Feel like technology is coming at us so fast you can barely keep up? New software apps seem to come at us at breakneck speed. Drones and creepy robot videos where they dance and do parkour, new devices that will do this and solve that. It may well seem like an endless stream and well, it is. And so it seems, technologies are coming at us faster than ever. And you’re right. But why?
How would you explain a smartphone to a stone age human? Let alone a human from the late 1800’s, even as the telephone itself was invented? Or the internet? It’s not just that these ancestors of ours would find this technologies to be more like magic, it is also that their culture at those times, would likely soundly reject the technologies presented to them. How we perceive, accept and reject technologies has a lot to do with culture. This is the perceptual side of technology developments and adoption.
The other aspect of why technologies are coming at us so fast is the combination factor. Your smartphone is the combination of a number of technologies into one device that seemingly is one technology, invented in one swift go, but it is not. It’s the same with flat screen televisions, laptops, tablets, cars, aeroplanes. They combine various technologies in clever ways to create new or better products. Today, if we can put a microchip in something and find a way to connect it to the internet, we will.
We are also better at sharing technology innovations and ideas. In industry, this is often done through licensing deals, where company A will license its patented widget to company B who uses it in a way company A doesn’t, but company B ends up with a novel new product that does not compete with company A. Companies are constantly looking for new technologies developed by others that they can use, while also researching their own, which they may in turn license to others. And of course, the internet and social media. Ideas are spreading faster than ever in human history.
Technologies are coming at us faster today because of this ability to share data, information and knowledge faster, but most importantly because combining digital technologies is easier. It is cheaper to do R&D as well (although not in all cases) and faster and easier to prototype new products and services. Many software companies today release an alpha with testers, then a beta trial (MVP) and then public launch. Because software apps can quickly and constantly be updated, and be delivered via the internet, they can get to market faster and evolve along with the customer. This is the reduction of friction.
Humans and technology have always co-evolved through a process called technogensis. The debate in several fields of science such as cultural anthropology, rests around trying to say if we influence technology or technology influences us. it is likely both, as well as cultural norms and beliefs along with the environment in which the technology is developed.
As the diagram below shows, a number of factors influence technogensis, but not all are required to drive a new technology and they will vary in the degree of the influence depending on the context in which they end up being created. Sometimes we are convinced a new software app or other device will be much in demand, but it turns out to be a transitional technology or a total flop. Sometimes, we don’t know we need it, such as the iPod. A brilliant combining of technologies by Apple, who uses technology combinations as their primary path of innovation. Most technology development is driven by our primal instinct to survive and to solve problems.
Humans have become extremely adept technology makers since we first started making stone axes. We’ve learned how to harness certain phenomena and combine our technologies in interesting ways to solve problems. Now, we are combining them in ever more interesting ways, faster than ever.
As we enter the Cognitive Age and improve technologies that can augment our brains, such as Artificial Intelligence, technology development will exponentially evolve. How well we adapt to all these technologies and how they help us, if they truly do, will be interesting to see. I discuss that briefly in a prior post about utopia, dystopia or protopia.
In the meantime, sit down, buckle up and hold on. It’s gonna get faster.