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Chapter 12: A Functional Theory of Technology and Technological Change
Andrea Bonaccorsi1 INTRODUCTION The field of economics of innovation is rich in various ways to represent technology, sometimes descriptively, sometimes with models, algorithms and quantitative variables. It is our contention that existing representations do not do justice to the complexity of the nature and dynamics of technology. In particular, they almost invariably fail to recognize the dual nature of technology, that is, the fact that it takes place simultaneously in a space of physical embodiments (attributes, characteristics) and in a space of representations, whose main organizing principle is abstraction. And even those authors that recognize the importance of this distinction, do not capture it in modeling technology. The goal of this chapter is to introduce in the economics of innovation a representation of technology, labeled functional representation, which is more articulated than the ones currently available and addresses some of the limitations in the literature. In order to develop a functional representation, we will draw on bodies of knowledge that range from formal theories of design in engineering, to artificial intelligence, to the philosophy of technology and biology. We will also make use of a recently developed functional base, containing a full scale dictionary of functional expressions, using which it is possible to draw highly informative maps of technologies or artifacts. The chapter will try to persuade the profession that assuming such a representation is worthwhile and not cumbersome. On the contrary, it will help to address some of the main weaknesses of existing representations in the economics of innovation....
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