Hitting the Books: How the interplay of science and technology brought about iPhones

Since the invention of the wheel, scientific research and technological advancement have gone hand-in-hand. Without research, we don't have the knowledge base to advance the state of technology and we don't have the functional base for further scientific exploration. In their new book, The Genesis of Technoscientific Revolutions, Harvard University Professor of Technology and Public Policy, Venkatesh Narayanamurti, and Jeffrey Y. Tsao, explore the relationship between these two concepts and how their interaction might be altered to better serve.

The genetics of technological research is excerpted from the book "The Genes of technological research: RETHINKING the NATURE and NURTURE of research" by VenkatESH NarayaNAMURTI and Jeffrey Y. Tsu. The President and the fellows of Harvard College have granted this permission. Permission was granted for this use. All rights belong to the person.

The network isHierarchical: The questions and answers.

The way in which scientific and technological knowledge is hierarchy is due to the fact that both scientific facts and explanations and technological functions are forms that fulfill them.

At the top of the science hierarchy are facts. These patterns can be thought of as questions. Why does the ball fall faster the farther it falls? Galileo explained the observed distance-versus-time pattern by saying that the velocities of falling balls increase linearly with time. The answer becomes another question: Why do falling balls increase linearly with time? The deeper answer is that gravity is a force, uniform forces cause uniform acceleration, and linear increases in velocity are caused by uniform acceleration. Scientific understanding is always incomplete, so there is always a point where we don't have a deeper explanation. Science does not insist on ultimate whys, but it does seek proximate whys. The general theory of relativity explains the laws of gravity even if they are not explained.

At the top of the hierarchy are human-desired functions. These functions present problems that can be solved by forms below them. New problems must be solved at successively deeper levels if forms fulfill functions. The equivalent question-answer terminology can be used to describe the technological question of how to create an Internet-capable cellular phone with a software-programmed interactive display. A partial answer came in the form of multi touch capacitive surfaces, which allowed for a larger design space for user interaction when multiple fingers are used simultaneously. How do we make multi touch surfaces transparent so that the display is visible? The answer was provided by the multi touch transparent surface display.

Science and technology are both organized into question-and-answer pairs, with any question or answer having two faces. A question to an answer just below it in the hierarchy is represented by one face. The other face is an answer to a question above it in the hierarchy. The depiction of questions as above and below answers is arbitrary and does not signify relative importance or value, but is simply intended to be consistent with common usage. An explanation in science is deeper and more foundational than the fact it explains. Special relativity is deeper than the constancy of c because it answers the question of why c is constant, and it also answers the question of how much energy is released during fusion. Forms in technology are more foundational than the functions they fulfill, especially if they have been adapted to fulfill other functions. The multi touch transparent surface display helps answer the question of how to create the iPhone and also helps answer the question of how to create human-interactive displays in general. The question of how to create a bicycle tire is more important than the question of how to create a plethora of other kinds of tires.

The network is modular.

Scientific questions and answers are organized into what we might call scientific domains, which we will refer to as scientific knowledge modules. Closely interacting technological problems and solutions are organized into engineered components, which we will refer to as technological knowledge modules.

Closely related scientific questions are often answerable within a scientific knowledge domain or scientific knowledge module. The answer to a question about electron transport in a particular structure might require an integrated understanding of both the physics and materials of the structure. Understanding the sub-subdomains of electrons in various kinds of structures and the interactions of electrons with phonons in those structures is a question associated with electron transport physics. Understanding of the sub-subdomains of the substrates and epitaxy, thin films, or post materials synthesis fabrication is required for the materials science of the synthesized structure. In other words, we can think of scientific knowledge domains as a modular hierarchy, and think of its subdomains as submodules and sub-submodules.

Closely related technological problems are often solved by key technological components, or technological knowledge modules. Each subcomponent of the iPhone is composed of many other subcomponents. The problem of the iPhone is solved by its subcomponents, which include an enclosure, a display, a printed circuit board, a camera, and input and output ports. The problem of a printed circuit board can be solved by sub-components that include low-power integrated circuit chips. The component that is itself nested in a hierarchy of use functions is an example of this. A text-messaging app might be used as a solution to the problem of running a text-messaging app, while a mass text message might be used as a solution.

Why is scientific and technological knowledge modular? Virtually all complex adaptive systems are modular because they are complex adaptive systems that are sustained by and adapted to their environment by complex internal changes. Complex adaptive systems explore their environments to improve exploitation. Modularity allows the exploitation of existing knowledge and the exploration of new knowledge in the environment.