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Which Technologies Get Better Faster?

By MIT News

May 18, 2011

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Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) researchers have developed a mathematical model to predict which technologies are the most likely to rapidly advance and therefore be worth more investment in research and resources.

The researchers found that a technology's rate of progress is determined by its complexity, and their method models that complexity in a mathematical way. "It gives you a way to think about how the structure of the technology affects the rate of improvement," says MIT professor Jessika Trancik.

The researchers developed the model by studying how different technologies improved over time and compared that progress to the complexity of the design. For example, the model could help policymakers solve problems such as climate change by predicting which low-carbon technologies are the most likely to rapidly improve.

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. The researchers also found that if different technologies have certain patterns of interconnection, the pace of improvements can stall.

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