2016/05/31

Tank Guns, Disruptive Technology, Techno-Libs, and Simple Explanations

Towards the end of the First World War, the tank was developed. It was barely tested and its full potential (given the technology at the time) was not realised before the War was over. In the 20 or so years to the start of the sequel, many people had written, postulated, and design tanks around ideas of how they believed tanks would be used.

It was found, in the earlier half of the Second World War, that designers could mount heavier guns and more armour while still filling the same role. Indeed, the small 37 mm and 40 mm cannon that many tanks fielded were far too small to keep up with even contemporary heavy tanks. This saw a ballooning of tank capabilities.

A larger gun has a number of benefits. It suffers less at range due to aerodynamics as it is comparatively heavier for its bore size. It can take a wider range of complicated ammunition types. The amount of explosive charge it can carry to a target can allow it to engage both fortifications and tanks.

However, a larger gun also has a number of drawbacks. Both the unit cost and the ammunition cost is a lot higher. The recoil of the weapon needs more space and a sturdier super-structure to avoid damaging the vehicle. The vehicle's battlefield endurance is lower (by virtue of carrying less ammunition). The rate of fire drops dramatically with the weight of the round.

Over the war and the following decades, these factors all balanced each other out. Initially, the change was very fast, jumping from a 40-ish mm weapon to a 76-ish mm weapon. But the changes became more gradual, and have now pretty much stopped. The current 120 mm bore size used by NATO and the 125 mm used by Russia's ballistic progeny seems to be the point at which we are. Indeed, the Russian round is so heavy that its recoil can damage the tank's transmission if it is currently engaged.

In this fairly simple example, we can see how a disruptive technology evolved. It is rather rare in that it (tanks and tank guns) had a 20 year gap between its inception and taking off before it was truly tested. However, you can still see the inception to ballooning of market to ballooning of capabilities and ideas relating to it, before the world becomes used to the technology and its presence is assumed. Typically, the extravagances of the middle stages are cut down to relatively efficient technologies balanced by their features' pros and cons.

The advancement of technology in this way is rather convoluted and complicated, and is very hard to predict (though not impossible). It is also something that the tech industry is aware of. I have used some of their language here to describe an older technology.

Thus, it confuses me that the Techno-libertarian movement seems obsessed with extremely simple political rules. Like, fleshy humans are much more complex and nebulous than transistor based technology, but techno-libs think that they can be appropriately and efficiently governed with a few short simple rules (thanks Rand, also RAND). This just boggles my mind.

But on reflection, it isn't that confusing. As much as the tech industry and techno-libertarians are snobbish in the extreme, they are a part of "the unwashed masses". And the unwashed masses have always sought simple explanations for their personal struggles. In that way, techno-libertarians are the same as their socialist counterparts.

We sometimes admit to ourselves that the stories we tell are simple versions of reality. Of course, we excuse it due to brevity or to support a point, and that's fine. The problems arise when the same simplified stories are told over several generations, large sections of the population actually believe it.

Politicians (in a democratic system of governance) get voted in when they play to these simple stories. People love being told that they are right, and they love remembering simple stories. Zingers, little one-line stories that validate their suffering, straw-men. With those simple stories come simple solutions to simple problems that are actually vastly more complex. Those simple solutions likely won't work, and will increase human squalor through gross mismanagement. Build a wall. Lower taxes. Raise taxes. Lower interest rates. The war will be over by Christmas. Have a child in a loveless relationship.

Sometimes simple solutions do exist. But not as often as we would like, and certainly not as often as we believe.

TLDR: Call people out on either side of an issue if they are oversimplifying it. But do it tastefully and without being incisive.

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