The Belgian Surrealist René Magritte would paint Brian Arthur’s book mentioning:
“This is not a book about Technology”.
The way Brian Arthur covers the subject of technology may indeed surprise many.
In his book Brian Arthur constructs a logical structure to define what technology really means, develops a theory of how technologies come into being and how technologies evolve, and helps us understand a deeper meaning of what “innovation” is (or should be).
Personally, I see this as a book about economy.
Economy as Brian Arthur defines it: “a way to direct and mediate the transformative and disruptive impacts of technology”. He sees these impacts “as stemming from the novel ways we will, explore the unknown, search to harness new scientific discoveries, abandon old ways of doing and thinking, constantly create more complex combinations and assemblies of technologies, in order to address and further necessary solutions and Human needs, and along with this, bring perpetual novelty”.
In this sense he sees economy as a “skeletal structure consisting in mutual sets of arrangements – business, means of production, institutions, and organizations – all in themselves technologies in the broad sense”.
Amidst what might be a transition of a magnitude dwarfing what happened in the Renaissance, I personally belief there is no room for status quo and fatalism, hence welcome to “perpetual novelty”.
I see how new combinations of technologies, as understood by Brian Arthur, might allow us, individually and in our families, in our communities, our work, our organizations, in our institutions, our economies, our societal, political and geopolitical systems, to solve the intractable problems and address the undignified situations of our era.
Brian Arthur’s work provides me with new ideas, new ways of thinking and acting, new hope for positive human development and societal innovation, and new ways to track and denounce negative developments.
After all, if “technology is a programming of nature, to achieve Human purpose”, it can achieve the worst, as it can achieve the best. Much depends on the meaning system level of the humans behind its development.
Hope and determination.
“It is the theory that describes what we can observe” ( Albert Einstein).
Thank you Brian for providing us with a missing theory.
And this brings us back to the same questions. What is technology? What is it in the deepest sense of its nature? What are its properties and principles? Where does it come from — how does it come into being? How does it develop? And how does it evolve?
Modern technology is not just a collection of more or less independent means of production. Rather it is becoming an open language for the creation of structures and functions in the economy. Slowly, at a pace measured in decades, we are shifting from technologies that produced fixed physical outputs to technologies whose main character is that they can be combined and configured endlessly for fresh purposes.
Technology, once a means of production, is becoming a chemistry.