Technology

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By the mid 20th century humans had achieved a level of technological mastery sufficient to leave the surface of the planet for the first time and explore space.

Technology is a word with origins in the Greek word technologia (τεχνολογια), techne (τεχνη) "craft" + logia (λογια) "saying". It is an encompassing term dealing with the knowledge of humanity's tools and crafts. Depending on context, technology is:

  • the tools and machines that help to solve problems;
  • the techniques (knowledge) that includes methods, materials, tools, and processes for solving a problem (such as building technology or medical technology);
  • a culture-forming activity (such as manufacturing technology, infrastructure technology, or space-travel technology). (McGinn)
  • the application of resources to solve a problem (such as knowledge, skills, processes, techniques, tools and raw materials).
  • an encompasing term to describe the level of achievement in science, mathematics and engineering of a group or culture.
  • in economics, technology is the current state of our knowledge of how to combine resources to produce desired products (and our knowledge of what can be produced).

Technology is also a cultural activity that predates both science and engineering. It is a far-reaching term that includes both simple tools, such as a wooden spoon, and complex tools, such as the space station. Its scope includes any tool in any discipline. This is not to imply that technology is the only cultural forming activity, nor that it is the primary culture-forming activity. Often, it is dominant in cultural formation; often, it is not. In addition, culture may act to form technology. Due to widespread, and sometime careless, use of technology, several other topics arise in the study of technology, including technological ethics, environmental impacts, technological by-products, and technological risk, among many other philosophical and sociological topics.

Several disciplines deal with technology in some form, including crafts and trades, engineering, manufacturing, construction, and technologists. Each discipline has a plethora of unique knowledge about specific technological tools and techniques.

Thus, usefulness is the essential feature of technology.

Science and technology

The lines between science and technology are not always clear. Generally, science is the reasoned investigation or study of nature, aimed at finding out the truth, generally according to the scientific method. Technology is the application of knowledge (scientific, engineering, and/or otherwise) to achieve a practical result (Roussel, et.al.).

For example, science might study the flow of electrons in an electric current. This knowledge may be used to create artifacts, such as semiconductors, computers, and other forms of technology.

History of technology

Main article: History of technology

The history of technology is as old as the history of humanity, since humans have nearly always used tools to feed and protect themselves. The history of technology, therefore, is the history of natural resources, because our tools come from the earth. The history of technology follows a progression from simple tools and simple energy sources to complex tools and complex energy sources (Smil 1994), as follows:

The earliest technologies converted natural resources into simple tools. Processes such as carving, chipping, scraping, rolling (the wheel), and sun-baking are simple means for the conversion of raw materials into usable products. Anthropologists have uncovered many early human houses and tools made from natural resources.

The use, and then mastery, of fire was a key turning point in man's technological evolution providing him with simple energy. The use of fire extended the capability for the treatment of natural resources and allowed the use of natural resources that require heat to be useful. Wood and charcoal were among the first materials used as a fuel. Wood, clay, and rock (such as limestone), would be among the earliest materials shaped or treated by fire, for making weapons, pottery, bricks, and cement, among others. Continuing improvements such as the furnace enabled the ability to smelt and forge metal (such as copper, ca. 8000 BC), and eventually to the discovery of alloys, such as brass and bronze (ca. 4000 BC). The first uses of iron alloys, steel, dates to around 1400 BC.

Complex tools include such simple machines as the lever (ca. 300 BC), the screw (ca. 400 BC), and the pulley, and such complex machinery as the ocean liner, the engine, the computer, modern communications devices, the electric motor, the jet engine, among many others. As tools increase in complexity, so does the knowledge needed to support them. Modern tools are so complex, that entire technical knowledge-based processes and practices (also complex tools themselves) exist to support them, including engineering, medicine, computer science, etc. Further, complex tools require complex manufacturing and construction techniques and machines. Entire industries have arisen to support and develop complex tools.

Complex energy is derived predominately from wind, water, hydrocarbons, and nuclear fusion. Water provides energy through the process of hydropower generation. Wind provides energy by using wind currents using windmills. There are three major sources of hydrocarbons, beside wood and its derivative charcoal: coal and its derivative coke, natural gas, and petroleum. Coal and natural gas are used almost exclusively as an energy source. Coke is used in the manufacture of metals particularly steel. Petroleum is used as an energy source (gasoline and diesel) but is also the natural resource for plastics and many other synthetic. The most recent energy developments includes the ability to use nuclear energy, derived from fuels such as uranium.

The nature of technology

General characteristics

With all of the technology in use in modern society, it may seem futile to attempt a generalized list of common characteristics. Many authors, such as McGinn (1991) and Winston (2003), list the following:

Complexity refers to the characteristic that most modern tools are difficult to understand. Some are easy to use, but difficult to comprehend source and means of make, such as a kitchen knife, or a baseball. Others are both difficult to use and difficult to comprehend, such as a tractor, gasoline, a television, or a computer.

