What have technological and biological evolution in common? One feature has been mentioned just above: Technologies and the professions related to them have finite lifetimes like biological species. Efficiency and other economic criteria are crucial for the survival of technologies and play the same role as fitness does in biological evolution. Technologies form complex networks of mutual dependences just as the different species do in the food webs of ecosystems. One less obvious feature is the tinkering principle. Innovation builds upon already existing technologies and only rarely—in exceptional cases—starts from scratch. One of these exceptions, perhaps, was the introduction of electricity into society. Pre-human nature is an obligatory tinkerer and the tinkering principle was indeed formulated first in the context of biological evolution: Nature does not design with the eyes of an engineer, she works like a tinkerer. Biological evolution can only make use of entities that are already present in the population. Biological evolution does never start from scratch but existing functions are used in different combinations and in a different context. Common to technology and biological evolution is an optimization principle that concerns economic efficiency in the former and fitness in the sense of the number of progeny in the latter case: In case a technology produces the same goods more expensively it will run out of business as a variant within a population does when it has less offspring.
Major transitions in evolution and in technology: What they have in common and where they differ