Conference 2013

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Workshop on the

Evolution and Development of the Universe

Workshop 2011: APS March Meeting, Dallas, Texas, March 22-24, 11am-2:15pm each day. Return here Dec 2010 for registration information, or email John Smart to be placed on the invite list.

The Physics of Performance Curves: Nature and Limits

Technology performance curves, also known in engineering, economics, and manufacturing as progress functions, and in cognitive science as learning curves or experience curves, in which technological capacity or efficiency improves by exponential, power law, or other fashion with cumulative production, often over very long time periods, have been studied by a small group of scholars since the 1930's. Given their accelerating impact on the technology environment, they are among the most important topics of technology innovation, strategy, and policy, and to improving our economic models of production functions. Yet in spite of their importance we do not have a good understanding of the physical basis of these curves, and many open questions remain. Fortunately, performance curve scholarship is on the rise, and the opportunity for high-impact collaboration and publication in this area has never been better.

Topics of Investigation:

  • What models do we have for the physical basis of technology and complexity performance curves?
  • Can we develop unifying theories for any classes (physical, efficiency, computational, informational) of performance curves today?
  • Why are scale reduction processes persistently exponential in performance improvement, and which physical processes are candidates for continued scale reduction?
  • Why are virtualization (dematerialization, simulation) processes persistently exponential in performance improvement, and which physical domains are candidates for further virtualization?
  • To what degree are automation and machine learning virtualization processes? Efficiency processes? As they advance, how can we model their global exponential performance effects?
  • For exponential curves, learning is based on a fixed percentage of what remains to be learnt. For power laws, learning slows down with experience. When is each valid?
  • What explains the long-term smoothness and predictability we find in many technology performance curves in our Performance Curve Databases?
  • Why are long-term progress forecasts in certain fields, such as computing, communications, and nanotechnology, significantly more predictable than in other fields?
  • When are smoothness and predictability due to physical law, averaging, scale, collective learning, economic or psychological expectations, or other physical processes?
  • Standard deviation and skew in performance times often show power law decreases with cumulative experience. Why and when does this occur?
  • Why are tech product outliers so often market failures? Are outliers log-normally distributed vs. the curve? Can such data help improve R&D timing, strategy, and policy?
  • How do we differentiate non-persistently exponential performance curves (market-limited, etc.) from persistently exponential (scale reduction, FERD, etc.) curves?
  • How do non-computational (physical process, efficiency) performance curves differ from computational (computing, memory, communication) performance curves?
  • How do computer hardware and software performance curves differ, and why does hardware exhibit consistently better long-term exponential performance improvement?
  • When does technology substitution (creating a composite technology performance curve) occur in any technology platform? Under what circumstances can we predict it?
  • When does exponential performance end in any performance curve? Under what circumstances can we predict it?
  • What explains state switches (transitions to steeper or flatter exponential modes) in several technology performance curves?
  • What physical processes differentiate superexponential, exponential, logistic, life cycle, and other performance curves?
  • What do exponential and superexponential performance and efficiency curves imply for the future of technological innovation and sustainability?

We are seeking physicists, computer scientists, process engineers, technology performance curve scholars, technology substitution scholars, virtualization and scale reduction scholars, management and learning theorists, economists, complexity theorists, technological evolution and development scholars and their critics. Scholars who approach performance curve study from materials science, thermodynamic, computational, informational, evolutionary, developmental, economic, competitive, cognitive science, social science, systems theoretic and other perspectives are welcomed. We will seek to compare and critique a variety of performance curves data sets and models, and consider first-order implications of these models for technology innovation, strategy, sustainability, and policy, underscoring the great technical, political, economic, and social value of better scholarship and science in this area.

If you have an interest in working on the 2011 Workshop steering or advisory committees, or in sponsoring or providing other assistance, please contact Georgi Georgiev, Clément Vidal or John Smart.

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