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Technology Index

  1. Apr 15, 2009 #1
    Say that you want to create an index, to quantify technological level of humanity at any time.
    This index puts a value on the level of today as good as the level of technological advancement year 1662 or 400 BC. It can be used in predictions of the future and so on..

    What factors; quantities should the calculation be based on?


    Note that it has to be universal in time, so things like: number of transistors per dollar, or cellphones per capita wont do it. Even stuff like life expectancy is a bit complicated, since during war time it goes down but lots technological advancements are made.
    Last edited: Apr 16, 2009
  2. jcsd
  3. Apr 15, 2009 #2


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    Kind of a round-about way to quantify it, but how about a sum of each profession/job, and the amount of eductation needed to do the job well. As more (useful) technology comes about, it takes more jobs to do it, and each of those jobs requires more detailed knowledge.

    You need to avoid double-counting somehow, but on your transistor example, there are multiple jobs that account for the level of technology and complexity... Because even though parts of the design and fab of the semiconductors get automated, it takes others with detailed knowledge to do the automation tasks.

    Maybe you can think about this angle a bit, and propose a better way to word/quantify it. If nothing else, it may provide a good cross-check index for the original index you are trying to forumulate.
  4. Apr 15, 2009 #3


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    Total energy expenditure has been suggested.

    Life expectancy seems good (though you dismiss it).

    Log of the largest manmade object minus the log of the smallest manmade object? The base scale would have to be roughly human-sized (1 inch to 50 feet).

    Percentage of people working in food production. (Smaller means more people can do other tasks.) Mainly useful for historical comparisons, not so much for future.

    Yield per acre in some useful weighted sense?
  5. Apr 15, 2009 #4


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    Brilliant! I love that one.
  6. Apr 15, 2009 #5
    If you do it by education I think you need to consider not only amount of education, but also type. Just because someone has 20 years of education to be a monk, doesn't mean he's any more technologically advanced than the average farm hand.

    You could develop a technology "index" for a given item--say, the number of hours it would take to produce that item from scratch, if you are a genius with a few thousand obedient underlings and sufficient knowledge, out in the wilderness starting with no tools. So a stone tool might take you a few hours to find the right kind of flint rock, while to make an iron tool might take you a few weeks, including the time needed to build a forge and collect bog iron. Then the technology index for the society could be the technology index of the most sophisticated artifact produced by that society.

    Another way to quantify the technological complexity of an item is to first make a list of "major technologies," which are big technological developments like wheels, steam engines, internal combustion vehicles, mass production, semiconductors, and so forth. Sometimes one technological development depends on another--a steam train depends on a steam engine, for example. The technological level of an item could then be the total number of technologies that it directly or indirectly depends on, going all the way back to level 0. You might want to split some categories up a little more--so instead of simply "mass production" you could have stage I mass production (1900 era), stage II mass production (1930 era), and so forth, where stage II depends on stage I and encompasses a host of refinements and improvements on stage I, too complicated to list. And again, the technological index of a society could be the technological level of that society's most complex artifact.
  7. Apr 15, 2009 #6
    Here's another idea: suppose that amount of energy produced and the size or smallness of an item are both meaningful measures of technological advancement. Take it a step further: compile a list of physical quantities that a technologically advanced object might have, and sum up the logs of the most extreme values of those quantities for any object the civilization produces. The scale used should usually be relative to the human body. That is, compute some weighted sum of factors like the following:

    log of the largest/negative log of the smallest object produced by a society, measured relative to the human body

    log/neg log of the most massive/least massive objects

    log of the amount of power produced by a society, measured relative to the energy output of a human body during vigorous exercise

    log of the amount of energy stored by a society, measured relative to the energy stored in the fat of an average human

    log of the greatest magnetic field concentration produced by a society, relative to ambient magnetic fields

    log of the highest temperature and -log of the lowest temperature produced by a society, measured in a scale like Kelvin except the degrees are around 300 times larger than Kelvin (so room temperature is 1 degree on this scale)

    log of the greatest speed attained by any vehicle produced by the society, measured relative to human running speed

    log of the highest altitude attained by the society, measured relative to the height of a mountain top

    log of the highest frequency attained by some object, measured relative to the human heartbeat

    You get the picture. The constants used in the weighted sum could be chosen by how useful objects that are extreme in that quality are.
    Last edited: Apr 15, 2009
  8. Apr 16, 2009 #7
    Interesting!; If I get you right you suggest that since the more technology advances, the more specialized does professions has to be to handle the new technology, level of specialization could be a good measure of technological development.

    There is without a doubt a correlation, and with a thought through formulation it might be pretty useful. The formulation seems very difficult though.

    I don't actually dismiss life expectany, though I think its a difficult quantity to include.
    You see The Black Plague killed half of Europe's population during 14th. Did technological development go backwards? Just look at all the stuff that was invented during WWII and so on..
    Life expectancy is pretty tricky for "local" analysis.. but for longer periods it should be The number one quantity! I mean Technology is driven purely by human survival instinct, by our need to maximize probability of suvival.. Technology is in a way the sum of all the solutions to our problems, right?

    -Log of smallest manmade object is good stuff! I like it. I think it has good correlation with the development of science and knowledge.

    Log of largest manmade objects gives you nothing! Up until recently the Great wall of China was the lagest manmade structure. Still is with Fresh Kills Landfill excluded. The pyramids in Egypt probably qualifies to top ten. Larger structures doesn't require more technology. With enough workers/slaves and time you can build structures of any size.. Thousand's of years ago.

    I myself lean toward solutions like this one.
    ==> An index that is proportional to the complexity of our tools. Structure per unit volume?
    Maybe something that has to do with local manmade reduction of entropy?
  9. Apr 16, 2009 #8
    We can also use existing economic indicators

    - Structural unemployment (could be good indicator of change in technology)
    - GDP (technology limits the amount of production)
    - Unskilled labor %age (more technology - less unskilled workers)
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