Dependency refers to the fact that modern tools depend on other modern tools, which depend on other modern tools, for their make and their use. Cars, as an example, have a huge complex of industry of means and methods. And to use them requires a complex of road, streets, highways, and gasoline stations, waste collection, etc., beyond our comprehension.

Valence refers to the many, many different types of the same tool. Imagine the many different types of spoons available today, or scissors, and even complex tools come in many shape as well, like the construction crane, or the automobile.

Scale refers to the sheer magnitude, size, and pervasiveness of modern technology. Simply put, technology seems to be everywhere. It dominates modern life. Scale refers also to the magnitude of some modern technological projects, like the cellular telephone network, the Internet, air travel, satellites, etc.

Types of Technology

One possible classification of technology uses the fields of technological studies, commonly found in academic institutions of higher learning:

Relationship with society

The relationship between society and technology is quite complex, creating what many characterize as a co-dependence upon the other; society creates and depends upon technology to meet its needs and desires, and technology's very existence arises due to society's needs and desires. However, this "symbiosis" goes further than that: Every advancement in technology influences and eventually changes society. So the needs of society change, creating more needs, and, eventually, creating more technology. (McGinn 1991)

Consider the telephone, and its latest sibling the mobile phone. With the invention of the telephone, society began to depend on quicker ways of communication with others. Higher expectations for quicker communications were initially met using short-range radio systems for use in emergency vehicles. However, even higher portability was realized with miniaturization of components. This demand for a new product led to the invention of the mobile phone. The influence of portability is so pervasive now anyone can be accessible to talk in most urban places in the U.S.

Funding for technological development

Government

Template:Sectstub The government is a major contributor to the development of technology. In the United States, many agencies invest millions of dollars in new technology. In 1980, the UK government invested just over 6 million pounds in a 4 year Programme, later extended to 6 years, called the Microlectronics Education Programme (MEP) which aimed to provide every school in Britain with at least one computer, microprocessor training materials and software, plus extensive teacher training.

Military technology

Technology has frequently been driven by the military, with most modern applications being developed for the military before being taken up for civilian use. However, this trend has recently seen a reversal, with the industry often taking the lead in developing technology which is then adopted by the military.

Other

Some government agencies are dedicated specifically to research, such as the American's National Science Foundation, the United Kingdom scientific research institutes, the American's Small Business Innovative Research effort. And many government agencies dedicate a major portion of their budget to research and development.

Private source

For profit

Research and development is one of the biggest investments made by corporations toward new and innovative technology. Template:Sectstub

Non-profit

Many foundations and non-profit organizations contribute to the development of technology. Template:Sectstub

Side effects

There are two types of effects from the use of technology, main effects and side effects. Main effects are those intended by the technology, usually to fulfill some desire or need. Side effects are (usually) unintended, and often unknown prior to technology's implementation. This portion of the article deals with those side effects.

Sociological

The most subtle side effects from technological uses are sociological in nature. Subtle because those side effects can go unnoticed without careful observation and contemplation of individual, institutional, and group behaviors.

Values

The implementation of technology influence the values (beliefs, ideas, opinions) of society by changing expectations and realities. There are (at least) three major, interrelated, values that are the result of technological innovations:

  • Mechanistic World View. A set of beliefs that views the universe as a collection of parts, like a machine, that can be individually analyzed and understood. (McGinn)
  • Efficiency. A value, originally applied only to machines, but now placed upon all aspects of society, whereby each element (organizational structures and human beings) is expected to attain higher and higher performance, output, ability, etc. (McGinn)
  • Progressivism. The belief that societal progress is good.

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Ethics

Winston provides an excellent summary of the ethical implications of technological development and deployment. He states there are four major ethical implications:

  • Challenges traditional ethical norms.
  • Creates an aggregation of effects.
  • Changes the distribution of justice.
  • Provides great power.

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Lifestyle

In many ways, technology simplifies life.

  • The rise of leisure
  • More informed
  • others

In other ways, technology complicates life.

  • Too much information
  • Consumerism
  • Pace
  • Technicism
  • New forms of danger

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Institutions and groups

Technology influences, often enables, organizational and group structures and influence. Example of this include:

  • The rise of organizations: e.g., health institutions.
  • The commericalization of leisure: sports events, products, etc. (McGinn)
  • The advent of large organizational structures.
  • Others

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International

Technology provides a heightened awareness of international issues, values, and cultures. Due mostly to mass transportation and mass media, the world seems to be a much smaller place due to the following, among others:

  • Globalization of ideas
  • Embeddedness of values
  • Population growth and control
  • Others

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Environmental

The effects of technology on the environment is both obvious and subtle. The more obvious effects include the depletion of nonrenewable natural resources (such as petroleum, coal, ores), and the added pollution of air, water, and land.

