Change in technological systems is becoming...

...more biological. This will take a lot of getting used to. Networks actually grow. Evolution can really be imported into machines. Technological immune systems can be used to control computer viruses. This neobiologicalism seeps directly into our new economy. More and more, biological metaphors are useful economic metaphors.

The image of the economy as something alive is powerful. And it is hardly New Age hokum. Adam Smith himself alluded to aliveness with his unseen "hand." Karl Marx often referred to the organic nature of the economy. Even the legendary no-nonsense economist Alfred Marshall wrote in 1948 that "the Mecca of the economist lies in economic biology." Marshall was writing at the peak of the industrial economy. The first stirrings of the coming power of information were just being felt.

Living systems are notoriously hard to model and theorize about, and even more difficult to predict. Until very recently economics has gravitated to an understanding that settled on an equilibrium, primarily because anything more complex was impossible to calculate. Ironically, the very same computer technology, which has roused flux in the economy, is now used to model it. With powerful chips, dynamic, learning, self-feeding theories of the economy can be mapped out.

Both in our understanding of it, and in reality, the network economy is a place that harbors little harmony or stasis. Instead, it is a system that will increasingly demand flux and innovation. The art of judicious change, of the dangerous difference, will be rewarded in full.



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This is a blog version of a book of mine first published in 1998. I am re-issuing it (two posts per week) unaltered on its 10th anniversary. Comments welcomed. More details here.
-- KK