What is an autocatalytic process?

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Diamond discusses this concept in chapter 13. An autocatalytic process, he says, is "one that speeds up at a rate that increases with time, because the process catalyzes itself." The reason this happens is that technology builds upon itself, in other words, one invention depends on many others. Gutenberg's printing press, for example, depended on several other inventions, including a screw-press used primarily to make olive oil and wine, as well as innovations in paper-making. When we view the development of technology historically, then, we see that in a very real sense, it provides its own momentum. The more technology a society has, the more it can develop. This property of technology, as we might call it, was yet another advantage enjoyed by Eurasian societies, because they developed important technologies earlier due to a number of geographical advantages.

Source: Diamond, Guns, Germs, and Steel, 258-260.


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