The more subtle effects include debates over long-term impacts (e.g., global warming, deforestation, natural habitat destruction, costal wetland loss)

Others Template:Sectstub

Control

Autonomous technology

In one line of thought, technology develops autonomously, in other words technology seems to feed on itself, moving forward with a force irresistible by humans. To these individuals, technology is "inherently dynamic and self-augmenting." (McGinn, p. 73)

Jacques Ellul is one proponent of the irresistibleness of technology to humans. He espouses the idea that humanity cannot resist the temptation of expanding our knowledge and our technological abilities. He, however, does not believe that these seeming autonomy of technology is inherent. But the perceived autonomy is due to the fact that humans do not adequately consider the responsibility that are inherent to technological processes.

Another proponent of these ideas is Langdon Winner who believes that technological evolution is essentially beyond the control of individuals or society.

Government

Individuals rely on governmental assistance to control the side effects and negative consequences of technology. Government intervenes many through laws.

  • Supposed independence of government. An assumption commonly made about the government is that their governance role is neutral or independent. Often, if not usually, that assumption is misplaced. Governing is a political process, more so in some countries than in others, therefore government will be influenced by political winds of influence. In addition, government provides much of the funding for technological research and development. Therefore, even government has a vested interest in certain outcomes.
  • Liability. One means for controlling technology is to place responsibility for the harm with the agent causing the harm. Government can allow more or less legal liability to fall to the organization(s) or individual(s) responsibile for damages.
  • Legislation.
  • Others

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Choice

Society also controls technology through the choices that it makes. These choices not only include consumer demands; it includes

  • the channels of distribution, how do products go from raw materials to consumption to disposal;
  • the cultural beliefs regarding style, freedom of choice, consumerism, materialism, etc.;
  • the economic values we place on the environment, individual wealth, government control, capitalism, etc.
  • Others

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Technology and philosophy

Technicism

Generally, Technicism is an overreliance or overconfidence in technology as a benefactor of society.

Taken to extreme, some argue that technicism is the belief that humanity will ultimately be able to control the entirety of existence using technology. In other words, human beings will eventually be able to master all problems, supply all wants and needs, possibly even control the future. (For a more complete treatment of the topic see the work of Egbert Schuurman, for example at [1].) Some, such as Monsma, et al., connect these ideas to the abdication of God as a higher moral authority.

More commonly, technicism is a criticism of the commonly held belief that newer, more recently-developed technology is "better." For example, more recently-developed computers are faster than older computers, and more recently-developed cars have greater gas efficiency and more features than older cars. Since current technologies are generally accepted as good, future technological developments are not considered circumspectly, resulting in what seems to be a blind acceptance of technological developments.

Optimism, pessimism, and appropriate technology

Pessimism

On the somewhat pessimistic side, are certain philosophers like Herbert Marcuse, Jacques Ellul, and John Zerzan, who believe that technological societies are inherently flawed a priori. They suggest that the result of such a society is to become evermore technological at the cost of freedom and psychological health (and probably physical health in general as pollution from technological products is dispersed).

Perhaps the most poignant criticisms of technology are found in what are now considered to be literary classics, for example Aldous Huxley's Brave New World, Anthony Burgess's A Clockwork Orange, and George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four.

Optimism

On the other hand, the optimistic assumptions are made by proponents of technoprogressivist views or ideologies such as transhumanism and singularitarianism, that view technological development as generally having beneficial effects for the society and the human condition. In these ideologies, technological development is morally good. Some critics see these ideologies as examples of scientism, mathematical fetishism, or techno-utopianism and fear the idea of technological singularity which they support.

Appropriate technology

The notion of appropriate technology, however, was developed in the twentieth century 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 eco-village movement emerged in part due to this concern.

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Theories and concepts in technology

There are many theories and concepts that seek to explain the relationship beteen technology and society:

References

  • Adas, Michael. Machines as the Measure of Men: Science, Technology, and Ideologies of Western Dominance, Cornell University Press, 1990.
  • Nobel, David. Forces of Production: a social history of industrial automation, New York: Knopf 1984, Paperback Edition: Oxford University Press, 1990.
  • McGinn, Robert E. Science, Technology and Society, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey, 1991.
  • Monsma, S.V., C. Christians, E.R. Dykema, A. Leegwater, E. Schuurman, and L. VanPoolen. Responsible Technology. Grand Rapids, Michigan (USA): W.B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1986.
  • Roussel, P.A., K. N. Saad, and T. J. Erickson. Third Generation R&D, Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard Business School Press, 1991.
  • Winston, M.E. "Children of Invention", in Society, Ethics, and Technology, Second Edition, M.E. Winston and R.D. Edelbach (eds.), Belmont, California (USA): Wadsworth Group/Thomson Learning, 2003.
  • Smil, Vaclav. Energy in World History, Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1994, pp. 259-267, as quoted in http://www.thenagain.info/webchron/Technology/Technology.html, maintained by David W. Koeller, Northpark University, Chicago, Illinois (USA), downloaded September 11, 2005.

See also

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External links

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