inventions = population x (time)²
Inventions can be viewed as quantitative units of technology. When the 2000 inventions are studied, the inventions increase in linear proportion to population increases. Also, inventions increase exponentially with time. Exponential increases in DATA explain the exponential increases in inventions over time.One thing is obvious, data is increasing exponentially. The first dimension of data which began in 250.000 BCE, oral or spoken language, produced little data. Oral stories passed between generations of hunter-gatherer peoples was very limited in information content. The second dimension of data, hand written language, created a huge explosion data in 3500 BCE. Over 500,000 cuneiform clay tablets have been recovered from Mesopotamia documenting this era of history. With written language, cities and civilizations were born. I have called this explosion of inventions and civilizations of 3500 BCE as the Big Bang of Technology. The third dimension of data, mechanical printing press with movable type on paper in 1450, created another explosion of data and inventions. I have called this next increase in data and technology as the Big Surge of Technology. Millions of books were published in this era creating another logarithmic expansion of data. The fourth dimension of data, electronic language, began in 1837 with the telegraph and Morse code. The era progressed with the telephone, radio, television, and ultimately computers. By 1989, billions of documents had been published creating another exponential increase in data. The World Wide Web and internet were created in 1989, launching the fifth dimension of data, hypertext language. Hypertext allows interconnection or links between the billions of documents and videos creating another exponential expansion of data. Data growth is directly linked to inventions. The exponential growth of data explains the exponential growth of inventions.
DATA is the most important technology class
DATA is as important as the four other technology classes (energy, machines, materials, and biotechnology) combined. DATA defines the ERA’s of technology. DATA is responsible for the acceleration of and exponential growth of technology over time (see blog – “The Primacy of Data”) Of the top 7 greatest inventions of all time, 4 are data related: written language (2), printing press (3), radio wave technology (6), and computers (7). Oral language could arguably be considered on the list of greatest inventions but the origins of spoken language predate the dawn of Homo sapiens in 250,000 BCE. With major data inventions we see the greatest watershed moments in human existence. Unlike inventions in the other technology classes (energy, machines, materials, and biotechnology), major data inventions (5 dimensions of data) build on each other. We see exponential increases in data transitioning from oral, spoken language to hand written language. We see another exponential increase in data transitioning from hand written language to mechanical printed data on paper. We see another exponential increase in data transitioning from mechanical printed material to electronic data on a computer screen. Another exponential increase in data occurs with introduction of hypertext, linking documents and video.
DATA exists in 5 progressive dimensions:
1. spoken data, 2. hand written data, 3. mechanical printed data, 4. electronic data, 5. hypertext dataThe ORAL ERA and Tokens ERA from 250,000 BCE-3500 BCE are defined by oral or spoken language, the first dimension of data. Spoken language was not recorded and defines prehistory. The WRITTEN ERA, the ALPHABET ERA, and the NUMBERS ERA from 3500 BCE-1450 AD are defined by by hand written language, the second dimension of data. Written language begins history, civilizations, and cities, all associated with the Big Bang of Technology from 3500 BCE. The PRINT ERA from 1450-1837 is defined by the mechanical printing press on paper with movable type. The printing press brought the machine to language. Print is the third dimension of data. Books and papers could be printed quickly and cheaply, spreading knowledge.The printing press is associated with the Big Surge of Technology beginning in 1450 and the first form of mass communication. Alphabetic languages of the western world print more easily due to fewer characters than the Chinese language creating a technology gap between China and the west.. The WIRED and WIRELESS ERAS from 1837-1989 are defined by electronic language, first transmitted over copper wires, then transmitted by wireless radio waves. Electronic language is the fourth dimension of data and increased mass communication with radio and television. The INTERNET ERA is defined by the use of hypertext language over computer networks. Hypertext language is the fifth dimension of data. Mass communication with individuals through social media increased with links on the internet. Big data and big data analytics developed with the internet.
Technology production (INVENTION) is extremely uneven over time.
Long periods of time have passed in human existence with little or no inventions. The first 240,000 years of human existence as hunter gatherer culture produced very few inventions despite the extremely long time period. Beginning with the Oral Era which lasted from 250,000 BCE to the invention of agriculture in 10,000 BCE with the start of the Tokens Era, there was no written language. This period constituted 96% of human existence but produced less than 4% (68) of the top 2000 inventions. By comparison, the last 250 years (since 1770) has comprised 0.1% of human existence yet produced 75% (1500) of the top 2000 inventions. Clearly, the history of inventions is highly uneven.
