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The Nature of Technology: What It Is and How It Evolves
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The Nature of Technology: What It Is and How It Evolves

3.91  ·  Rating Details ·  313 Ratings  ·  35 Reviews
“More than anything else technology creates our world. It creates our wealth, our economy, our very way of being,” says W. Brian Arthur. Yet despite technology’s irrefutable importance in our daily lives, until now its major questions have gone unanswered. Where do new technologies come from? What constitutes innovation, and how is it achieved? Does technology, like biolog ...more
ebook, 256 pages
Published August 11th 2009 by Free Press (first published August 6th 2009)
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Michael Quinn
Mar 05, 2013 Michael Quinn rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book is nothing short of a classic, even though most readers are going to find this a little too dense and dry. It lays out a comprehensive analysis of the structure, development and economic effects of technology, a field that is almost entirely overlooked. This makes its mandatory reading for scientists, engineers and economists who want a broader, systematic view of the field.

Highlights include an explanation of combinatorial evolution (instead of evolution by selection, which is what we
...more
Hong
Dec 02, 2011 Hong rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Questions that this book addresses:
- Why technologies get complicated as it progresses?
- Will the development of technology slows down in the future?
- Why innovations of a field tends to be highly concentrated geographically?
- How do inventions come about?
- Why does technological developments explode in recent years?

How do I like it?
- Concisely written. Often times, general statements are made, forcing readers to think of an example to fit in. This could be fun, and occasionally confusing.
- Idea
...more
Alexander
Jan 26, 2013 Alexander rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I felt W. Brian Arthur's book highlighted an underlying axiom that I find true: great things, material or incorporeal, are built from smaller things and are not spontaneously synthesized from nothing, but are sub-creations formed from observations of our existing environment. That is a wordy way of saying I fell in love with this book because the ideas it presented rang true to me.

W. Brian Arthur presents his ideas intelligently and comprehensively. He used examples that clarified more complica
...more
Ken Liu
May 01, 2015 Ken Liu rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A brilliant, brilliant book. Changed the way I think about technology.
Jeff
Aug 18, 2012 Jeff rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Brian Arthur is one of the most insightful thinkers about the nature of technology and business, and this book adds to his reputation. He made the conscious choice to aim it towards business readers rather than academics, but it combines the rigor of academic research with the accessibility of mainstream business books. Arthur provides a useful framework and vocabulary for describing aspects of technological change that may appear obvious but have tremendous subtlety and powerful implications.
Sarah
Feb 09, 2011 Sarah rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: science, economics
Surprisingly insightful and meaningful. Arthur frames and explores our current technology systems, which is really an exploration of human creativity and the systems, institutions, and environments that cultivate innovation.
Jimt43
Apr 16, 2010 Jimt43 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
this should have been a great book. The chance to give a taxonomy of technology is something that the world really needs. I quit on this book at about the page 27 mark. Maybe I will pick it up again sometime...
Jimmy Ele
Clear, logical, succinct, and well organized, "The Nature of Technology" was an intellectual treat to read. I loved it for it's deep insight into Technology.

The blueprint for the book is summed up perfectly with the following quote:

"My plan is to start from a completely blank state, taking nothing about technology for granted. I will build the argument piece by piece from three fundamental principles. The first will be the one I have been talking about: that technologies, all technologies, are
...more
Paul Hartzog
As a scholar of both technology and complex systems, I offer this in-depth review.

This book has some good points towards the end, but it took me a long time to finish it (weeks rather than days) because it just wasn't interesting going along. Brian Arthur's work is great, and you know that he really thought his topic through, but it just doesn't come through in the text.

A few things are illustrative here:

First, a key part of Arthur's conclusion is that simply recombining many small parts doesn't
...more
Joel
Dec 16, 2016 Joel rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
For me there was very little to find from the book. The first and last chapters explains it all. In the middle it's just repetitive infill. I do recommend the last chapter, but one chapter is not enough to raise the rating. The book at large prooves that technology evolves through a process much like evolution, an idea that I didn't find the least bit revolutionising. The only thought provoking part is the philosophical analysis of the possible implications of technology seen as a process of its ...more
Conor Curry
Nov 11, 2016 Conor Curry rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The author spends a lot of time in the beginning setting up his theory of technology's combinatoric pedigree, and it was a bit hard to get through at times. Halfway through, I wasn't sure if I would finish this one, as I kept nodding off every 10 pages or so! However, he brings it all together in great fashion at the end, and overall, I ended up quite liking this book. Getting through the duller parts was well worth the effort.
Diego
Sep 28, 2014 Diego rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
W. Brian Arthur Ingeniero, Economista y uno de los tecnologos más importantes del mundo ofrece una interpretación brillante del rol de la tecnología, la ciencia, la innovación y su juego dentro de la economía.

La mejor reseña de su libro la ofrece él mismo en el capitulo 11 del mismo:

"Theories start with general propositions or principles, and we started with three: that all technologies are combinations of elements; that these elements themselves are technologies; and that all technologies use
...more
Deborah
There are a lot of good ideas presented in this book. The case studies presented are fascinating and informative.

Unfortunately the book goes off the rails at the end, culminating in a bizarre notion that "technology" is not just an abstraction used to describe a class of entities or a process of invention, but a living entity that will some day become self-aware!

Still very much worth reading though, for the case studies and some valuable insights, particularly earlier in the book.
Melanie Windridge
Interesting thoughts on what technology is and how it evolves. Sometimes it feels a bit repetitive but this is just the author developing and explaining his argument. Good book to read if you are interested in technology and the economy.
Jonathan Jeckell
I’ve seen several descriptions of how technology evolves, and this one is a little more detailed and different from the others. It shows how Darwinian evolution doesn’t exactly apply to technology and the economy, but most of the same principles apply. All technologies are combinations of elements, which are themselves technologies, and they all use naturally occurring phenomenon to fulfill a purpose. Innovation in technology happens in a recursive, stepwise fashion as technologies ratchet up on ...more
Bart
Jul 29, 2015 Bart rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book concludes as a masterwork, and so it must be forgiven its initial plodding.

W. Brian Arthur is not doing pop-science or self-help; he's not required to be amusing on every page. He is thinking deeply and sharing those thoughts in meaningful and coherent ways. He organized his book to be 170 pages of introduction and 40 pages of conclusion - and his conclusion justifies its staging.

A few examples of his ideas and prose:

Slowly, at a pace measured in decades, we are shifting from technolog
...more
Espen
Mar 17, 2010 Espen rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: technology
Arthur sets out to articulate a theory of technology, and to a certain extend succeeds, at least in articulating the importance of technology and the layered, self-referencing and self-creating nature of its evolution. The two main concepts I took away were the layered nature of technology, consisting of these three points:
1. Technology is a combination of components.
2. Each component is itself a technology.
3. Each technology exploits an effect or phenomenon (and usually several)

Secondly, Arthur
...more
Natasha Hurley-Walker
The length of time it took me to read this is not entirely reflective of the book itself, as I gave birth to my son ten days after starting it, and only picked it up again a month later. This is an interesting exploration of the nature of technology, and has some nice conclusions on the nature of innovation (and how to nurture it), the roles of cross-disciplinary knowledge vs extreme specialisation, the exponential nature of technological combinations, and the way technology interacts with and s ...more
Mark
Feb 16, 2015 Mark rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
The book's title seems a little misleading, or maybe 'meta', to me, as the book is more about thinking about the nature of technology, rather than describing what the nature of technology actually is.

This is a quasi-academic book, very dry in tone, as one might expect from an economics professor. And, like an economics professor, the language that the author uses is redefined in places (Tweedledum and Tweedledee, anyone?), and perhaps from time to time he uses words in jargon senses without dist
...more
Roger Wu
Feb 14, 2015 Roger Wu rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I didn't enjoy the book although I appreciated a few of the things that it said, like technology is recursive combinations and ways in which technologies become obsolete and become replaced. Why I didn't like this book is because it felt like it was "a mile wide but an inch deep" --- there were so many broad observations about "technology" that at some level were hard to generalize. After rocks and potential energy of bows, it becomes hard to generalize "technology" which were categorized as any ...more
Yi Que
在《技术的本质》一书中,阿瑟声称,技术像生物一样,也是有基因、能突变,不断进化的。所有的技术,都脱胎于之前的技术,就像所有现存的生物,都能追根溯源地找到原始的祖先一样。阿瑟试图找到各种千差万别的技术内在的一致性。依旧用生物学打比方,从外表来看,脊椎动物差异极大,斑马和蝙蝠之间看起来毫无相似之处,但它们但骨骼结构却是高度相似的,它们都有心脏、肝脏、肾脏和神经系统,都是左右对称,都建立在细胞的基础之上。如果我们“解剖”技术,就会发现所有的技术都是一种组合。无论多么复杂的技术,都可以拆成若干模块,模块中又有零部件,这样不断地深挖下去,就会发现,复杂精妙的技术最终都是平凡的零部件的组合。
那么,所有的这些技术,都是从哪里来的?阿瑟提出,技术乃是对“现象”的捕捉。这听起来颇为异端,技术不是受科学的指导,是科学的应用版吗?其实,科学和技术尽管联系紧密,但二者并非一体。直到20世纪初期以前,大部分技术发明都不需要科学的帮助。原始人看到剥落的燧石中,有尖锐的石片,可以方便地切割动物的肉和皮毛,就发明了石刀、石斧。热衷于炼金术和炼丹术的人们反复尝试,居然误打误撞地发现了很多化学技术。直到近期,技术发明才不
...more
Irtaza Hussain
I feel as if this book had a lot of redundancy and lacked considerably the quantification that the ideas could be put use to. The conclusion was considerably disappointing. Besides that, it just showed what may go on in engineering and science but besides that, it tried to approach the idea of phenomenon but never made good efforts to try and understand what is the best way to uncover them. Even the 'evolutionary model' wasn't entirely quantified, it was just an observation as presented in the b ...more
David
Jul 23, 2015 David rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Clearly written, and not without apt illustrations, but overall a little too abstract, or I should say schematic. I found myself alternately slogging and breezing through sections, some repetitious and other illuminating. I always believed restatement of key ideas was a virtue in clear writing but Arthur's book has shown me an exception; his constant restatement of theses too often crossed over into repetitiousness that affected readability. That said, overall this is a solid book and key sectio ...more
Alexi Parizeau
Feb 01, 2016 Alexi Parizeau rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Skillfully written, this book reads like a thoughtful essay. But there's a ton of subtext beneath the surface and its thesis has been simmering in society for decades now.. It feels like a sequel to Per Bak's "How Nature Works", though without any of Bak's academic overtones. In the end I liked it.
Drew
Mar 08, 2010 Drew rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
a little slow, somewhat pedestrian. Haven't quite finished due to the tautological nature of the work- hadn't really heard anything I didn't already know, nor was it from a fresh angle.

Might be good if you don't read as much technology books as I do.
Michele
Aug 06, 2016 Michele rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
This is a tough read. This is a serious attempt to describe the nature of technology scientifically, and not simply by analogy.
Jonas
Feb 03, 2014 Jonas rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Science published a good review: http://tuvalu.santafe.edu/~wbarthur/R...

Definitely worth reading!
Pete
Mar 23, 2013 Pete rated it it was amazing
Highly recommended. One of the best books I have read on the forces behind technological evolution...
Liuyang Li
The books talk about many meta-ideas. I often find to be too abstract, but when I am about to give up, there is always an interesting point that grabs my attention.
Ezra
An interesting treatise on how we acquire technology. Not sure if it was the examples or the logic that was circular. Still, interesting ideas on which I will mull for a while.
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“A new device or method is put together from the available components—the available vocabulary—of a domain. In this sense a domain forms a language; and a new technological artifact constructed from components of the domain is an utterance in the domain’s language. This makes technology as a whole a collection of several languages, because each new artifact may draw from several domains.” 0 likes
“In its collective sense, technology is not merely a catalog of individual parts. It is a metabolic chemistry, an almost limitless collective of entities that interact to produce new entities-and further needs. And we should not forget that needs drive the evolution of technology every bit as much as the possibilities for fresh combination and the unearthing of phenomena. Without the presence of unmet needs, nothing novel would appear in technology.” 0 likes
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