Limit to improvement: myth or reality? Empirical analysis of historical improvement on three technologies influential in the evolution of civilization

Yu Sang Chang, Seung Jin Baek

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

17 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

The evolution of civilization appears to have primarily resulted from continuous improvement made possible by technological advances. A group of social evolutionists and economists have identified, among others, energy, transport, as well as information and communication to be the three most influential technologies. On the other hand, a number of eminent scholars have cited several forces, natural, physiological, technological, as well as environmental which can place a limit on on-going improvement.

The purpose of this paper is to empirically explore the continuous improvement process as well as the limit placed on these three technologies. Using the framework of both connected and disconnected multiple technology S-curves and X-factor, historical improvement data on these three elements have been analyzed. The results of our analysis indicate that improvement in general has continued without limit mainly due to a series of emerging new technologies. These emerging technologies can be either connected or disconnected from the existing mature technologies. Our preliminary analysis shows that much of the past improvement comes from new technologies that on first serious application appear to be substantially superior from earlier technologies. In addition, enormous continuous improvement, which has accompanied both connected and disconnected new technologies appear to have played the critical role in sustaining the evolution of civilization. The paper discusses a number of policy implications and suggests topics for future research.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)712-729
Number of pages18
JournalTechnological Forecasting and Social Change
Volume77
Issue number5
Early online date3 Apr 2010
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 2010

Keywords

  • Technology S-curve
  • X-factor analysis
  • Continuous improvement
  • Disconnected technology
  • Performance difference
  • Lighting
  • Transport
  • Information and communication

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