TECHNOLOGY PRODUCTION (INVENTION) IS EXTREMELY UNEVEN by GEOGRAPHY.
Technology is not just uneven by time, technology is uneven by geography. Small geographic areas have produced over 10X-100X the expected number of inventions for the region’s population. Sumer, Mesopotamia from 3500 BCE -3000 BCE despite the small population of 1.2 million individuals, produced many of the greatest inventions of all time: written language, wheel and axle, bronze smelting, plow (ard), wood hulled oared sailboat, and hydraulic engineering (see blog on “Greatest Technology Producing Civilization of All Time”). Silicon Valley is a second striking example of the unevenness of inventions and technology by geography. In a small region of the San Francisco Bay of California and with a population of less than 4 million persons, Silicon Valley has produced many of the 21st century’s greatest inventions: the smart phone, Facebook, eBay, iPad, Apple watch, Uber, Netflix, PayPal, Tesla, Square, Adobe Photoshop, Google, HP printers, Intel microprocessors/silicon computer chips. Commanding about 45% of the USA venture capital in 2015, Silicon Valley has been the greatest source of recent technology investment in the world.
More recent eras have also demonstrated extreme geographic variability in invention numbers. Analysis of Encyclopedia Britannica’s 342 Greatest Inventions of All Time in Wikipedia:
- 167/342 – (49%) came from the USA despite possessing only 4% of the world population.
- 43 /342 – (12%) came from the United Kingdom despite possessing only 0.9% of the world population.
- 292/342 – (85%) came from the USA and Western Europe combined despite possessing only 7.5% of the world population. That means the remaining 15% of inventions were produced by 92.5% of the world population.
The United States and Western Europe have produced by far most of the world’s largest number of great inventions. USA and Western Europe created 292 out of 342 of the World’s Greatest Inventions or 85% of the Greatest Inventions of All Time. The USA is 4.25% of the world population and Western Europe is 2.52% of the world population, together 6.77% of the world population. The USA and Western Europe produced 85% of World technology inventions and yet comprise less than 7% of the world population. There is more than 10X the technology produced by the USA and Western Europe than what we would expect based on population alone. Whereas China has produced over 40 of the world’s greatest inventions, the technology of China has been spread over 11,000 years versus largely 600 years for Western Europe and 250 years for the United States.
Rough inspection of my 2000 greatest inventions of all time seems to support similar numbers and percentages as to the 342 Greatest Inventions of All Time from Encyclopedia Britannica.
Clearly, small areas of the world produce most of the inventions and some large parts of the world (Africa, Latin America) produce almost no inventions.
TECHNOLOGY PRODUCTION (INVENTION) varies with the DEMOGRAPHICS OF age, SEX, RACE, RELIGION, INCOME, EDUCATION, mATH COMPETENCY, AND HOW URBAN THE UPBRINGING.
Growing up in cities is far more linked to inventions than a rural upbringing. Children born to the top 1% of income parents are 10x more likely to become an inventor than one born to a below average income family. Boys are 3x more likely to become inventors than girls. Asians are 2x more likely than whites to become inventors and 4x more likely than blacks or latinos. Whites are 2x more likely than blacks or latinos to become inventors (Vox, Matthew Yglesias, 2017). The typical inventor is Asian or white, 47 years old, Protestant, male, rich, math skilled, mobile, educated, and urban. Exposure to appropriate inventor role models contributes highly to invention development. Being raised in a technology rich urban environment is important as well.
The vast majority of inventions are improvements of existing inventions.
Few inventions are completely original. Completely original inventions include: the six simple machines. phonograph. alphabet, papyrus.
PROGRESSIVE IMPROVEMENTS OF EXISTING INVENTIONS LEADS TO CHAIN EVOLUTION.
Like the links on a metal chain, the progressive improvements of many inventions are highly linked. By human choice, the improved invention is selected or purchased. Because technology by definition is an unnatural process, the mechanism of chain evolution is unnatural selection.
Hand written language created an explosion of inventions called the big bang of technology in 3500 BCE.
The Big Bang of Technology occurred in 3500 BCE with the invention of hand written language. The Big Bang was associated with the near simultaneous non data inventions of the plow, the wheel and axle, the oared wooden hulled sailboat, cities, smelting of bronze, production of glass, in Sumer, Mesopotamia. The first civilization to develop was Sumer, Mesopotamia on the Tigris and Euphrates rivers in about 3500 BCE. Within three hundred years, 6 independent civilizations developed in the Indus river 3300 BCE, in Egypt on the Nile river 3200 BCE, Newgrange Ireland 3200 BCE, Greece 3200 BCE, Peru 3200 BCE, Iran 3200 BCE.
