing on a wealth of examples, from historical inventions to the high-tech wonders of today, and writing in wonderfully engaging and clear prose, Arthur takes us on a mind-opening journey that will change the way we think about technology and how it structures our lives.

The BBC has a good program here.
Do surf on to this site before seeing JZ’s take

Abstract and presentation here and at Cato

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