One way to think about scalability is as the number of operations that happen without human intervention

We often talk about scalability both in terms of software products and manufacturing. On their surface these two types of scalability seem relatively disconnected beyond “you can do a lot without spending a lot.” However, the reason things are usually expensive is because of skilled human labor that goes into each operation in each case. In the software world, a scalable product requires less developer work for each additional person who uses it. The more scalable a manufactured product is, the less skilled labor you need for each additional unit.

A widget’s design is directly related to how scalable it is. This is one of the reasons Prototyping needs manufacturing in the room. Often the way that a proof of concept is creating is completely unscalable and needs to be redesigned almost from scratch. Shifting an unscalable process to a scalable one is one way that Fundamental Manufacturing Process Innovation Changes the World. Producing something in a scalable way drastically reduces its cost as long as there are enough buyers to cover the fixed costs.^1 Cost matters to whether technology has an impact because Someone needs to buy manufactured technology eventually in a monetized economy. Therefore, the debate between “doing new things” and “doing old things better” is absurdly murky.

When you frame scalability this way, it basically falls out that true automation just makes more things scalable.


^1: These fixed costs are why general-purpose manufacturing tools like robotics and 3D printers as well as general-purpose software tools like Django change the game - they enable low-labor production without high fixed costs.

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