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Technology has changed vastly over the last 500 or so years. From the use of tools by primitive apes to the modern technological revolution Technology has been the engine of progress. It is not without it’s critics or risks. In this article we will take a more detailed look. We will answer what is technology and how has it shaped today's society.
Technology ("science of craft", from Greek τέχνη, techne, "art, skill, cunning of hand"; and -λογία, -logia is the sum of techniques, skills, methods, and processes used in the production of goods or services or in the accomplishment of objectives, such as scientific investigation. Technology can be the knowledge of techniques, processes, and the like, or it can be embedded in machines to allow for operation without detailed knowledge of their workings. Systems (e.g. machines) applying technology by taking an input, changing it according to the system's use, and then producing an outcome are referred to as technology systems or technological systems.
The simplest form of technology is the development and use of basic tools. The prehistoric discovery of how to control fire and the later Neolithic Revolution increased the available sources of food, and the invention of the wheel helped humans to travel in and control their environment. Developments in historic times, including the printing press, the telephone, and the Internet, have lessened physical barriers to communication and allowed humans to interact freely on a global scale.
Technology has many effects. It has helped develop more advanced economies (including today's global economy) and has allowed the rise of a leisure class. Many technological processes produce unwanted by-products known as pollution and deplete natural resources to the detriment of Earth's environment. Innovations have always influenced the values of a society and raised new questions in the ethics of technology. Examples include the rise of the notion of efficiency in terms of human productivity, and the challenges of bioethics.
Philosophical debates have arisen over the use of technology, with disagreements over whether technology improves the human condition or worsens it. Neo-Luddism, anarcho-primitivism, and similar reactionary movements criticize the pervasiveness of technology, arguing that it harms the environment and alienates people; proponents of ideologies such as transhumanism and techno-progressivism view continued technological progress as beneficial to society and the human condition.
Definition and usage
The use of the term "technology" has changed significantly over the last 200 years. Before the 20th century, the term was uncommon in English, and it was used either to refer to the description or study of the useful arts or to allude to technical education, as in the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (chartered in 1861).
The term "technology" rose to prominence in the 20th century in connection with the Second Industrial Revolution. The term's meanings changed in the early 20th century when American social scientists, beginning with Thorstein Veblen, translated ideas from the German concept of Technik into "technology." In German and other European languages, a distinction exists between technik and technologie that is absent in English, which usually translates both terms as "technology." By the 1930s, "technology" referred not only to the study of the industrial arts but to the industrial arts themselves.
In 1937, the American sociologist Read Bain wrote that "technology includes all tools, machines, utensils, weapons, instruments, housing, clothing, communicating and transporting devices and the skills by which we produce and use them." Bain's definition remains common among scholars today, especially social scientists. Scientists and engineers usually prefer to define technology as applied science, rather than as the things that people make and use. More recently, scholars have borrowed from European philosophers of "technique" to extend the meaning of technology to various forms of instrumental reason, as in Foucault's work on technologies of the self (techniques de soi).
Dictionaries and scholars have offered a variety of definitions. The Merriam-Webster Learner's Dictionary offers a definition of the term: "the use of science in industry, engineering, etc., to invent useful things or to solve problems" and "a machine, piece of equipment, method, etc., that is created by technology." Ursula Franklin, in her 1989 "Real World of Technology" lecture, gave another definition of the concept; it is "practice, the way we do things around here." The term is often used to imply a specific field of technology, or to refer to high technology or just consumer electronics, rather than technology as a whole. Bernard Stiegler, in Technics and Time, 1, defines technology in two ways: as "the pursuit of life by means other than life," and as "organized inorganic matter."
Technology can be most broadly defined as the entities, both material and immaterial, created by the application of mental and physical effort in order to achieve some value. In this usage, technology refers to tools and machines that may be used to solve real-world problems. It is a far-reaching term that may include simple tools, such as a crowbar or wooden spoon, or more complex machines, such as a space station or particle accelerator. Tools and machines need not be material; virtual technology, such as computer software and business methods, fall under this definition of technology.] W. Brian Arthur defines technology in a similarly broad way as "a means to fulfill a human purpose."
The word "technology" can also be used to refer to a collection of techniques. In this context, it is the current state of humanity's knowledge of how to combine resources to produce desired products, to solve problems, fulfill needs, or satisfy wants; it includes technical methods, skills, processes, techniques, tools and raw materials. When combined with another term, such as "medical technology" or "space technology," it refers to the state of the respective field's knowledge and tools. "State-of-the-art technology" refers to the high technology available to humanity in any field.
Technology can be viewed as an activity that forms or changes culture. Technology is also the application of mathematics, science, and the arts for the benefit of life as it is known. A modern example is the rise of communication technology, which has lessened barriers to human interaction and as a result has helped spawn new subcultures; the rise of cyberculture has at its basis the development of the Internet and the computer. As a cultural activity, technology predates both science and engineering, each of which formalize some aspects of technological endeavor.
Science, engineering, and technology
The distinction between science, engineering, and technology is not always clear. Science is systematic knowledge of the physical or material world gained through observation and experimentation. Technologies are not usually exclusively products of science, because they have to satisfy requirements such as utility, usability, and safety.
Engineering is the goal-oriented process of designing and making tools and systems to exploit natural phenomena for practical human means, often (but not always) using results and techniques from science. The development of technology may draw upon many fields of knowledge, including scientific, engineering, mathematical, linguistic, and historical knowledge, to achieve some practical result.
Technology is often a consequence of science and engineering, although technology as a human activity precedes the two fields. For example, science might study the flow of electrons in electrical conductors by using already-existing tools and knowledge. This new-found knowledge may then be used by engineers to create new tools and machines such as semiconductors, computers, and other forms of advanced technology. In this sense, scientists and engineers may both be considered technologists; the three fields are often considered as one for the purposes of research and reference.
The exact relations between science and technology, in particular, have been debated by scientists, historians, and policymakers in the late 20th century, in part because the debate can inform the funding of basic and applied science. In the immediate wake of World War II, for example, it was widely considered in the United States that technology was simply "applied science" and that to fund basic science was to reap technological results in due time. An articulation of this philosophy could be found explicitly in Vannevar Bush's treatise on postwar science policy, Science – The Endless Frontier: "New products, new industries, and more jobs require continuous additions to knowledge of the laws of nature ... This essential new knowledge can be obtained only through basic scientific research."] In the late-1960s, however, this view came under direct attack, leading towards initiatives to fund science for specific tasks (initiatives resisted by the scientific community). The issue remains contentious, though most analysts resist the model that technology is a result of scientific research.
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.
Some 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 and identity.
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.
Nikolas Kompridis 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.
A more 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. There are also subcultures that disapprove of some or most technology, such as self-identified off-gridders.
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.
The inadequate quantity and quality of American jobs is one of the most fundamental economic challenges we face. [...] What's the linkage between technology and this fundamental problem?
— Bernstein, Jared, "It’s Not a Skills Gap That’s Holding Wages Down: It’s the Weak Economy, Among Other Things," in The American Prospect, October 2014
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.
As this journey through technology ends we hope this article has been both informative and helpful to you.
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