Continuing improvements led to the furnace and bellows
and provided the ability to smelt and forge native metals (naturally occurring in relatively pure form). Gold, copper, silver, and lead, were such early metals. The advantages of copper tools over stone, bone, and wooden tools were quickly apparent to early humans,
and native copper was probably used from near the beginning of Neolithic times (about 10 ka).
Native copper does not naturally occur in large amounts, but copper ores are quite common and some of them produce metal easily when burned in wood or charcoal fires. Eventually, the working of metals led to the discovery of alloys such as bronze and brass (about 4000 BCE). The first uses of iron alloys
such as steel dates to around 1800 BCE.
Energy and transport
was invented circa 4000
Meanwhile, humans were learning to harness other forms of energy. The earliest
known use of wind power is the sailboat; the earliest record of a ship under sail is that of a Nile boat that dates back to the 8th millennium BCE.
From prehistoric times, Egyptians probably used the power of the annual flooding of the Nile to irrigate their lands, gradually learning to regulate much of it through
purposely built irrigation channels and "catch" basins. Similarly, the early peoples of Mesopotamia, the Sumerians, learned to use the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers for much the same purposes. However, more extensive use of wind and water (and even human) power
required another invention.
According to archaeologists, the wheel was invented around 4000 BCE probably independently and nearly simultaneously in Mesopotamia (in present-day Iraq), the Northern Caucasus (Maykop culture) and Central Europe.
Estimates on when this may have occurred range from 5500 to 3000 BCE with most experts putting it closer to 4000 BCE. The oldest artifacts
with drawings that depict wheeled carts date from about 3500 BCE; however, the wheel may have been in use for millennia before these drawings
were made. There is also evidence from the same period for the use of the potter's wheel. More recently, the oldest-known wooden wheel in the world was found in the Ljubljana
marshes of Slovenia.
The invention of the wheel revolutionized trade and war. It did not take long to discover that wheeled wagons
could be used to carry heavy loads. Fast (rotary) potters' wheels enabled early mass production of pottery, but it was the use of the wheel as a transformer of energy (through
water wheels, windmills, and even treadmills) that revolutionized the application of nonhuman power sources.
Medieval and modern history (300 CE – present)
Innovations continued through
the Middle Ages with innovations such as silk, the horse
collar and horseshoes in the first few hundred years after the fall of the Roman Empire. Medieval technology saw the use of simple machines (such as the lever,
the screw, and the pulley) being combined to form more complicated tools, such as the wheelbarrow,
windmills and clocks. The Renaissance
brought forth many of these innovations, including the printing press (which facilitated the greater communication of knowledge), and technology became increasingly associated
with science, beginning a cycle of mutual advancement. The advancements in technology in this era allowed a more steady supply of food, followed by the wider availability of consumer goods.
revolutionized personal transportation.
Starting in the United Kingdom in the 18th century, the Industrial
Revolution was a period of great technological discovery, particularly in the areas of agriculture, manufacturing,
mining, metallurgy, and transport, driven by
the discovery of steam power. Technology took another step in a second
industrial revolution with the harnessing of electricity to create such innovations as the electric
motor, light bulb, and countless others. Scientific advancement and the discovery of new concepts later allowed for powered
flight and advancements in medicine, chemistry, physics,
and engineering. The rise in technology has led to skyscrapers and broad urban
areas whose inhabitants rely on motors to transport them and their food supply. Communication was also greatly improved with the invention of the telegraph, telephone, radio and television. The late 19th and early 20th centuries saw a revolution in transportation with the invention of the airplane and automobile.
The 20th century brought a host of innovations. In physics, the discovery of nuclear
fission has led to both nuclear weapons and nuclear power. Computers were also invented and later miniaturized utilizing transistors
and integrated circuits. Information technology subsequently led to
the creation of the Internet, which ushered in the current Information Age. Humans have also been able
to explore space with satellites (later used for telecommunication)
and in manned missions going all the way to the moon. In medicine, this era brought innovations such as open-heart surgery and later stem cell therapy along with new medications and treatments.
Complex manufacturing and construction techniques and organizations are needed to make and maintain these new technologies, and entire
industries have arisen to support and develop succeeding generations of increasingly more complex tools. Modern technology increasingly relies on training and education – their
designers, builders, maintainers, and users often require sophisticated general and specific training. Moreover, these technologies have become so complex that entire fields have been created to support them, including engineering,
medicine, and computer science, and other fields have been made more complex, such as construction, transportation and architecture.
Generally, technicism is the belief in the
utility of technology for improving human societies. Taken to an extreme, technicism "reflects a fundamental attitude which seeks to control
reality, to resolve all problems with the use of scientific-technological methods and tools." In other words, human beings will someday be
able to master all problems and possibly even control the future using technology. Some, such as Stephen
V. Monsma, connect these ideas to the abdication of religion as a higher moral
Optimistic assumptions are made by proponents
of ideologies such as transhumanism and singularitarianism, which view technological development as generally having beneficial effects for the society and the human condition. In these ideologies, technological development is morally good.
generally believe that the point of technology is to overcome barriers, and that what we commonly refer to as the human condition is just another barrier to be surpassed.
