El blog de Adrián Arroyo

Can we lose technology?

- Adrián Arroyo Calle

A few minutes ago I saw a news item saying that TSMC had to delay its microchip fab on US soil due to lack of talent. This reminded me of something I've been thinking about for a while and that is whether we can lose technology.

And the answer is YES. Real life is not like Civilization or Age of Empires, where every time you discover something superior. In real life, technology has to be applied to stay alive. If technology is not applied, it dies.

Think of ancient Rome. Rome was a civilization of great engineers. It would be unfair to say that they invented all the things they did, as similar works have been found much earlier, but they managed to replicate all that technology all over the Mediterranean. However, the civilizations that replaced Rome in the West could not do anything similar. Was it because these works were heretical to their religion? Or was there another reason? It was for another reason.

In the fall of Rome in the West and the subsequent rise of different peoples (Visigoths, Goths, Suevi, Vandals, ...) what we had was a great period of political instability. In a period of political instability, it is not possible to build great engineering works. Why spend money on an aqueduct in this city if I might lose it in a month? Better to spend the money on reinforcing the army. This was the real reason why much of the technology needed to build great engineering works was lost. They were no longer being built and knowing about it became unnecessary for people.

But what about books? Indeed, we can put our knowledge in books, but this is always incomplete. There are always things that the author leaves out because they are considered obvious in their context. There is some clumsiness and there are more or less fortunate descriptions. From the Romans, in fact, we preserve books where they describe the operation of various devices they used in their works. These devices were necessary to build works of the magnitude and precision they did. However, as Isaac Moreno Gallo comments in his video Ars Mensoria, for many centuries these book descriptions were misinterpreted, giving rise to machines that did not serve their purpose.

Within the traditional trades, there is a man named Eugenio Monesma, who has dedicated years to the development of documentaries describing on video the steps of the traditional trades. It is a very noble and extremely interesting work if we do not want to lose that technology. But I don't know to what extent it is enough. A lot of information can be gleaned from a 30-minute video. But all the detailed information that an apprentice slowly made his own by following his master little by little over the years is still missing.


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