On the relativity of time in technological progress

Y. B. Karasik,
Thoughts Guiding Systems Corp.,
Ottawa, Canada.
e-mail:karasik@sympatico.ca

As is well known, Einstein discovered that the notion of simultaneity was not consistently defined in classical physics. He defined it and then showed that simultaneity is relative. What is simultaneous for one observer may not be simultaneous for another one. This led to the discovery of relativity of time interval between events and, accordingly, relativity of duration/pace of processes.

In technological progress there is also relativity of duration/pace of processes. Some argue that technological progress is slowing down [1], whereas others argue that it is speeding up. Still the third maintain that whether technological progress is speeding up or not, its speed is always below what it could and should be. Altshuller belonged to the later group. He asserted that inventions are always late. He insisted that inventions could be done earlier. His favorite example was Maksutov telescope, which, he said, could have been invented in the times of Newton but was invented just in XX century.

There is a difference between physics and technodynamics though. In physics the relativity of time emerged when simultaneity was consistently defined. But in philosophy of technological progress the relativity exists because, conversely, simultaneity is not defined at all. As a result, lateness is not defined too. Since definition of one of them follows from definition of the other, I will concentrate on defining lateness first, as more relevant a notion to theorizing about delays in technological progress.

I define the late invention as an invention that happened well after all preconditions of its emergence were met and the need arose. Definitions of "well after" could vary:

  1. "Well after" could mean that work on it started after another invention was made, which preconditions were met later than preconditions of the invention in question and the need arose later than the need in the invention in question.

    For example, suppose that for inventions Ik all preconditions were met at the instants Tk1 respectively, the need arose at the instants Tk2 respectively, work on them started at the instants Tk3 respectively, and inventions were made at the instants Tk4 respectively. Let Tk5 be the latest of Tk1 and Tk2. Then Im is late if there is In for which Tn5 > Tm5 but Tn4 < Tm3

  2. Suppose that the same set of conditions were preconditions for several inventions. Suppose that the need in all of them arose before these preconditions were met. Then "well after" could mean that work on some invention in this group started after another invention from the group was accomplished.

  3. etc.

For both proposed definitions of "well after" Maksutov telescope was not a late invention. Indeed, although preconditions of its emergence were met a couple centuries before, the need has not arisen till XX century.