Collaborators in creation

Our world is a system, in which physical and social technologies co-evolve. How can we shape a process we don’t control?
By Doyne Farmer, Fotini Markopoulou, Eric Beinhocker and Steen Rasmussen – This is a disorienting time. Disagreements are deep, factions stubborn, the common reality crumbling. Technology is changing who we are and the society we live in at a blinding pace. How can we make sense out of these changes? How can we forge new tools to guide our future? What is our new identity in this changing world?

Social upheavals caused by new technologies have occurred throughout history.

Cultural institutions are also a kind of technology – a social technology. Just as physical technologies – agriculture, the wheel or computers – are tools for transforming matter, energy or information in pursuit of our goals, social technologies are tools for organizing people in pursuit of our goals. Laws, moral values and money are social technologies, as are ways of organizing an army, a religion, a government or a retail business.

While we are fascinated and sometimes frightened by the pace of evolution of physical technologies, we experience the evolution of social technologies differently. Our values, laws and political organizations define and shape our identities. We often regard those who use different social technologies – people from different cultures, regions, nations, religions or those with different values and beliefs – as ‘others’.

When social technologies change too quickly, we experience a loss of identity, a collective confusion about who we are and how we distinguish ourselves from others. But when social technologies change too slowly, this can create tensions too – for example, when political institutions fail to keep pace with wider changes in society.

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Physical and social technologies co-evolve all the time, pushing and pulling on each other. The influence is in both directions. Physical and social technologies are so entangled that it can be hard to separate them.

What drives technological change? In many popular narratives, invention is an act performed by heroes such as Thomas Edison and Tim Berners-Lee. In reality, technological change comes about through an incremental process that involves a great deal of trial and error, and networks of people working in ecosystems of innovation. Technological change is an evolutionary process, very much like biological change is an evolutionary process. more>

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