Archive for the ‘Technology’ Category

An easy-to-use technology is a double-edged sword

January 24, 2008

A technology with low barrier to entry can be a double-edged sword.

A technology that people can speedily and easily use will probably be adopted very quickly.  However, there is likely to be a correspondingly low level of quality control.

HTML’s Explosive Growth

HTML’s ease of use is one of the reasons behind the explosive growth of the Web.

Anyone can learn the basics of HTML in a short space of time and create a web page very quickly.

It’s even possible to use WYSIWYG editors to make web pages without ever seeing a line of markup.

The downside to this is that most pages on the Web are badly formed and don’t validate.

Browser vendors have to accept this state of affairs by making their software very forgiving and unfussy.

Much of the code in browser software is dedicated to handling ambiguous use of HTML and trying to second-guess how authors want their web pages to be rendered.

HTML’s low barrier to entry has been a mixed blessing for the Web.

DOM Scripting by Jeremy Keith

Want to build the next “hot” technology? Design it so that it enables complexity.

September 1, 2007

“According to our best experimentally confirmed physical theory, all known stable matter in the universe is made up of three kinds of elementary particle coupled via four kinds of fundamental interaction.” [1]

Imagine, all of life and everything in it emerges from 3 kinds of particles interacting in 4 different ways. Astounding!

I asked a very bright colleague, “What are technologies that survive?” He responded, “Those technologies that enable complexity.” [Complexity is the ability of simple things to be composed to create complex things]

3 kinds of particles interacting in 4 different ways enable tremendous complexity. In fact, it enables the entire universe.

A much simpler example is Legos: these are simple building blocks, from which complex structures can be built.

Let’s take another example.  Suppose there is one road from my home to my workplace.  There aren’t any options in the path from home to work.  Now, suppose a bunch of side-roads are created. Now my options (and everyone else’s options) have expanded considerably. The introduction of the new roads has enabled complexity.

Want to build the next “hot” technology? Design it so that it enables complexity.

[1] Foundations of Complex-System Theories by Sunny Y. Auyang

The Most Persistent of all Economic Delusions is the Belief that Machines Create Unemployment

August 14, 2007

“Among the most persistent of all economic delusions is the belief that machines on net balance create unemployment.

The belief that machines cause unemployment leads to preposterous conclusions. Every technological improvement must cause unemployment. The logical conclusion would be that the way to maximize jobs is to make all labor as inefficient and unproductive as possible.

Let us see exactly what happens when technological and labor-saving machinery is introduced.

Example: a clothing manufacturer learns of a machine that will make men’s and women’s overcoats for half as much labor as previously. He installs the machines and drops half his labor force.

This looks at first glance like a clear loss of employment. But the machine itself required labor to make it; so here, as one offset, are jobs that would not otherwise have existed.

It is likely the labor employed to build the machines is less than the labor cut by the manufacturer. So there is still a net loss of employment to be accounted for.

The machine was a large investment, so it takes several years for the machine to pay for itself. After the machine has produced economies sufficient to offset its cost, the clothing manufacturer has more profits than before.

The manufacturer must use these extra profits in at least one of three ways:

  1. He will use the extra profits to expand his operations by buying more machines to make more overcoats; or
  2. He will invest the extra profits in some other industry; or
  3. He will spend the extra profits on buying things for himself, e.g. buy a new house or a new car.

Whichever of these three courses he takes, he will increase employment.

The manufacturer, as a result of improved production has profits that he did not have before. Every dollar of the amount he has saved in direct wages to former overcoat-makers, he now is able to pay out in indirect wages to the makers of the new machines, or workers in another industry, or to the makers of a new house or car. In any case, he gives indirectly as many jobs as he ceased to give directly.

But the matter does not rest at this stage. The manufacturer competes with others. Due to competition the price of overcoats drops. The savings are passed along to the consumers. The consumers now have more money to spend on other things, which results in more employment.

In brief, on net balance machines, technological improvements, automation, economies and efficiency do not throw men out of work.

The central lesson is that we should try to see all the consequences of any economic policy – the immediate effects on special groups, and the long-run effects on all groups.”

Economics in One Lesson by Henry Hazlitt

P.S. It is fascinating to see how interconnected things are, how a change has an effect that ripples outward to things that you cannot anticipate, i.e. unanticipated consequences.