Remember meForgot password?
    Log in with Twitter

article imageOp-Ed: Is big tech change really slowing down? Yes and no

By Paul Wallis     Aug 14, 2019 in Technology
Sydney - The theory of endless big tech change and advancements has hit a bit of a hurdle. Change isn’t happening as fast as it should, according to some experts. There are reasons for that, and real change is often less obvious.
According to an article by highly credentialled tech commentator Wade Roush in Scientific American, major tech changes are happening more slowly. Comparing the 20th century rate of change, the article argues that the big leaps are fewer, and that the digital revolution, which started in the 1970s, took over the world in the 90s and turned into a bitching session about data management in the early 2000s, has been plodding along recently. A case cited is robotics, the supposed “domestic revolution”, in which only the Roomba aka the cat taxi, has been widely adopted.
As portable revolutions go, the argument goes, the iPhone is supposedly the only real signature tech for this century. The iPhone is a mix of modern digital tech, ancient tech like touch screens, and of course good old binary code. So the theory goes that actual major change is slow.
For an article limited in space and so broad in context, it’s also an interesting look at the difference between expectations and facts. (The world is supposedly heading to The Jetsons, right? Even the expectations have barely evolved at this point in history.) It’s worth examining the change idea, because the pace of tech change is a defining factor in this world.
What’s “change”?
If you stick to the simple application of change as what people have, the argument has some validity. Basic tech in various forms, somewhat upgraded, is still basic tech. Some types of basic tech are universal, like phones, tablets, etc. Anything called “change” would have to apply to these platforms, and let’s face it, what would be a good change? More agile basic tech? If so, it’s hardly “change”, is it?
I’ve got a lot more space to work with than Mr Roush, but I don’t want to in any way diminish his argument by sheer verbosity or sophistry. He has a point, but I see many other factors at work.
If tech change is to be measured by major jumps in adopted consumer or industrial technologies, those changes don’t happen every day, for good reasons:
The adoption of new tech takes time, even when the new tech is easily accessible. Persuading people that computers were a good idea took a while. For those who don’t remember the determined digital illiteracy of the 90s, it was very reactive and regressive. The old tech, which was around since the Pharaohs, took a ridiculously long while to shift. This sort of obstructionism comes from a human mindset, not tech as such. “Change” was in the mindset, as much as the technologies.
While all the umming and ahhing about new office tech was going on, the commercial side of tech also had to adapt. The corporate guys fell all over the new cash cow, and instantly took a range of paths, many of which led nowhere. Startups preaching change came and went like buses. Change turned out to be what worked for the end-users, not the tech itself. Again, the mindset had to learn its way around the tech.
The first thing people noticed about new tech, not too surprisingly, was how useful it was to them. Not all techs apply widely. Artificial intelligence is the current emerging version of this. “OK, it’s great, but what can it do for me?” Again, adoptive change has to go through this ritual, and it’s necessary.
Other obstacles, again not to baffling in nature, include the limitations of new techs when they start. 3D printing, for example, is “a factory in your living room” in theory, but in practice, what can you use it for? There are significant issues with materials, markets, the scope of print capabilities, etc. 3D printing is a big change, but it’s still finding its way around.
A big change at point-blank range
Arguably the biggest change, and it’s still happening, is in the response to tech. The mindsets are now far more fluent with technologies of all kinds, and much more au fait with how to manage new tech. That’s very new. In the 20th century, a lot of change was based on mechanical systems, which people knew pretty well.
That degree of adaptive familiarity is now much more prevalent. Even the stoic upholders of corporate structures, arguably the most obsolete things on the planet, do basically get technologies as they emerge. It’s taken a couple of generations, but they now accept new tech on face value and try to use it to their advantage as a reflex, not a long, dire, learning curve. That really is a revolution, when the typical vested interests are prepared to move with the times, rather than obstruct the times.
Where does change come from?
Digital change came from the implacable forces of much greater efficiencies on an irresistible scale. The digital revolution drastically upgraded efficiencies and convenience at all levels of society across the board. The main reason any sort of change happens is based on this very pragmatic approach to tech.
So – Where will the next big changes come from, you ask, surveying the vistas of benevolence around the world?
• Surveillance? No. It’s nearly all old tech, with a bit of biometrics (also old) and A.I. added which will soon become far more advanced, in a very limited, one-trick-wonder way. The epitome of surveillance, the Social Credit system in China is basically a stagnant form of limited change, only adopted because of a regime which insists on treating its own people like enemies. Not much of a recommendation.
• How about finance? Not really. Encryption, fast trading, and SSL are very old techs, adapted to a different market, but much the same as the originals in all but name.
• Workplace tech? This time, the issue is the environment, not the tech. What’s a “workplace”? It can be anything, and the sooner the corporate sector realises that it doesn’t have to be in some damn sitcom environment, the better. The core workplace techs can go anywhere, too.
The pattern here for identifying change is to apply the change to a range of functions which haven’t changed. So these are somewhat misleading.
Major tech changes invariably come from discoveries, rather than “build me a change” scenarios. The invention of fire, without which there could be no civilisation, is a discovery of that type. The wheel is sort of similar but had totally different applications
Discoveries are currently happening across a range of sciences which aren’t famous for their contributions to worldwide tech breakthroughs. The Biology Explosion, which has been rewriting biology and medicine on a daily basis, is a case in point. The need is for tech which can keep up with the discoveries in this science. It has produced a lot of tech, and is quite likely to be a source of tech which is as important to consumers as multi-test was decades ago.
Materials science is also going through an exponential boom. New alloys, new applications, add CAD (computer-assisted design), and see what happens. These materials behave differently. They’re more adaptive, and the need tech which can respond to new configurations and mixes of materials. This is almost as basic as cookery, but the tech upsides could be incredible. Imagine a single program which can deliver an entire living environment or an entire city, designed down to the last kilobyte from scratch using totally different materials to those in use today. Major change? Yep.
Point being – Change is a multifaceted thing. Demand can be actually created overnight. Change is driven by multiple factors. Adapting and evolving the practical values of new science is a constant driver for tech changes. Consumer and corporate uptake is now much faster. The Next Big Thing could happen in days, not decades.
Technology also follows ideas. That means that the pace of change has to be related to the range of ideas and the ability to evolve them. The world isn’t short of inventors, engineers, and scientists who can see what they need to develop their ideas.
Change is often invisible, too. The visible element comes after the change. The iPhone is a mass market cultural change, based on very simple tech, if good engineering. It’s not new tech, to about 95% of its actual functions.
Change is coming, and it will be huge. By the end of this century, the technologies will be recognizable, but very different, simply because the drivers of change have also evolved. Don’t give up the chase, because the results can be spectacular.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
More about Technological advances, Technological advances, Scientific American, Scientific American, wads roush
Latest News
Top News