What is technology?
Technology is the sum of material entities created by the application of mental and physical effort to nature in order to achieve some value. Technological progress is made possible by engineering, the field which applies scientific knowledge to solve practical problems by developing and applying new tools, machines, materials and processes.
The history of technology.
The evolution of technology has been a progression from reliance on physical effort to a growing role for the mind. The first tools, such as chisels and hammers, augmented raw muscle power. The creation of powered machines eliminated the reliance on muscle and allowed much more powerful mechanisms to be built than with human or animal power alone. The introduction of the automaton in the twentieth century embedded human knowledge in machinery. The trend continues as human beings improve their ability to exploit nature to meet their values through the use of automation and achieve more and more material values by mental effort.
Does technological progress cause unemployment?
In 1811, the Luddites became alarmed that technological innovations introduced by the Industrial Revolution threatened their livelihood. In a sense, they were right – most jobs that existed in 1811 have made superfluous by technology, and this process continues today. Yet outside of wage and price controls and other forms of interventionism, large-scale unemployment has never been a threat. Technology has not made most people permanently idle because it not only eliminates dreary, labor-intensive jobs, but also frees us to pursue more activities. The tremendous improvements in productivity that came with the Industrial and Information Revolutions gave us more free time and created opportunities to allow us to discover and pursue new passions. Highly repetitive agricultural and manufacturing jobs have been replaced by service industry and technical jobs. Entirely new institutions, such as professional and amateur sport leagues, museums, and online multiplayer clans have evolved as the public’s free time has grown.
Is technology good?
While the industrial revolution greatly improved the quality and longevity of human life, war and threat of nuclear annihilation have demonstrated the destructive power of technology. Rapid technological progress makes it likely that future inventions will increase both its creative and destructive potential. Yet there is reason to be optimistic that technology will be used for good.
While technology can be subverted and copied to serve evil, societies which enslave the human mind cannot sustain the capital stock or the intellectual base necessary for progress. Technological progress requires a society which values rationality, initiative, and voluntary cooperation. Most important is the need for freedom: inventors must be free to propose new ideas, and entrepreneurs must be free to turn them into reality. The failure of Fascism and Communism, and the success of the United States in the 20th century is a powerful testament to the power of a free society.
What is the future of technology?
Technological evolution follows two trends: the replacement of physical labor with more efficient mental labor, and the resulting greater degree of control over our natural environment, including our ability to transform raw materials into ever more complex and pliable products. This process culminates with man’s ability to achieve all of the material values technologically possible to him by mental effort. The growing importance of intellectual activity implies that intellectual property will become increasingly more important relative to material labor and physical goods. The current system of patent laws and copyrights will evolve dramatically as intellectual transactions evolve to meet the requirements of a civilization with rapid innovation on a global scale.
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