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Explaining Technology

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  09 August 2023

Roger Koppl
Syracuse University, New York
Roberto Cazzolla Gatti
Università di Bologna
Abigail Devereaux
Wichita State University, Kansas
Brian D. Fath
Towson University, Maryland
James Herriot
Herriot Research
Wim Hordijk
Stuart Kauffman
Institute for Systems Biology, Washington
Robert E. Ulanowicz
University of Florida
Sergi Valverde
Spanish National Research Council


A long tradition explains technological change as recombination. Within this tradition, this Element develops an innovative combinatorial model of technological change and tests it with 2,000 years of global GDP data and with data from US patents filed between 1835 and 2010. The model explains 1) the pace of technological change for a least the past two millennia, 2) patent citations and 3) the increasing complexity of tools over time. It shows that combining and modifying pre-existing goods to produce new goods generates the observed historical pattern of technological change. A long period of stasis was followed by sudden super-exponential growth in the number of goods. In this model, the sudden explosion of about 250 years ago is a combinatorial explosion that was a long time in coming, but inevitable once the process began at least two thousand years ago. This Element models the Industrial Revolution as a combinatorial explosion.
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Online ISBN: 9781009386289
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication: 31 August 2023

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