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The Nature of Technology: What It Is and How It Evolves Hardcover – 6 Aug 2009


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Product details

  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Allen Lane (6 Aug. 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 184614017X
  • ISBN-13: 978-1846140174
  • Product Dimensions: 16.2 x 2.6 x 24 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 357,041 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Review

“Provocative and engaging...Arthur’s theory captures many well-known features of technological change [and] also answers interesting questions.”—"Nature"

About the Author

W. Brian Arthur's ideas have won him a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1987 and the Schumpeter Prize in Economics in 1990. He pioneered the modern study of positive feedbacks in the economy - in particular their role in magnifying small, random events. He is also one of the pioneers of the new science of complexity. He is an External Faculty Member at the Santa Fe Institute and from 1983 to 1996 was Dean and Virginia Morrison Professor of Economics and Population Studies at Stanford University. He holds a Ph.D. from Berkeley in Operations Research, and has other degrees in economics, engineering and mathematics.

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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Tobias Rooney on 15 Feb. 2010
Format: Hardcover
W Brian Arthur's book on technology is a great companion to "the origins of wealth". It takes the broader exploration of complexity economics and focuses it down to a theory of technology evolution. The logic builds well, and I spent the first part of the book agreeing but being underwhelmed, it is when he draws the threads together that you see that what seems to be a very theoretical book has significant pragmatic implications. The writing is clear, the logic strong and the flow impecable
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Mark Gibson on 7 Dec. 2009
Format: Hardcover
W. Brian Arthur's The Nature of Technology is an important book for technologists, entrepreneurs, engineers, designers, in fact anyone in the business of creating, marketing or selling innovative technology.

This book is an ontology of the process of technological innovation and is a major contribution to the understanding of the evolution of technology and its influence on our economy and civilization. nature of technology

I write this review as a layman, from my perspective of the observer of technological change over 40 years in the computer industry, initially in engineering, then sales and marketing and for the past 5 years focused on solving sales and marketing performance problems in innovative technology companies.

There is a clue in the title as to the main arguments in the book and few others in the World have the background to conceive, advance and prove such a powerful argument in just 216 pages. Brian Arthur is an engineer, mathematician, system theorist, economist and more recently a diligent scholar of Darwinian evolution.

Arthur coins a new phrase to describe the advances in technology as "combinatorial evolution"; whereas in nature evolution is biological and subject to the Darwinian laws of natural selection, technology evolves as a result of combinations of existing technologies and methods to create new innovations, the critical ingredient in the process is human knowledge and ingenuity.

Once a technology is created, it is then subject to Darwinian evolution, whereby the innovation advances through refinement of its component systems and further innovation and addition, the weaker ideas discarded to become museum artifacts and the process continually advancing.
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Arthur's argument, that technology begets further technology, and that we are living in a moment where such is the power and scope of technologies that we should be prepared for exponential development is a bit too rosy for my taste. Whilst not blind to the faults of technology, and often very perceptive about its limitations, he places too much faith in how the engineering process meets the science with the result of human happiness. Inadvertently, this throws up some of the problems of technology without intending to do so: arbitrary implementation of technology unsuited to the kind of problem solving he thinks engineers are so good at, the means by which bad technology distorts the direction of scientific effort to create worse technology, or the impact of unplanned technological solutions on the lives of humans. All this is framed in a definition of technology that seems unacceptably broad, and fails to distinguish between conceptual worlds and practical function. His three main principles of technological recursion, combination and exploitation foreshadow the closer relationship between business and technology than any kind of underlying science. This turns into an argument that implies some technological triumphalism: technology apparently makes us what we are (in the conceptual sense that, by Arthur's definition, every complex set of ideas is a technology), and yet we see technologies of the practical kind deployed in many ways that reflect a creativity not possessed by the engineers that generated them.

At his best, Arthur is well informed about engineering process, and one can only marvel at the breadth of his frame of reference. This is a serious book for anyone interested in technology and how it develops, even if I don't agree with its sanguine conclusions.
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