Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Which technologies get better faster?

18.05.2011
New analysis helps predict which new systems will be on a fast track to improvements in performance.

Some forms of technology — think, for example, of computer chips — are on a fast track to constant improvements, while others evolve much more slowly. Now, a new study by researchers at MIT and other institutions shows that it may be possible to predict which technologies are likeliest to advance rapidly, and therefore may be worth more investment in research and resources.

In a nutshell, the researchers found that the greater a technology’s complexity, the more slowly it changes and improves over time. They devised a way of mathematically modeling complexity, breaking a system down into its individual components and then mapping all the interconnections between these components.

"It gives you a way to think about how the structure of the technology affects the rate of improvement,” says Jessika Trancik, assistant professor of engineering systems at MIT. Trancik wrote the paper with James McNerney, a graduate student at Boston University (BU); Santa Fe Institute Professor Doyne Farmer; and BU physics professor Sid Redner. It appears online this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The team was inspired by the complexity of energy-related technologies ranging from tiny transistors to huge coal-fired powerplants. They have tracked how these technologies improve over time, either through reduced cost or better performance, and, in this paper, develop a model to compare that progress to the complexity of the design and the degree of connectivity among its different components.

The authors say the approach they devised for comparing technologies could, for example, help policymakers mitigate climate change: By predicting which low-carbon technologies are likeliest to improve rapidly, their strategy could help identify the most effective areas to concentrate research funding. The analysis makes it possible to pick technologies “not just so they will work well today, but ones that will be subject to rapid development in the future,” Trancik says.

Besides the importance of overall design complexity in slowing the rate of improvement, the researchers also found that certain patterns of interconnection can create bottlenecks, causing the pace of improvements to come in fits and starts rather than at a steady rate.

“In this paper, we develop a theory that shows why we see the rates of improvement that we see,” Trancik says. Now that they have developed the theory, she and her colleagues are moving on to do empirical analysis of many different technologies to gauge how effective the model is in practice. “We’re doing a lot of work on analyzing large data sets” on different products and processes, she says.

For now, she suggests, the method is most useful for comparing two different technologies “whose components are similar, but whose design complexity is different.” For example, the analysis could be used to compare different approaches to next-generation solar photovoltaic cells, she says. The method can also be applied to processes, such as improving the design of supply chains or infrastructure systems. “It can be applied at many different scales,” she says.

Koen Frenken, professor of economics of innovation and technological change at Eindhoven University of Technology in the Netherlands, says this paper “provides a long-awaited theory” for the well-known phenomenon of learning curves. “It has remained a puzzle why the rates at which humans learn differ so markedly among technologies. This paper provides an explanation by looking at the complexity of technology, using a clever way to model design complexity.”

Frenken adds, “The paper opens up new avenues for research. For example, one can verify their theory experimentally by having human subjects solve problems with different degrees of complexity.” In addition, he says, “The implications for firms and policymakers [are] that R&D should not only be spent on invention of new technologies, but also on simplifying existing technologies so that humans will learn faster how to improve these technologies.”

Ultimately, the kind of analysis developed in this paper could become part of the design process — allowing engineers to “design for rapid innovation,” Trancik says, by using these principles to determine “how you set up the architecture of your system.”

Marta Buczek | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.mit.edu

More articles from Power and Electrical Engineering:

nachricht Engineers program tiny robots to move, think like insects
15.12.2017 | Cornell University

nachricht Electromagnetic water cloak eliminates drag and wake
12.12.2017 | Duke University

All articles from Power and Electrical Engineering >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Error-free into the Quantum Computer Age

A study carried out by an international team of researchers and published in the journal Physical Review X shows that ion-trap technologies available today are suitable for building large-scale quantum computers. The scientists introduce trapped-ion quantum error correction protocols that detect and correct processing errors.

In order to reach their full potential, today’s quantum computer prototypes have to meet specific criteria: First, they have to be made bigger, which means...

Im Focus: Search for planets with Carmenes successful

German and Spanish researchers plan, build and use modern spectrograph

Since 2016, German and Spanish researchers, among them scientists from the University of Göttingen, have been hunting for exoplanets with the “Carmenes”...

Im Focus: First-of-its-kind chemical oscillator offers new level of molecular control

DNA molecules that follow specific instructions could offer more precise molecular control of synthetic chemical systems, a discovery that opens the door for engineers to create molecular machines with new and complex behaviors.

Researchers have created chemical amplifiers and a chemical oscillator using a systematic method that has the potential to embed sophisticated circuit...

Im Focus: Long-lived storage of a photonic qubit for worldwide teleportation

MPQ scientists achieve long storage times for photonic quantum bits which break the lower bound for direct teleportation in a global quantum network.

Concerning the development of quantum memories for the realization of global quantum networks, scientists of the Quantum Dynamics Division led by Professor...

Im Focus: Electromagnetic water cloak eliminates drag and wake

Detailed calculations show water cloaks are feasible with today's technology

Researchers have developed a water cloaking concept based on electromagnetic forces that could eliminate an object's wake, greatly reducing its drag while...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

See, understand and experience the work of the future

11.12.2017 | Event News

Innovative strategies to tackle parasitic worms

08.12.2017 | Event News

AKL’18: The opportunities and challenges of digitalization in the laser industry

07.12.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

The body's street sweepers

18.12.2017 | Life Sciences

Fast flowing heat in layered material heterostructures

18.12.2017 | Materials Sciences

Life on the edge prepares plants for climate change

18.12.2017 | Life Sciences

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>