Mechanical Printing Press on paper with movable type started a progressive wave of inventions called the big surge of technology which began in 1450.
The big surge of technology started in 1450 and accelerated the Renaissance, led to the Reformation, Scientific Revolution, and the Enlightenment in Europe. Although invented in China, the printing press was not widely adopted which likely contributed to the stagnation in inventions there since 1450. The Big Surge of Technology in 1450 was triggered by invention of the mechanical printing press on paper, creating the third dimension of data and the first form of mass communication.
Technology makes DATA more portable
Technology increases DATA storage density over time. Hand written documents shrink in printed texts which further decrease in size with electronic data. One modern computer microchip or thumb drive can store an entire library of books.
Technology increases the speed and penetration of DATA transfer
Human bipedal walking with oral language was the first method to spread DATA. Later, letters taken by horse and cart or ships spread DATA over greater distances and with greater speed. Printed newspapers were the first form of mass communication. Telegraph and telephone used wires to spread DATA almost instantaneously over large distances. Radio waves with radio, television, and cellular phones spread DATA instantaneously to millions of people without wires. Social media allows individuals to access the world.
Written language allows DATA to access an absent population
People geographically distant or not yet born can later access written DATA. Prior to writing, DATA was primarily transferred in the present time with oral language. Written DATA connects the past with the future. Approximately, 110 billion have ever lived. About 30 billion lived before the beginning of written history. 80 billion estimated people have lived since the beginning of written history.
The amount of DATA since 1450 AD parallels Moore’s Law of transistors
Like the transistor number on a silicon chip, the production of DATA (words, numbers, and images) grows exponentially with time. Moore’s Law also states that data storage (transistor) costs decrease exponentially with time. Unlike inventions in the other technology classes (energy, machines, materials, and biotechnology), major data inventions build on each other. We see an exponential increase in data transitioning from hand written language to printed data on paper. We see another exponential increase in data transitioning from printed material on paper to electronic data on a computer screen. Another exponential increase occurs with introduction of the internet and networking together of computers. The Big Surge of Technology which began with the printing press in 1450 has continued to the present day due to the ongoing exponential increases in data.
Education is the mastery of DATA. Increased literacy and mathematics competency is associated with dramatic increases in inventions
The Reformation and Protestantism were associated with dramatically increased literacy and dramatically increased technology. The fall of the Roman Empire, the rise of Catholicism, and the Mongol conquests were associated with decreased literacy and decreased technology (Dark Ages).
University cities and centers of industrial research lead to technology development
Advanced university degrees in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) spawns inventions. Civilizations and cities produce the most technology. Centers of learning are also linked to centers of technology- Stanford University and Silicon Valley, Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Northeast USA.
Each of the nine technology Eras is defined by a different major data invention
The ORAL ERA dates from 250,000 BCE-10,000 BCE is defined by the development of oral language.
The TOKENS ERA dates from 10,000 BCE-3500 BCE is defined by the development of the proto writing tokens systems. The tokens system lasted 4000 years from 7500 BCE to 3500 BCE.
The WRITTEN ERA dates from 3500 BCE- 700 BCE is defined by the invention of cuneiform writing on clay tablets, the first written language. With hand written language, history begins. The Big Bang of technology begins with hand written language in 3500 BCE. The plow, wheel, bronze smelting, hydraulic engineering, beginning of cities and civilizations, and the invention of wood hulled, oared, sailboats occurred in relatively quick succession.
The ALPHABET ERA dates from 700 BCE-476 AD is defined by the invention of the complete alphabet, including vowels. Greek and Roman culture would come to dominate the western world during this time.
The NUMBERS ERA dates from 476 AD-1450 AD is defined by the invention of the Hindu-Arabic number system and the Golden Age of Islam and the Golden Age of China. In the West, the Dark Ages prevailed.
The PRINT ERA dates from 1450-1837 is defined by the invention of the printing press on paper with movable type. Although invented in China earlier, western popularization of printing led to the Big Surge of technology which accelerated the Renaissance, created the Reformation, led to the Scientific Revolution and the Enlightenment.
The WIRED ERA dates from 1837-1920 is defined by the telegraph, the telephone, and electricity on insulated copper wires.
The WIRELESS ERA dates from 1920-1989 is defined by radio wave technology which created radio, television, and later cellular phones.
The INTERNET ERA dates from 1989 to present is defined by the World Wide Web, big data, and smart phones.
