On the S-curve of the patterns of evolution of technical systems,
Or towards the patterns of economic-technological evolution

Y. B. Karasik

Thought Guiding Systems Inc.
Ottawa, Canada
e-mail: karasik@sympatico.ca

Altshuller discovered patterns of evolutions of technical systems by analyzing the evolution of specific technologies and by generalizing/extrapolating his findings after that. In so doing, he used to take into account the successful instances of machines only.

For example, while analyzing the evolution of aircrafts, he took into account the really flying machines only, starting with Wrights brothers. He did not try to figure out the patterns of evolution of all unsuccessful machines built before them. He ignored all projects of flying machines based on steam engines and resembling ships. He ignored the projects of Leonardo Da Vinci, etc. etc.

Meanwhile, the history of any technology consists of the period of the initial unsuccessful attempts followed by the period of its successful development (not without some failures, of course). The latter period can also be subdivided into two sub-periods:
a) the initial phase of the successful development when the rate of failing models is very high; and
b) the mature phase of the successful development when failing models do not happen as often as in the beginning.

Altshuller's patterns of evolution are applicable to the period of the successful development of technology. Nobody investigated whether or not there are patterns of evolution of a technology during its unsuccessful phase.

Meanwhile, the recent events in the economy indicate that the boundary between the two periods is blurred. Whether or not a specific system should be related to the unsuccessful attempts or to the first successfully working system, depends sometimes on the economical circumstances.

For example, had the high-tech bubble not burst in 2000, Lucent, Cisco, and Nortel would have reported the advent of the first operational optical switch. They were on the verge of doing so and needed it to further inflate the bubble.

The telecom providers would have bought the switch and would have confirmed that it worked for the same reason. I witnessed them buying not properly working new models of the standard telecom equipment (not to mention the optical one) and touting it as successful in order to attract further investments. The actual losses due to this equipment were hidden (as we all know now) by the "creative" accounting. They would definitely bought optical switches as well in order to further excite investors. As long as money continued to pour, the "creative" accounting would have helped them to stay afloat and to hide the truth about the viability of the switches. The history would have recorded that the first operational and effective optical switches came into existence in 2001. And all the future researchers of the patterns of evolution of optical switches would have to take these would be switches into account !

Here we see as the desire to perpetuate the fraud in economy requires the fraud in technology. And as soon as economy does not collapse, this fraud in technology is not always recognizable by the future researchers of the patterns of evolution.

Of course, until recently, the first successful instances of technologies could be easily determined. The plane of Wrights brothers flew regardless of the economy. However, it is not so simple nowadays with complex and distributed technological systems.

All this drives my thought in the following direction. Research on patterns of evolution of technical systems is by no mean complete. None of the patterns is satisfactorily scientifically founded and as such they are not final. The effort to make them more accurate is going on. Thus, the patterns of evolution themselves "evolve" !

The latter begs a question: is there an S-curve for the patterns of technological evolution ? Should they be eventually included into a higher and more correct vision of the patterns of economic-technological evolution ? In my opinion, the above examples answer these questions in affirmative.