Technology Roadblocks

Technology Roadblocks

Something that I discussed in my last post is that every forecast of a technology (well–every forecast in general, but we’re focusing on a particular field here) has limitations and associated laws that impact it, and that it’s important to identify and associate what those are. With Moore’s Law, the implication of Dennard’s Law breaking down meant that you could look at Amdahl’s Law to see the limitations of parallelization.

When I was working on technology consulting last year at Prokalkeo, my partner and I came up with what we called ‘Technology Roadblocks’ when we were seeking to characterize the issues that various instances of science and technology ran into. To return to the last article,

“Every technology (that we know of) has roadblocks as well. Roadblocks are what I call ‘any obstacle to progress in the development of a technology’. There are a variety of types of these roadblocks, and they can impact forecasting accuracy (macro) or simply describe problems that need to be/will be overcome in the pursuit of development (micro). In the case of Amdahl’s Law, it follows from mathematical axioms and is thus what I would call a ‘Axiomatic Roadblock’. This associates with the impossibilities mentioned in “Possible, Probable, Personal“, specifically the axiomatic impossibility–indicating that the limitation is put in place due to mathematical reasons more than physical laws (a semantic distinction that dissolves if looked at closely enough, but useful for identification purposes).”

So, similar to how I isolated various types of fallacies, we found it useful to isolate various types of roadblocks. What are they?


Types of Roadblocks

The first and simplest roadblock is the ‘Independent Roadblock’. This is any case in which the obstacle to the development of a technology is intrinsic to that particular technology. As an example, this might be figuring out how exactly to best design a new virtual reality head set to address the problems that poses, or what sort of algorithms are needed for better data compression.

If you look closely enough at most ‘Independent’ cases, however, you’ll find most of them are of the second type of roadblock, which is the ‘Dependent’ roadblock. This is best described as a case where development of a technology requires advances in another area of science or technological development–shrinking power sources, higher resolution/lower weight screens, better laser diodes (to think of a few off of my head). In many cases what appears to be an independent roadblock is actually the conjunction of many dependent roadblocks–in others it isn’t.

Finally, the third type of roadblock we identified is the ‘Physical Roadblock’. This is any sort of roadblock that will not be overcome simply by finding a new trick or combination, or new way to improve your toolchain–things like the size of atoms, the second law of thermodynamics, and other physical laws. This ties heavily with the Physical Impossibilities discussed in my article on Castles in the Sky.


How they Fit Together

It’s interesting to me, though, that mapping these out just returned me to a web of dynamics of technology interplay again. When independent roadblocks really are a number of dependent roadblocks, and dependent roadblocks in turn are each dependent on other roadblocks, and at the root of many of these are physical roadblocks, you begin to see again how it all interacts.

At a very very simple level, it’s like the lathe. With a lathe, you can jump start civilization. But the complex interplays of parts, returning back to different dependencies and how they block you from advancing, solving each in turn, shows just how complicated everything gets.

This might not be immediately obvious to someone working in a field at all times–as you are focused on your own work, the advances in the fields surrounding you are part of a changing environment, not necessarily things you notice in their own right. Improving computer speeds are something everyone is aware of, but projects that might not have even been able to be started without the advances aren’t noted to necessarily be dependent on them once initialized, especially if they’re finished within a single generation of hardware.

This is a useful way to look at problems, though to avoid drawing too complicated of a web  you need to restrict it to one or two degrees of freedom. When evaluated technology markets at Prokalkeo, one of the things we looked at was what sort of roadblock a given technology had. I’ll do a worked problem in the next article.


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