Sunday, January 08, 2017

The Structure of Technology Revolutions

Since last summer, I've been working on a book project tentatively (and modestly!) titled "The Structure of Technology Revolutions." The purpose of the book is to show how technology enables completely new possibilities, by breaking trade-offs that are considered unbreakable.

To demonstrate the underlying structure of the innovation process, I'm using Category Theory tools (OLOGs) originally created by D.I. Spivak from MIT.

Here's a series of draft figures with an example of how the logic of innovation had worked in the technology revolution initiated by the automobile with the internal combustion engine (see below).

 Note, that the same logic can be applied to the modern autonomous vehicle. The technology is going to be successful because it creates incredible maneuverability at the "traffic" level of abstraction.

Now, back to the horses example:

Fig. 1 introduces the trade-off between Power and Maneuverability. An eight-horse carriage has a lot of power, but it's difficult to maneuver. Adding more horses will create a huge maneuverability problem. On the other hand, a horse rider is highly maneuverable but he lacks the carrying capacity of the horse carriage.

Fig. 2 introduces a logical representation of a horse carriage and maps it onto a "Conflicting Desires Diagram." That is, we show that any "designer" of a horse carriage faces a trade-off between Power and Maneuverability.

Fig. 3 sheds horse pictures and shows a logical generalization: a horse carriage is a kind of power-driven vehicle. 

Fig. 4 indicates the desired situation (the green dot on the right): We want a vehicle that has the best of both worlds, it's highly powerful and highly maneuverable.

Fig. 5 shows that the Automobile breaks the trade-off and creates a vehicle with the potential to hit the green dot. That is, we create a technology that disentangles human ability to control horses from the power. Thus, we achieve a new state that was considered impossible before.

To model the Autonomous Vehicle technology revolution we need to abstract from "a vehicle" to "traffic" and show how the new technology breaks the traffic congestion trade-off. In general, congestion trade-offs are ubiquitous in economic systems and technology revolutions break through them quite often.

Fig. 6 is a generalized diagram of how technological innovations make the impossible possible.

tags: innovation, trade-off, logic, technology, revolution

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