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Breakthroughs in Societies

Which societies produce breakthrough technology?


A small number of societies have produced almost all of the breakthrough technologies in human history. Social conditions that allow rapid innovation in technology and industry are rare and fragile. What are these conditions? How do they translate into technological progress?

This interesting question comes from this on-line meeting: Ben Landau, Bismarck Analysis, via Foresight Institute.


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Perhaps those societies that facilitate interactions between diverse people (multi-cultural places like cities) and encourage idea copying (China).


1。財富的積累接近經濟生產。 _在與經濟生產密切相關的人們手中積累的財富,其社會力量的來源是原始的經濟生產本身。在這裏,“積累”不是“收入”(如果您的支出=收入,則您沒有積累任何東西)。該聲明不是針對特定的個人,而是針對整個社會(“如果您縮小並查看一堆財富在哪裏部署”)。例如,您會發現一個社會,其中有牧師或宗教人士積累財富(美索不達米亞早期或中世紀歐洲早期)。您可以找到政治領導人在這裏積累財富的社會(例如在羅馬帝國)。您還可以找到人們自己逐漸參與經濟生產的社會(手工業者,農民,工業家),這些社會正在積累和積累盈餘並決定如何分配盈餘。當您這樣做時,不僅可以擁有收入,還可以擁有大量財富,您可以用它們以重要方式重塑社會。



2。容忍破壞。 _您需要一種相對能容忍新權力基礎的文化,並且人們會想出新的大規模做事方法。它通常可能確實在局部損害正在流離失所的事物。約瑟夫·熊彼特(Joseph Schumpeter)將該過程稱爲“創造性破壞的過程”-“您將迎來一個新行業,比以前的行業要好得多,從而使舊的行業被摧毀”(例如,超市取代了麪包店,綠色食品雜貨店和屠夫)。如今,我們稱此爲“破壞”。這在通信技術的情況下最爲明顯,在這種情況下,建立媒體源已被更新的基於Internet的媒體源所取代。破壞容忍度可能較低。例如,您可以將Uber視爲破壞性技術之一,但是在法國,出租車司機暴動並摧毀了Uber司機的汽車。您不會在美國發生這種情況,因爲我們對做新事的人有更大的法律容忍度。甚至在法律上,例如在美國,都有基於先例的被動做法,“您做任何事,我們稍後將決定是否做得好。” -與歐洲類似。“必須先對法律進行定義,然後才能合法。” _

3。基於邏輯的文化。 _非常合乎邏輯的思想流派,在文化中非常重要。爲了做一個很好的物理工程,必須有足夠的人對這種非常邏輯的思想感到滿意,他們非常分析,這樣他們不僅可以進行經驗方面的研究,還可以進行假設的思考。探索後果。在現代世界中,這可以稱爲“科學唯物主義”,“理性主義”,這似乎非常有效。在其他具有物理技術的文化中,您會看到與之相當的東西,例如學業主義或法制主義,或者某種非常合乎邏輯的文化,爲“書呆子進入雜草”提供了廣闊的社交空間。這更多是憑經驗得出的結論,但似乎適合進行大型工程,這對於增量技術和突破性技術都是必需的。

Paraphrasing, the 3 main points from Ben Landau were identified in all the cases of societies, in which you're getting lots of breakthrough technology:

1. Wealth accumulation close to economic production. Accumulation of wealth in the hands of people who are very closely involved in the economic production, and the source of their power in society is the raw economic production itself. Here, "accumulation" is not "income" (if your expenses = income, you're not accumulating anything). This statement is not about particular individuals, but at the society in general ("if you zoom out, and look where the piles of wealth are deployed"). You can find societies that, for example, have priests or religious figures accumulating wealth (early Mesopotamian, or early Medieval Europe). You can find societies, where political leaders accumulate wealth (like in Roman Empire). You can also find societies where people themselves come to be deeply involved in the economic production (craftsmen, farmers, industrialists) the ones who are building up and accumulating the surplus, and deciding how to deploy it. When you're doing this, it does not only allow to have income, but also have piles of wealth, that you can use to reshape society in important ways.

Also, one interesting thing about the accumulation, is that it tends to be associated less with just the size of the industry, and a lot more with whether it's growing and new, where things are expanding and becoming relatively more important, is where you tend to see accumulation of politically relevant fortunes.

Those people who are closely involved in the economic production, when empowered, they where the interventions can make a difference, and that contributes to the creation of breakthrough technologies. Whereas, when the accumulation is happening among generals and governors (like in Roman Empire), these people are making their money from large farms worked by slaves, and they are not really involved and don't know how agriculture works. They are not going to innovate in agriculture, as it's not what they do - they know that the way you get richer is by conquering other nations. Of course, they can be innovative in the military sense then...

2. Disruption-tolerance. You need a culture that is relatively tolerant of new power bases, and people coming up with new ways of doing things on a large scale. It can often be really locally-damaging to the things that are getting displaced. Joseph Schumpeter calls this "the process of creative destruction" -- "you have a new industry coming that works so much better than previous one, such that the old one gets destroyed" (e.g., supermarket displacing the baker and green grocer, and butcher). Nowadays we call this "disruption." This is most obvious in cases of communication technology, where establishment media sources are displaced by newer internet-based media sources. The disruption-tolerance may be low. For example, you can think of Uber as one of the disruptive technologies, but in France, taxi drivers rioted and destroyed the cars of Uber drivers. You don't have that happen in the U.S., as we have more legal tolerance towards people doing new things. It may be even in the law, like, e.g., in the U.S. there is precedent-based reactive practice, -- "You do whatever, and we will later decide if it is good." -- vs. like in Europe "Things have to be defined in law before they are legal."

3. Logic-based culture. A very logical school of thought that's quite prominent in the culture. In order to do very good physical engineering, there have to be enough people who are comfortable with this sort of very logical thought, -- very analytical, so that they can do not just the empirical side, but also the thinking through, doing hypothesis generation to explore consequences. In the modern world, this is something that may be called "scientific materialism", "rationalism" -- which seem to work very well for this. In other cultures that have physical technology you'll see some equivalent of this, e.g., scholasticism, or legalism, or some sort of very logical culture that gives a wide social space for "nerds to get into the weeds." This is more of an empirical claim, but it seems to fit that this is a thing you would need to do the type of large scale engineering, which may be necessary for both incremental and breakthrough technology.



They may have psychological and even genetic components. For example, hunting vs farming, may have selected people for completely different set of abilities, where in one case, the results are not very much correlated with efforts (more related with subconscious "cooking" of various ideas so to speak), whereas in other case they are closely related with the amount of work done.

So, I'd say, it has a lot to do with those natural propensities, but also, on how society rewards them economically.