The current state of the available technology at the disposal of designer is the most limiting determinant to what is technically and economically feasible to develop, therefore research into metatechnology such as computer science, whereby interdisciplinary spin off provides advances that both directly increase capabilities, and affects other technologies to dramatically improve system performance, is a necessity, the implication being that despite many of the basic principles being relatively static, the technology used is essentially in a state of constant development.
Such developments result in smaller, more efficient, cheaper and more reliable components. Any one of the fore mentioned results of technical change within the computing industry could provide the necessary state of miniaturisation to revolutionise any number of products.
At present our current understanding of physics and the physical limitations of our universe are creating some interesting technical problems which must be overcome if programable technology is to evolve (for example relativity Theory states that nothing, including data, can travel faster than the speed of light, therefore to increase processing power components must be built smaller and closer together.
It is through metatechnology such as molecular nanotechnology that this can be achieved which will allow the construction of quantum computers (computers that exploit quantum theory, for example the theory that an object can occupy many universes at the same time).
As an example, an autonomous robot vacuum cleaner would require a reasonable level of artificial intelligence to perform a complex task such as learning and adapting to the changing environment of a house hold. From a control technology standpoint, artificial intelligence can not imply computer pure binary logic (sensing a threshold has been exceeded and taking some fixed action) but rather a programmed sense – "Fuzzy logic". This is to say nothing of the physical sensors or the required real time processing ability for such a device.
The existing technology of for example a year ago may not have allowed the creation of a device to detect the condition and choose then relevant solution/action.
Metatechnologies inherently have the ability to form the basis of new products. Digital electronics was the basis for inexpensive and reliable computers.
The manufacturing process is a key part of the product life cycle, as it is a metatechnology that dramatically improves manufacturing.
Digital electronics (being a metatechnology) has a profoundly affected of the life-cycle of products. Computer Aided Manufacturing provides more flexible and responsive production with shorter cycle-times. Computer Aided Logistics Support provides integrated product information between suppliers and the government.
The implication is that advances in the manufacturing process will dramatically improve system performance where by it will be possible to build extremely rapidly and accurately, which in turn will provide a number of significant secondary and tertiary effects, for example, dramatically reducing the manufacturing portion of cycle time (period from first order to delivery of a product); lower costs of production and thus much more available products; Parts are cheaper (and thus a wider array of much better parts are broadly affordable).
In this context it as assumed that shorter life-cycles is not referring to the time taken for production as in the above, but rather is referring to built in obsolescence.
As decided above, metatechnology incarnated into the assembly line has produced the direct capabilities for more flexible and responsive production with shorter cycle-times (construction time) however this is not at the expense of quality. the way in which these systems are developing quality levels supercedes the level which is possible with hand assembly!
In theory, the consumer should not suffer at the hands of the designer, however, this is not what happens in practise, as the situation would result in a paradox (product lasting longer while the time in which they are outmoded is growing shorter), especially, this is a good consequence, as a product that can still be used that may be discarded simply because it is decided that they are obsolete is better from an environmental standpoint that one that must be replaced because it has failed in some way.
Needless to say that entities that are in a position to affect the ecological systems through the irresponsible handling of resources in a reckless fixation on economic growth, should adopt methods of sustainable development so economic processes is compatible with the carrying capacity of the ecology.
However this situation is not compatible with the objectives of capitalism, and has summarily been prevented through a practice known as built in obsolescence, where by in the absence of a failing introduced by imprecise construction techniques and/or materials with short life times have been substituted for those designed into the products. to ensue markets stay in a constant state of growth.
This policy is the work of profiteering gluttons and is implemented by the designers. It could also be argued that this is merely a function of cheap design, however the effect is the same, so it may well be that these are two means to the same ends. As an example it has been technically possible to produce a light bulb that would never fail, however again, this is not compatible with the objectives of capitalism and if this were done the market for replacement lights would dry up over night.
The implication is that such polices have a direct differential effect on the standard of living, in as much as the populations coerced into needlessly paying for replacement products which are not required or could be cheap if it wasn't run by profiteering gluttons.
It could also be argued that this type of profiteering directly influences criminal activities (for example, people making use of a service without paying for them, on the bases of an ethical objection to their treatment by the established order), this type of anti-social behaviours is to expected when the establishment puts its own objective before those of the consumer.
I am the website administrator of the Wandle Industrial Museum (http://www.wandle.org). Established in 1983 by local people determined to ensure that the history of the valley was no longer neglected but enhanced awareness its heritage for the use and benefits of the community.