a16z Podcast: Knowledge Builds Technology and Technology Builds Knowledge

The Industrial Revolution (and period between 1500-1700) was an unprecedented age of technology and economic progress — not unlike today’s, in fact — where we took “quantum leaps” forward in tech by taming electricity, making cheaper steel and refining iron cheaply, automating fiber looms, pumping water out of coal mines, figuring out how to measure longitude at sea, improving the quality of food, preventing smallpox, … even bleaching underwear.

But what really triggered the Industrial Revolution? Why did it take place in Europe and spread beyond? It has to do with a competitive, open market of ideas — a transnational “Republic of Letters”, not unlike the early days of the blogosphere. And the conditions that created it (virtual networks, open access science, weak ties, and so on) are the very conditions we may need to sustain growth and prosperity even today, argues Joel Mokyr, professor of economics and history at Northwestern and author of the new book A Culture of Growth: The Origins of the Modern Economy

Despite fears of what new tech may bring, the alternative to not innovating is stagnation — “not doing it is worse”, argues Mokyr in this episode of the a16z Podcast. So how do we then measure that growth? How does this all play out internationally, and institutionally? And what happens when we bring shared focus to big problems, like climate change? If there’s one pattern that continues to play out throughout history to today, it’s that “Knowledge builds technology and technology builds knowledge.”

image: Library of Congress