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The early development of the steam engine: an evolutionary interpretation using complexity theory

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  • Koen Frenken
  • Alessandro Nuvolari

Abstract

In this paper we analyse the early development of the steam engine as a search process in a multidimensional design space. This perspective allows us to make use of recent insights coming from complex systems theory, in particular, of a generalized version of Kauffman's NK-model. We analyse yearly distributions of steam engine designs and their sectors of application for the period 1760--1800. We interpret the patterns of variety and differentiation characterizing the behaviour of these distributions as emerging properties of underlying search processes unfolding in the design space. We conclude that the early development of steam power technology can be understood as a process of 'technological speciation' of various engine designs in distinct users' niches. Copyright 2004, Oxford University Press.

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Bibliographic Info

Article provided by Oxford University Press in its journal Industrial and Corporate Change.

Volume (Year): 13 (2004)
Issue (Month): 2 (April)
Pages: 419-450

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Handle: RePEc:oup:indcch:v:13:y:2004:i:2:p:419-450

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  1. Koen Frenken & Luigi Marengo & Marco Valente, 1999. "Interdependencies, nearly-decomposability and adaption," CEEL Working Papers 9903, Cognitive and Experimental Economics Laboratory, Department of Economics, University of Trento, Italia.
  2. Frenken, K. & Nuvolari, A., 2002. "Entropy Statistics as a Framework to Analyse Technological Evolution," Working Papers 02.15, Eindhoven Center for Innovation Studies.
  3. Herbert A. Simon, 1996. "The Sciences of the Artificial, 3rd Edition," MIT Press Books, The MIT Press, edition 1, volume 1, number 0262691914, December.
  4. Nuvolari, A. & Verspagen, B., 2005. "'Unravelling the Duty': Lean�s Engine Reporter and Cornish Steam Engineering," Eindhoven Center for Innovation Studies (ECIS) working paper series 05.14, Eindhoven Center for Innovation Studies (ECIS).
  5. Giovanni Dosi & Daniel A. Levinthal & Luigi Marengo, 2003. "Bridging contested terrain: linking incentive-based and learning perspectives on organizational evolution," Industrial and Corporate Change, Oxford University Press, vol. 12(2), pages 413-436, April.
  6. Luigi Marengo & Giovanni Dosi & Paolo Legrenzi & Corrado Pasquali, 1999. "The structure of problem-solving knowledge and the structure of organisations," LEM Papers Series 1999/09, Laboratory of Economics and Management (LEM), Sant'Anna School of Advanced Studies, Pisa, Italy.
  7. Auerswald, Philip & Kauffman, Stuart & Lobo, Jose & Shell, Karl, 2000. "The production recipes approach to modeling technological innovation: An application to learning by doing," Journal of Economic Dynamics and Control, Elsevier, vol. 24(3), pages 389-450, March.
  8. Frenken, Koen & Saviotti, Paolo P. & Trommetter, Michel, 1999. "Variety and niche creation in aircraft, helicopters, motorcycles and microcomputers," Research Policy, Elsevier, vol. 28(5), pages 469-488, June.
  9. Saviotti, P. P. & Metcalfe, J. S., 1984. "A theoretical approach to the construction of technological output indicators," Research Policy, Elsevier, vol. 13(3), pages 141-151, June.
  10. Lee Altenberg, 1994. "Evolving Better Representations Through Selective Genome Growth," Working Papers 94-02-008, Santa Fe Institute.
  11. Herbert A. Simon, 2002. "Near decomposability and the speed of evolution," Industrial and Corporate Change, Oxford University Press, vol. 11(3), pages 587-599, June.
  12. Kauffman, Stuart & Lobo, Jose & Macready, William G., 2000. "Optimal search on a technology landscape," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 43(2), pages 141-166, October.
  13. Halsey, Harlan I., 1981. "The Choice Between High-Pressure and Low-Pressure Steam Power in America in the Early Nineteenth Century," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 41(04), pages 723-744, December.
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