Dominance of the Digital (1990–2016)

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Abstract

This talk presents the theme that anchors the new third edition of Leonardo to the Internet: Technology and Culture from the Renaissance to the Present, which is organized around technical-economic-political “eras” spotlighting the long-term interactions of technology and culture. The book’s first edition (2004) concluded with an optimistic assessment of global culture, then added a pessimistic assessment of systemic risk (2011). The eras point to socio-economic structures that foster and channel the development of certain technologies (and not others). This approach steers for a middle ground between social constructivism and technological determinism. This talk analyzes Moore’s Law (1975–2005), widely hailed to explain, well, everything. By 1975 Gordon Moore appeared to accurately “predict” the doubling every 18 months of the number components on each integrated circuit. During these years chips expanded from roughly 2,000 to 600 million transistors; more important the “law” guided a technical revolution and an industry transformation. At first national and then international cooperative “roadmapping” exercises predicted the exact dimensions of chips in the future, and semiconductor companies all aimed exactly where their peers were aiming. So Moore’s Law is a self-fulfilling prophecy supported for three decades by inter-firm cooperation and synchronized R&D.

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