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Magic As a Tool, Instead of a Replacement for Technology

I think skip.knox explained what I meant best. Of course inventions matter, all of them add up, even the little ones. And they all help to improve the productivity of a person. But scalability is something different. It comes from automating processes which makes producing 10 of something cheaper than producing a single one. Improving the way you forge steel reduces the cost of producing that sword, sure. But making 2 swords will still cost 2 times the cost of a sword. Yes, there is still a bit of economy of scale, where having more apprentices and cheaper labor reduces the costs somewhat, but that's relatively limited.

Compare that to an assembly line. Prior to the assembly line, a car was labor intensive to build, and building 2 cars simply cost 2 times 1 car. With the assembly line, producing larger quantities became more and more economical the more you built. Building 1 car on an assembly line was pretty expensive (since you need to factor in the assembly line), but at some point the cost of building an extra car becomes smaller than building a single car. That is when you get scalability.

And ever since the first industrial revolution this has been speeding up to the point where you can have companies like facebook which make $600k in profit (not revenue, profit) per employee. Adding another user to facebook is free. It doesn't matter in terms of cost if they service 1 or 100 or 1.000.000 users. They cost the same (well, almost, there's some server space and stuff, but per user that's negligible).
 

Solusandra

Minstrel
Of course inventions matter, all of them add up, even the little ones. And they all help to improve the productivity of a person. But scalability is something different. It comes from automating processes which makes producing 10 of something cheaper than producing a single one. Improving the way you forge steel reduces the cost of producing that sword, sure. But making 2 swords will still cost 2 times the cost of a sword. Yes, there is still a bit of economy of scale, where having more apprentices and cheaper labor reduces the costs somewhat, but that's relatively limited.

Compare that to an assembly line. Prior to the assembly line, a car was labor intensive to build, and building 2 cars simply cost 2 times 1 car. With the assembly line, producing larger quantities became more and more economical the more you built. Building 1 car on an assembly line was pretty expensive (since you need to factor in the assembly line), but at some point the cost of building an extra car becomes smaller than building a single car. That is when you get scalability.
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it doesn't though? If two swords cost the same resources, then automation wouldn't reduce the cost of the sword either. The better method of forging makes the two swords cheaper in the same way the automation makes the 20 swords cheaper. In both cases, you're reducing the time and skill required to forge and increasing the quality of the end product. I agreed early on it'd be smaller jumps, but it's the same effect regardless. Production lines started in pre-steam power guilds first, as one of numerous better forging methods.
 
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skip.knox

toujours gai, archie
Moderator
There's a cost factor that's left out here: labor. Automation reduces labor cost; it's one of its chief results. Sometimes there's also a reduction of cost in resources--less waste, possibly, or substitution of cheaper resources. Not always, of course, and sometimes the resources might actually be more expensive. But labor is the big variable.

I'm not sure if making steel swords meat a reduction of time or a reduction in the skill required. Regardless of that variable, the labor cost is surely the greater. If we go back to the medieval innovations I listed, the labor savings is the biggie. Horse collar, windmill, that sort of thing. No such savings with clocks, but while the impact was less direct it was still significant. Carlo Cipolla wrote a whole book on that, Clocks and Culture, 1300-1700. Same for spectacles, but now I'm getting rather far afield.

I figure by now PianoFire has completely lost interest, as we aren't talking about their OP. The question as posted I'll answer succinctly: keep it as backstory, using only what the story needs in order to move the plot or establish setting. I do think it's entirely possible, and that there's room for interesting conversations about whether magic or technology is the better solution for a particular problem.
 
Hi,

A secret society of technologists in a world of magic? I like it. It's sort of cool. But I have a basic couple of questions. Why is technology controlled? If it was magic it would be controlled because it's dangerous - or maybe because it's in league with demons etc. And what level of technology are we talking about controlling? Water wheels to grind your grain? Steam power? Electricity? Some levels of tech are so basic that it's hard to restrict them because anyone can create them. Others seem simple but require other technologies like metallurgy to be invented.

I think you need to work on fleshing out these questions.

Cheers, Greg.
 
it doesn't though? If two swords cost the same resources, then automation wouldn't reduce the cost of the sword either. The better method of forging makes the two swords cheaper in the same way the automation makes the 20 swords cheaper. In both cases, you're reducing the time and skill required to forge and increasing the quality of the end product.
No, scalability is different. Or at least in the sense that I use it. Let's compair a hairdresser (non-scalable) to a website (scalable).

As a hairdresser I can service 2 customers per hour. Each customer I service takes 30 minutes. So, to make more money I need to work more hours. Now, some technological improvement might reduce that time, like an electrical trimmer, to 20 minutes. I can now service 3 customers per hour. Big productivity boost, yes. But each customer still takes 20 minutes. To increase my income (over what that technological boost gave me) I still need to work more hours.

Now, the website. Say I build a search engine. It's a full time job, 40 hours a week, each day of the month. This amount of work is always there, even if I have no customers. So, to service 1 customer takes a whole month of work. However, this is where scalability comes in. To service 2 customers still only takes 1 whole month of work, not 2 months. And to serve 10 or 100 0r 100.000 customers still only takes 1 month of work. So the amount of money I make is not related to the amount of hours I work, it's only related to the number of customers I can get to use my service.

That is the difference between scalable and not scalable. In scalable work and technologies, the amount of labor hours per final product decreases as you produce more. Yes, there is often a raw material cost that doesn't change, but that is usually only a small part of the equation. In a lot of products, the factor labor is huge in terms of cost, and if you can eliminate that then that's a huge cost saving.

To bring it back to swords. A technological improvement might make you produce more swords per hour. You might go from needing 2 weeks to create a sword to 1 week to create a sword. That's technological advancement and an increase in productivity. However, after that improvement, each sword you create will always take 1 week to create. So to create 200 swords per year you would need 4 people creating swords.

With a scalable technology, you would have 1 sword takes 1 month to create. 2 swords might only take 1.5 months to create,10 swords might only take 2 months to create and 50 swords might only take 4 months to create. That would mean that to create 200 swords with this technology, you would only need 1 person creating those swords to work a year. Like this you have reduced the labor cost of those swords by a factor 4, which might be something like $100.000 - $300.000 in today's terms, or $1.000 per sword.
 
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