banner T

 

Some perspective on eras and technologies

 

The purpose of this section is to provide a brief indication of technocapitalismís place in the development of technology.

 

Technocapitalism involves the emergence of new technologies that are likely to revolutionize many aspects of life and work.Those new technologies are likely to be hallmarks of the twenty-first century.Some of their effects, good and bad, are already becoming noticeable.

 

Every era is distinguished by the emergence of new technologies that have profound effects on many human activities.The social and economic impacts of those new technologies are often irreversible.The new technologies then prevail until they are replaced by discoveries that prove to be more effective.

 

The emergence of a new technology is often a matter of how strongly it collapses time, cost, space, or saves lives.New discoveries that can substantially reduce the time, cost, distance, or life-loss involving an existing technology might prevail.This dynamic has been at the core of technological change throughout human history.

 

The new technologies that will be hallmarks of technocapitalism may change substantially what previous technology accomplished.Biotechnology, for example, is likely to change existing medical practices, by introducing new therapies based on discoveries in genetics and emerging fields, such as proteomics.As a result, many of todayís surgical procedures may become unnecessary.Replacement organs may be grown in laboratories, instead of waiting for donors.Biopharmacology is likely to change the pharmaceutical industry, by providing medications that precisely target individual genetic characteristics for illnesses, instead of the current hit-or-miss, one-size-fits-all medications.††††


Nanotechnology is bound to revolutionize miniaturization.It may, for example, change radically many aspects of medical care, by introducing new and very precise ways to diagnose problems, deliver medications and make surgery less invasive.In electronics, nanotechnology may eventually allow microscopic processors to have the power of todayís supercomputers.This may allow vast computing power to be placed most anywhere, making it possible to automatically monitor and adjust many processes that today are done manually or not at all.††††††

 

The interface of software, digital networks and nanotechnology may eventually make all current wiring unnecessary on a global scale, providing a new frontier of completely wireless ground communications.Similarly, the interface of software with nanotechnology and fuel cell technologies might eventually replace completely the current electrical power supply infrastructure, as buildings become self-sufficient by generating the power they use through their own fuel cells.††††††††††

 

These potential future developments may seem revolutionary now, but technological changes in past eras were no less so.The introduction of steam power in the nineteenth century, for example, revolutionized industrial production, travel and urban living, collapsing time, cost and distance in a way that people accustomed to sailboats, wind and water mills found hard to anticipate.Similarly, the invention and introduction of aviation in the twentieth century allowed a further collapse of time, cost and distance that amazed those who grew up traveling by rail.Not so long ago, the introduction of personal computers collapsed the time and cost of writing and printing documents, in ways that astonished those who had worked with carbon paper and typewriters most of their lives.

 

In all such cases, there was always a lag between the time of a path-breaking discovery or invention, and the time of its commercial introduction.This happens because it is often difficult to anticipate the uses of a new invention.Often, a half-century or more passed before some commercial or social use could be found.This characteristic earmarks the difference between invention and innovation.The latter often includes improvements or adjustments of existing inventions, although there have also been many cases where innovations inspired new discoveries.The former usually includes research that is more uncertain, risky or basic, in terms of any potential success.The lag between invention and usage may explain why key inventions were introduced as new technologies decades after their discovery.

 

In the case of technocapitalism, however, we may see a speedier introduction of new discoveries to commercial and social uses.The pressures introduced by the need to sustain continuous invention and innovation, and wider access to research networks, may make it possible to shorten the time between discovery and use.

 

Beyond these considerations is the dynamics of capitalism itself, as a social and economic system.One important consideration is whether inventions and innovations occur primarily through small enterprises and organizations, or whether they are taken over or generated by oligopolistic corporations.Oligopolistic market power may discourage invention and innovation, as small firms are taken over by the larger corporations, and barriers to entry into the new sectors symbolic of technocapitalism are erected.In other cases, small and very innovative firms may grow large and become oligopolistic in their own right, taking over and imposing their pricing power over entire sectors.In this way, the promise for human wellbeing that many of the new technologies symbolic of technocapitalism represent may remain unfulfilled, even though they may generate vast profits for the corporations that own or control them.††††††

 

Eras and vital new technologies

 

Technocapitalism (early 21st century to ?):†† Biotechnology, nanotechnology, software, digital networks, other technologies (?).

 

Late Industrial Capitalism (mid- to late 20th century):†† Petrochemicals, electronics, computing, aviation/aerospace.

 

Industrial Capitalism (late 19th to mid-20th century):†† Chemicals, electricity, internal combustion engine, automotive technology.

 

Early Industrial Capitalism (early to late 19th century):†† Steel, machinery, steam power, railroads.††††††

 

 

Copyright © Luis Suarez-Villa