The world is getting more complex …

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Is it? How do we know? While we widely believe that “the world” has become more complex, showing this empirically is challenging. Beyond confirming our feelings, measuring complexity is also of great interest to scientists because complexity is widely accepted as a key (qualitative) dimension of knowledge that shapes the efforts required for its generation (invention), its (spatial) diffusion, and its economic value.

By using patent data and the recently developed complexity measure of structural diversity (Broekel 2019), I explore jointly with colleagues the properties, evolution, and relevance of technology complexity. Some selected key findings are presented below.

1. Indeed, technological complexity increases over time

Each dot represents one of >500 technologies (4-digit CPC classes) for which annual complexity (structural  diversity) values have been calculated on the basis of US patent data (HistPat). (Source: Broekel 2020)

2. Complex technologies require more collaboration

Figure visualises the (Spearman) correlation coefficient between technologies’ complexity (4-digit CPC classes) and number of inventors per patent. Calculations based on PatStat European patent data and measure of structural complexity. (Source: Broekel 2019)

3. Young technologies tend to be more complex

Figure visualises the (Spearman) correlation coefficient between technologies’ complexity (4-digit CPC classes) and average year of patent granting (priority year). Calculations based on PatStat European patent data and measure of structural complexity. (Source: Broekel 2019)

4. Countries differ substantially with respect to their ability to produce and utilise complex technologies

Figure visualises the mean complexity of countries’ patents (based on inventor residence). Calculations based on PatStat European patent data and measure of structural complexity. (Source: Broekel 2020)

4. Regions’ abilities to create and apply complex technologies varyFigure visualises the mean complexity of the 10% most complex patents of regional inventors. Calculations based on PatStat European patent data and measure of structural complexity (Source: Mewes & Broekel, 2019)