When creating scifi technologies, understanding the concept of competitive advantage is important.
Competition is essentially a contest between two or more entities – organisms, animals, people, organization, societies, etc. – for territory, resources, mates, prestige, or some other goal.
A competitive advantage is an advantage an individual, organization, or society has over its rivals. When looking at scifi technologies, viewing competitive advantage from multiple perspectives can provide insights into the technologies with that particular storyworld. Among the perspectives to consider are:
- What advantage does a technology gives a user versus a non-user? The use of the atlalt – an ancient spear throwing device – allowed its users to throw darts (small spears) much further and with greater force than those who didn’t know how to make and use the device. In a conflict, the side armed with the atlatl would usually have the advantage.
- What kind of advantage does one technology have over another? Faster computers have a competitive advantage over slower computers and even a slow computer will have speed advantage over a slide rule (a manually operated computing device) when doing complex mathematical calculations. However, the advantages are not always so clear. For example, a rifle has a longer range than an arrow but when muzzle loaded rifles were state-of-the-art technology, a skilled archer could let lose a lot more arrows than a rifleman could.
- What advantage does a technology give for a particular function? A technology may have a specific function that it performs better than other technologies. A screwdriver, for example, provides a competitive advantage over a hammer when it is used to drive a screw into a piece of wood. However, the hammer gives a competitive advantage when driving a nail into the same piece of wood.
When creating technologies for a scifi world, consider how the technology will give the user a competitive advantage.
When looking at technological changes in your storyworld, identify how those changes can create and destroy competitive advantage and carefully analyze the impacts of those changes.
To provide an interesting story twist, you might also consider circumstances where a technologically superior force is suddenly put at a disadvantage by changing the conditions under which mismatched technologies are used on opposite sides of a conflict. When, for example, would energy weapons suddenly be a disadvantage and the bow and arrow would have an advantage.