Each era is progressively shorter in time duration yet is associated with increased numbers of inventions/decade. Technology is accelerating with the passage of time. (see second Blog, “Technology Quantified”).
8/10 of Greatest Inventors of All Time created data inventions
Thomas Alva Edison (phonograph, improvements of telegraph and telephone), Nikola Tesla (AC induction motor, radio wave technology), Douglas Englebart (computer mouse, graphic user interface, hypertext), Tim Berners-Lee (World Wide Web, internet), Archimedes of Syracuse (simple machines, lever, gears, screw) Alexander Graham Bell (telephone, AT&T), Louis Pasteur (germ theory, vaccinations, pasteurization), William Shockley, Jr. (transistor), Cai Lun (paper), Steve Jobs (Apple devices)
If necessity is the mother of invention then competition is the father of invention
Competition drives technology progression. Individual, corporate, national competition racing to an invention goal is common. Examples of technology competitive races include: telephone, light bulb filament, arms race, space race, DNA structure, AC versus DC power, Covid 19 vaccine.
Technology will increasingly show primacy over science, due to logarithmic acceleration of technology over time
The natural world defined by science will increasingly be replaced by an synthetic world created by technology. Joseph Schumpeter (1883-1950) and Austrian-American economist described in the 1930-1940s a process of “creative destruction” which can be viewed as replacement of the original biological world with the new, synthetic technological world. Technology originally began in the Oral Era (250,000 BCE-10,000 BCE) as a small force in the natural world. As eras advance to the 21st century, technology on land, in the oceans, and in the skies is increasingly changing the natural world. Paul Forman, in “The Primacy of Science in Modernity, of Technology in Post-Modernity, and the Ideology in the History of Technology, from History and Technology vol 23, No 1&2, March/June 2007, pp 1-152 describes 1980 as the year of change from modern to postmodern world. Forman defines the modern world as dominated by the primacy of science over technology and ending in 1980. Forman describes the post-modern world as dominated by the primacy of technology over science beginning in 1980. Forman states that the transition from the modern to the post-modern world is defined by the transition from the primacy of natural science (biology, chemistry, physics, geology) to the primacy of technology (applied science- 10 technology classes). Paul Forman’s view places 1980 as the transition point in the transformation of the natural world of science to the synthetic world of technology. The accelerating power of technology relative to science increases with time related to data logarithmic growth.
The industrial research lab (Menlo Park, NY, 1876) is arguably the greatest invention of the greatest inventor of all time, Thomas Alva Edison
There are estimated to be over 6000 industrial research labs in the USA alone. The industrial research lab intentionally was left off the list of greatest inventions because the research lab is an invention creator rather than a true invention. Further, the industrial research lab defies technology classification (data, energy, machines, materials, biotechnology).
Epidemics slow technology development and can collapse civilizations
Epidemics have contributed to the collapse of several civilizations: 1) Roman Empire with malaria and plague 2) Native
American civilizations in North America, Mesoamerica (Maya and Aztec), and South America (Inca) due to smallpox, measles, malaria. Up to 90% of Native Americans died from disease, not warfare. Epidemics not only decrease the population but decrease interaction and decrease DATA transfers, stifling technology. The current covid-19 epidemic is further proof of the negative effect of epidemics on technology.
Capitalism, entrepreneurship, patents, and inventions are closely related
Statute on Monopolies,1623 English Parliament.
Co-inventions occur when 2 inventions are closely linked
such as canoe and paddle, boat and oars, saddle and stirrups, plow and domestication of oxen, wheel/axle and domestication of horses, ink and pen and papyrus/paper.
The Islamic Golden Age, 750-1250 AD, the eastern Byzantine empire, 306-1453, and to a lesser extent, the Chinese Golden Age, 1000-1450, transitioned the Western World from the Greek/Roman Civilization until the Renaissance.
THE Renaissance, reformation, scientific revolution, and Enlightenment were caused by: 1) Printing press with movable type on paper , 1450 2) Protestant emphasis on literacy and education , Martin Luther, 95 Theses, 1517 3) Caravel ocean sailing ship (Age of Discovery) 4) Scientific method, Francis Bacon, 1600, Rene Descartes, 1637, Isaac Newton, 1687 5) Statue on Monopolies, which created FINANCIAL reward for inventions, 1623.
Dark Ages were caused by: 1) Military defeat of Christian Rome 2) Collapse of papyrus trade with Egypt after the fall of the Roman Empire 3) Epidemics of Europe, Black Death, Justinian Plague, Roman Fever 4) Rise of illiterate pastoral horse cultures, Huns, Mongols