Singularitarians believe in some sort of "accelerating change"; that the rate of technological progress accelerates as we obtain more technology, and that this will
culminate in a "Singularity" after artificial
general intelligence is invented in which progress is nearly infinite; hence the term. Estimates for the date of this Singularity vary,
but prominent futurist Ray Kurzweil estimates the Singularity will occur in 2045.
Kurzweil is also known for his history of the universe in six epochs: (1) the physical/chemical
epoch, (2) the life epoch, (3) the human/brain epoch, (4) the technology epoch, (5) the artificial intelligence epoch, and (6) the universal colonization epoch. Going from one epoch to the next is a Singularity in its own right, and a period of speeding up
precedes it. Each epoch takes a shorter time, which means the whole history of the universe is one giant Singularity event.
see these ideologies as examples of scientism and techno-utopianism and fear
the notion of human enhancement and technological singularity which
they support. Some have described Karl Marx as a techno-optimist.
Skepticism and critics
On the somewhat skeptical side are certain philosophers like Herbert
Marcuse and John Zerzan, who believe that technological societies are inherently flawed. They suggest that the inevitable result of such a society is to become evermore technological
at the cost of freedom and psychological health.
Many, such as the Luddites and prominent philosopher Martin
Heidegger, hold serious, although not entirely, deterministic reservations about technology (see "The Question Concerning Technology"). According to Heidegger scholars Hubert
Dreyfus and Charles Spinosa, "Heidegger does not oppose technology. He hopes to reveal the essence of technology in a way that 'in no way confines us to a stultified compulsion to push on blindly with technology or, what comes to the same thing, to rebel
helplessly against it.' Indeed, he promises that 'when we once open ourselves expressly to the essence of technology, we find ourselves unexpectedly taken into a freeing claim.'
What this entails is a more complex relationship to technology than either techno-optimists or techno-pessimists tend to allow."
of the most poignant criticisms of technology are found in what are now considered to be dystopian literary classics such as Aldous Huxley's Brave
New World, Anthony Burgess's A Clockwork Orange,
and George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four. In Goethe's
Faust, Faust selling his soul to the devil in return for power over the physical world is also often interpreted as a metaphor for the adoption of industrial technology. More recently, modern works of science fiction such as those by Philip K. Dick and William Gibson and films such as Blade
Runner and Ghost in the Shell project highly ambivalent or cautionary attitudes toward technology's impact on human society
The late cultural critic Neil Postman distinguished tool-using societies from technological societies and from what he called "technopolies," societies that
are dominated by the ideology of technological and scientific progress to the exclusion or harm of other cultural practices, values and world-views.
Darin Barney has written about technology's impact on practices of citizenship and democratic culture,
suggesting that technology can be construed as (1) an object of political debate, (2) a means or medium of discussion, and (3) a setting for democratic deliberation and citizenship. As a setting for democratic culture, Barney suggests that technology tends
to make ethical questions, including the question of what a good life consists in, nearly impossible, because they already give an answer to the question: a good life is one that includes the
use of more and more technology.
has also written about the dangers of new technology, such as genetic
engineering, nanotechnology, synthetic biology, and robotics.
He warns that these technologies introduce unprecedented new challenges to human beings, including the possibility of the permanent alteration of our biological nature. These concerns are shared by other philosophers, scientists and public intellectuals who
have written about similar issues (e.g. Francis Fukuyama, Jürgen Habermas,
William Joy, and Michael Sandel).
Another prominent critic of technology is Hubert Dreyfus, who has published books such as On the Internet and What Computers Still Can't Do.
infamous anti-technological treatise is Industrial Society and Its Future, written by the Unabomber Ted Kaczynski and printed in several major newspapers (and later books) as part of an effort to end his bombing campaign of the techno-industrial infrastructure.
The notion of appropriate technology was developed in the 20th century by thinkers such as E.
F. Schumacher and Jacques Ellul to describe situations where it was not desirable to use very new technologies or those that required access to some centralized infrastructure or parts or skills imported from elsewhere. The ecovillage movement emerged in part due to this concern.
Optimism and skepticism in the 21st century
This section mainly focuses on American concerns even if it can reasonably be generalized to other Western countries.
In his article, Jared Bernstein, a Senior Fellow at the Center
on Budget and Policy Priorities, questions the widespread idea that automation,
and more broadly, technological advances, have mainly contributed to this growing labor market problem. His thesis appears to be a third way between optimism
and skepticism. Essentially, he stands for a neutral approach of the linkage between technology and American issues concerning unemployment and declining wages.
He uses two
main arguments to defend his point. First, because of recent technological advances, an increasing number of workers are losing their jobs. Yet, scientific evidence fails to clearly demonstrate that technology has displaced so many workers that it has created
more problems than it has solved. Indeed, automation threatens repetitive jobs but higher-end jobs are still necessary because they complement technology and manual jobs that "requires
flexibility judgment and common sense" remain hard to replace with machines.
