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What is technology in its nature, in its deepest essence? Where does it come from? How does it evolve? With contagious enthusiasm, Arthur, an economics professor and a pioneer of complexity theory, tries to answer these and other questions in a style that is by turns sparkling and flat. Technology is self-creating, though it requires human agency to build it up and reproduce it. Yet technology evolves much like organisms evolve, and Arthur cannily applies Darwin's ideas to technologies and their growth. All technologies descend from earlier ones, and those that perform better and more efficiently than others are selected for future growth and development. But radical novelty in technology cannot be explained by this model of variation and selection, so Arthur argues that novel technologies arise by combination of existing technologies. For example, a hydroelectric power generator combines several main components-a reservoir to store water, an intake system, turbines driven by high-energy water flow, transformers to convert the power output to a higher voltage: groups of self-contained technologies-into a new technology. Arthur's arguments will likely alter the reader's way of thinking about technology and its relationship to humanity. (Aug.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
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Arthur, seen in Scientific America, Fortune, and Wired, is the interdisciplinary scientist whose theory of increasing returns helped stoke the high-tech revolution. He now steps back and considers the dynamics of technology. What exactly is it? How does it evolve? Because technology is creating the dominant issues and upheavals of our time, it behooves us to understand it more deeply, believes Arthur, especially as we advance from working within nature's systems to altering nature. Evolution is no mere metaphor for Arthur; instead he assiduously articulates a complex evolutionary theory to explain how technology builds itself organically from itself as it uses natural phenomena in new ways. He looks for a common structure, identifies technological clusters or domains, studies the metabolism of technologies in operation, and looks to the origins of novel technologies. Technology is organic because it is a very large part of what makes us human, Arthur avers, but we must distinguish between technology that enslaves us and technology that enhances us and affirms life. Precise and provocative.--Seaman, Donna Copyright 2009 Booklist