The Nature of Technology

brian arthurOn the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI), I am a high “N” for “iNtuiter” on the 2nd of the 4 dimensions analyzed  — the opposing quality being “S” for sensor.

An “N” as I understand in layperson’s terms is someone who sees the possibilities of something presented to them. An “S” on the other hand is someone who sees the precise nature of something presented to them, as it is.

So, for example, an N might be given a blue sheet and think “oh, this could be a great ghost costume for next Halloween” or “cool, a tent to use alongside the sofa-cushion fort we’ve got under construction in the living room” etc.

Whereas, an S would say, “that’s a sky blue sheet for a single bed. Period.”

I mention this personal quality because it helps explain why I especially enjoyed the thesis of Brian Arthur’s classic The Nature of Technology, that I read over the holidays. Not that Sensors wouldn’t enjoy it too. But, the book is about the evolution of technology, which requires you to think a lot about “what could be” not “what is.”

It was recommended to me a couple of years ago by a good friend, when we were visiting one afternoon about our shared appreciation for another great book on science & technology, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions.

The Nature of Technology is a scientific evaluation, written in a non-academic yet still rigorous manner, of how technologies have evolved and continue to evolve.

One of the interesting arguments that Prof. Arthur poses in the book is the similarity between biological and technological evolution. Here are examples of the similarities he draws from a few main tenets of the book:

1. Novel technologies arise by combination of existing technologies (evolution, natural selection)
2. Existing technologies beget further technologies (heredity)
3. Novelty occurs from the constant capture of new natural phenomena and harnessing of them for particular purposes (adaptation)

This last tenet — especially, the part about “capturing and harnessing of new natural phenomena” — was particularly illuminating for me. Because, in many respects, it renewed a lapsed interest I’d had in news & data streams that cover scientific research and discovery, when I was younger.

Are you in a constant scan (like I am) for insights to that “next big thing” in software, gadgets, or other new tech? Then my recommendation is this: follow research in new natural phenomena emerging in communications…person-to-person, group-to-group, human-to-machine, device-to-device, and more.

Here are a few ideas for you…

Perhaps VR really hits a mass market this year with some new kind of meaningful communications/interaction paradigm, if Facebook and Oculus can work out the price point and integration issues that get beyond the gamer community.

Maybe it’s really time for haptic tech to break through, where we begin tapping into our sense of touching, in addition to hearing and seeing.

Or, perhaps, we’ll see the likes of DMX, with a version of the total experiential tailoring that they do for business clients like Abercrombie & Fitch, hit the home market — SaaS would take on a whole new meaning, with Senses-as-a-Service.

These are the types of integrative interactions and communications (conscious and unconscious) that I’ll be spending more time watching in 2015.

The challenge for all of us is to open up the aperture, seeking inspiration for the technologies that will emerge to shape our digital future in the coming decades as profoundly as email and social media have in the past several.