Platt Perspective on Business and Technology

Business and convergent technologies 13 – the evolution and co-evolution of technology, marketplace and community

Posted in business and convergent technologies by Timothy Platt on November 26, 2009

I have added a number of “state of the art” benchmarks into earlier postings in this series, and with two thoughts in mind. The first is they are notable now at the time of writing for their scale, insofar as they currently seem large and perhaps even a bit impressive. At the same time they are rapidly fading into quaintness, and they will seem small and even archaic and that in just a few years. So I offer these values and scales to place this series in time and context for its initial writing too.

I have avoided focusing on any specific technology offerings or version thereof for ubiquitous computing and communications and have tried to keep this series of postings as relevant across technology generations as possible. But even there, this series is going to become very dated as new issues arise and old ones get resolved into the transparency of the automated and automatic, or simply by lose of relevance. So I try to focus on the long term issues of human impact and reaction and to underlying needs and priorities. Still, I do deal with a very rapidly evolving area of technology and opportunity, and evolutionary and co-evolutionary pressures and responses have to be taken into account in any discussion like this. So that is the topics area that this posting deals with.

Three basic factors come into play in analyzing the evolution and co-evolution of our emerging ubiquitous computing and communications capabilities.

1. As with any technology innovation, adaptation begins with bringing in the participation of the innovators and early adaptors, proceeds through inclusion of the more mid-stage adaptors and finally comes to include and involve the late-stage and lagging adaptors.
2. Rapid cost reductions, functionality increases, availability and usability with shortened learning curves all tend to accelerate this process of involving progressively more delayed-adaptor buy-ins.
3. The really interesting developments in this process all arise with the creation of the unexpected as disruptive technology and technology applications – creating new and unexpected tools, and finding completely unexpected but wide-reaching and powerful applications for these tools.

I am going to focus on the last of these three here, with disruptive technologies and disruptive applications for using them. And I begin that by stating as a given, some basic premises as background to that, connecting in the first two points.

• Groups and communities can best be functionally defined in terms of their capacity as shared platforms for defining shared goals and priorities, and from their utility for collective work towards meeting those requirements.
• That means shared vision of what is to be done and with what priorities and sub-goals, and that depends entirely on information sharing and communications, and on networking.
• Any computational and/or communications capabilities that can enhance and further those processes can and will facilitate group and community formation, cohesiveness, effectiveness and longevity.
• Any such capability also offers opportunity for effective formation and functioning of smaller, more geographically dispersed, and more goals-specialized groups and communities.
• Technologies that promote this will be more widely and rapidly adapted, and across wider ranges of user types according to point 1, above. Quite simply, they will be picked up on and used by more groups and communities and they will be maintained and even mainstreamed by more of them too.
• This will consistently create pressures from user and potential user communities on the development of technology implementations to more effectively meet these group and community-wide needs.
• This creates selective pressures that favor best fit technologies and their applications as far as point 2 above is concerned. The technologies and applications that work better and for more members of wider ranges of groups and communities are the ones that will become more cost-effective and more available as there will be more market pressure to offer and improve them and in ways that meet end-user needs and preferences.

And that brings me to that third point – the unexpected shapers and accelerators of technology and its applications, and patterns of adaptation that arise through emergence of the disruptive and unexpected.

• The specifics of the disruptive may come as a surprise, and as a basic part of the definition for disruptive technology per se, but it is guaranteed that the disruptive will arise and proliferate, and the more far reaching the technology base it comes from, the more unexpected and the profounder in impact the specific disruptions that do arise.

This, for information technology goes back as far as you would like to look and farther. When the first prototype ARPANET was initially developed, a simple messaging tool that was tossed in as an afterthought to help network administrators manage the system became the world’s first online killer app – email.

If that is too recent an example, the punch cards used to encode textile patters for the early Jacquard loom were by disruptive application, picked up by Herman Hollerith for use in his mechanical tabulators. These cards as so reconsidered for their capacity for holding and tabulating information were picked up for use, among other initially unexpected ways, for the 1890 US census, where they created an uproar and a backlash from census workers fearing their jobs were now endangered by technological obsolescence. Those fears died down, at least for this application of new and disruptively emerging technology but that was just an early step in an ongoing process for the cards themselves. They went on to evolve into punch tape and punch cards for the early mainframe computers. And the basic encoding abstraction of organizing information as geometrically and topologically defined patterns of hole/no-hole, or 1/0 was transferred into newer, higher storage capacity media and formats. And we are still seeing elaborations of that core idea arising in new and disruptive ways.

Individual users and groups and communities of users apply market pressures that help to define and shape technology and its development and evolution. Technology and the current and ongoing state of the feasible and possible in turn shape the expressed needs and priorities, and the processes of individual users, groups and communities. Disruptive technology and disruptive technology-supported applications are the wild card in this for both sides of this co-evolutionary process, breaking from the slow and incremental evolutionary to the break-from-the-past revolutionary.

On November 21, 2009 I posted a supplemental entry to this series on Monetizing and setting valuations on information – the crucial question. I am going to pick up on that in the context of disruptive technology and applications in ubiquitous computing and communications, in the next entry in this series.

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