Sunday, July 18, 2010

More on Arthur's Nature of Technology

Brian Arthur in his book, The Nature of Technology: What It Is and How It Evolves, recognizes the normal tendency to classify technologies into groups such as chemical, electronic, construction, etc. He notes that historical epochs can be immediately recognized by their characteristic technologies -- England in the industrial revolution by the steam engine, railroad and mill, the United States now by the internal combustion engine, the automobile and the personal computer.

It occurs to me that different cultures, even though they may be contemporaneous, may be easily recognizable by the differences in the technologies that they use. It is easy to distinguish a Japanese samurai from a European knight or a Mongolian warrior by the technology of their weapons and armor.

One of the key facts of the modern world is that different cultures use different technologies. There are still large areas of Africa that do not have electrical power lines, and consequently do not utilize electrical devices in either the diversity nor the quantity that are used in the United States. Poor people in the developing nations by their very poverty have less access to modern technological devices than the average people of wealthy countries -- fewer cars, fewer computers, fewer powered machines, fewer household appliances, fewer doctors with fewer diagnostic devices, etc.

It is becoming increasingly clear that the ability to compete for international markets in manufactured goods and in some services depends on the capacity of a region in the relevant technologies. Newly emergent economies have learned to compete in areas such as computer assembly, chip manufacture, and software services. They have begun with mastering relatively simple techniques and competing on the basis of low wages, then mastered more complex techniques allowing wages to increase until in some cases the developing nation's firms are introducing globally innovative technologies. On the other hand, the United States remains the world's largest exporter, in part due to its mastery of some technologies which are found not mastered in most nations.

No comments: