|Ken Novak's Weblog
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Accelerating change and policy
Raw notes on the implications of accelerating change on policy (with global warming in mind):
- In the past, technological change lagged behind other rates of change. In the last 25 years, I think the order of fastest-to-slowest has become
- technological change: invention, innovation
- economic change: investment, infrastructure, mobility of capital and labor
- social change: roles, expectations, education, culture in general
- population: numbers and locations of people
- The greater the rate of change in a domain, the more that individual contributions and preferences among the change agents matter, by affecting the both the direction and rate of change. The slower the rate, the more that custom, policy and economic incentives matter.
- For the future, new methods will further accelerate technological change that will widen the gap with the other domains of change:
- the population of innovators is growing with population and with the spread of education (esp. higher ed.)
- innovators duplicate each others' work less when they communicate better, and the Internet continues the contemporary improvement of comms (automatic alerting systems and especially, automatic translation systems, will further this progression)
- more innovative work can be contracted across organizational and national boundaries
- substitution of computation for human effort accellerates with Moore's law (e.g., modelling with grid computing, automated protein sequencing, design refinement with genetic programming, etc)
- Some technological changes offer new "point solutions" that plug into existing infrastructures and practices. These get adopted faster, because they demand fewer changes in the slower-moving strata of society. (In networks, these are generally referred to as "innovations at the edge.") Examples: Mobile phones and personal electronics; higher-yielding and/or lower-input seeds; immunizations.
- Developing countries can leapfrog to new technologies when they have little investment in the old ones. The incumbent technologies have weaker political backing than in developed countries, and of course, there is less investment in the old.
- The most important contributions to development from the developed world have probably been point solutions that are supported by developed country mass markets. The R&D is justified by the fast adoption in the developed world, and the usual barriers to adoption in the developing countries are minimal.
- Policies that merely redistribute funds between developing and developed worlds, or among current technological choices, focus on a lever of declining influence.
- Policies that channel rapid technological development should have increasing influence. Finding the right level for policy interventions (i.e., how basic or how applied) will be an art, like any other policy-making.
- Effort to influence the choices and preferences of the innovators might have a significant long-term payoff, in areas where the technologies are changing rapidly. Examples: Personal computing (the progression from Vannevar Bush "As we may think" to Englehart's "Augmentation" to Kay's "Dynabook" to today's web-on-a-laptop). The development of artificial nitrogen fertilizer. The green revolution.