Second, studies have not shown clear links between recent technology advances and the wage trends of the last decades.
Therefore, according to Bernstein, instead of focusing on technology and its hypothetical influences on current American increasing
unemployment and declining wages, one needs to worry more about "bad policy that fails to offset the imbalances in demand, trade, income and opportunity."
Complex technological systems
Thomas P. Hughes stated that because technology has been considered
as a key way to solve problems, we need to be aware of its complex and varied characters to use it more efficiently. What is the difference
between a wheel or a compass and cooking machines such as an oven
or a gas stove? Can we consider all of them, only a part of them, or none of them as technologies?
Technology is often considered too narrowly; according to Hughes, "Technology
is a creative process involving human ingenuity. This definition's emphasis on creativity
avoids unbounded definitions that may mistakenly include cooking “technologies," but it also highlights the prominent role of humans and therefore their responsibilities for the use of complex technological systems.
Yet, because technology is
everywhere and has dramatically changed landscapes and societies, Hughes argues that engineers, scientists, and managers have often believed that they can use technology to shape the world as they want. They have often supposed that technology is easily controllable and this assumption has to be
thoroughly questioned. For instance, Evgeny Morozov
particularly challenges two concepts: “Internet-centrism” and “solutionism." Internet-centrism refers to the idea that our
society is convinced that the Internet is one of the most stable and coherent forces. Solutionism is the ideology that every social issue can be solved thanks to technology and especially thanks to the internet. In fact, technology intrinsically contains uncertainties
and limitations. According to Alexis Madrigal's review of Morozov's theory, to ignore it will lead to “unexpected consequences that could eventually cause more damage
than the problems they seek to address." Benjamin R. Cohen and Gwen Ottinger also discussed the multivalent effects of technology.
Therefore, recognition of the limitations of technology, and more broadly, scientific knowledge, is needed – especially in cases dealing with
environmental justice and health issues. Ottinger continues this reasoning and argues that the ongoing recognition of the limitations of scientific knowledge goes
hand in hand with scientists and engineers’ new comprehension of their role. Such an approach of technology and science "[require] technical professionals to conceive of their roles in the process differently. [They have to consider themselves as] collaborators
in research and problem solving rather than simply providers of information and technical solutions."
Technology is properly defined as any application of science to accomplish a function. The science can be leading edge or well established and the function can have high visibility or be significantly more mundane, but it is all technology, and its exploitation
is the foundation of all competitive advantage.
Technology-based planning is what was used to build the US industrial giants before WWII (e.g., Dow, DuPont, GM) and it is what was used to transform the US into a superpower.
It was not economic-based planning.
In 1983 Project Socrates was initiated in the
US intelligence community to determine the source of declining US economic and military competitiveness. Project Socrates concluded
that technology exploitation is the foundation of all competitive advantage and that declining US competitiveness was from decision-making in the private and public
sectors switching from technology exploitation (technology-based planning) to money exploitation (economic-based planning) at the end of World War II.
Project Socrates determined that to rebuild US competitiveness, decision making throughout the US
had to readopt technology-based planning. Project Socrates also determined that countries like China and India had continued executing technology-based (while the US took its detour into economic-based) planning, and as a result had considerably advanced the
process and were using it to build themselves into superpowers. To rebuild US competitiveness the US decision-makers needed to adopt a form of technology-based planning that was far more advanced than that used by China and India.
Project Socrates determined
that technology-based planning makes an evolutionary leap forward every few hundred years and the next evolutionary leap, the Automated Innovation Revolution, was poised to occur. In the Automated Innovation Revolution the process for determining how to acquire
and utilize technology for a competitive advantage (which includes R&D) is automated so that it can be executed with unprecedented speed, efficiency and agility.
Project Socrates developed the means for automated innovation so that the US could
lead the Automated Innovation Revolution in order to rebuild and maintain the country's economic competitiveness for many generations.
Other animal species
This adult gorilla
uses a branch as a walking
to gauge the water's depth, an example of technology usage by non-human primates.
The use of basic technology is also a feature of other animal species apart from humans. These include primates such as chimpanzees, some dolphin
communities, and crows. Considering a more generic perspective of technology as ethology of active environmental conditioning and control, we can also refer to animal
examples such as beavers and their dams, or bees and their honeycombs.
The ability to make and use tools was once considered a defining characteristic of the genus Homo. However, the discovery of tool construction among chimpanzees and related primates has discarded the notion of the use of technology as unique
to humans. For example, researchers have observed wild chimpanzees utilising tools for foraging: some of the tools used include leaf sponges, termite fishing probes, pestles
and levers. West
African chimpanzees also use stone hammers and anvils for cracking nuts, as do capuchin
monkeys of Boa Vista, Brazil.
Theories of technology often attempt to predict the future of technology based on the high
technology and science of the time. As with all predictions of the future, however, technology's is uncertain.
Futurist Ray Kurzweil predicts that the future of technology
will be mainly consist of an overlapping "GNR Revolution" of Genetics, Nanotechnology, and Robotics, with robotics being the most important of the three.