Do Shifts in Population Drive Technology Change? 

Chantilly, France

As an IT professional I am interested in peering into the crystal ball to try and discern the future development of technological trends.

I am also convinced that what has happened in the past, i.e. history, can tell us much about what could happen in the future. Within the development of mankind, there are certain things that change, and certain constants which don't change or change very slowly with respect to other changes happening concurrently.

I was recently in a Paris cafe talking with some acquaintances about a number of subjects. One was expressing dissatisfaction at being forced by computer software manufactures in to regularly investing in new tools when he was perfectly satisfied with the ones he was using. It's a good question. Why should be be eternally forced into making these kinds of changes? And then I thought about the need for innovation in our current market oriented society. Without constant innovation, all products will tend to become commodities. When products become commodities, efforts are focussed on reducing the cost to produce them and this in the direction of economies of scale which results in fewer numbers of increasingly larger producers until at some point a monopoly is established and kills the market. Innovation leads to prosperity. Therefore we need to accept the accompanying and constant change.

Then we talked about the present state of the (shrinking) economy and the sustainability of constant economic growth. One driver for economic growth is population. An ever increasing population produces and consumes more and can result in increasing growth. If economic growth does not keep pace with population growth, prosperity declines. If productivity increases so that economic growth outpaces population growth prosperity grows. Today, technology has been a factor in increasing that productivity growth. But increased productivity means increased production and increased consumption of raw materials (oil, metals, wood, fibers). Can the world continue to increase its consumption of a finite quantity of raw materials? No, because at some point we will arrive at a scarcity followed by an exhaustion of raw materials.

And the growing world population complicates the picture even more.

Scarcity forces society to reorganize.

I'm reading a book on Technology and World History, and the author compares the life of Paleolithic man to living in a garden of Eden. At that time, Man was a hunter gatherer. Man stayed as a hunter gatherer society for 2 million years and over that time society changed very little. During this time, man was spreading around the globe and there were always new territory to move to in the search of sustenance. There was therfore no need for society to change or technology to evolve much.

It was only after the resources were exhausted that man was forced into the Neolithic age to move from a hunter gatherer society to a food producing society.

In this case, in the face of a growing population, scarcity forced society to reorganize and develop new technologies.

When will the effects of an increase of the worlds population beyond the ability of the planet to support it begin to be felt in the developed world and how will it be felt? When and how willwe begin to really feel the effects of the unsustainability of the current socioeconomic model?
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