What Is Technology?

Technology is the accumulated knowledge and skills of humankind used to create tools, devices, materials, systems, and processes that enable people to perform tasks, achieve goals, and make sense of the world. Technological innovations have strongly shaped the course of history and the nature of society. Examples include the great revolutions in agriculture that have changed the shape of humanity’s food supply; improvements in sanitation and preventive medicine that have improved human health; bows and arrows, gunpowder, and nuclear explosions that have greatly enhanced the power and scale of war; the advent of computers, telephones, and mobile phones, that have transformed how we write, compute, bank, conduct business, travel, and communicate with one another.

In general, technological change comes about through a step-by-step process of invention and improvement. It is rare for an initial scientific result or engineer’s idea to be directly translated into a usable product. This is because, for most technologies, it is important to understand the context of their use before they can be fully developed. In addition, the development of most technologies involves considerable cost and time. It is also common for seemingly promising early technologies to stall midway through their development.

Technological changes are also often met with critical analysis and sometimes even resistance. Many dystopian literary classics have been interpreted as criticisms of modern technological developments, such as Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World and Anthony Burgess’s A Clockwork Orange. More recently, Theodore Kaczynski (the Unabomber) printed his bombing manifestos in several major newspapers as part of an anti-technological campaign.

Despite the broad and varied meanings of the word, it is difficult to define exactly what technology is. Some people equate it with gadgetry, while others think of it more broadly as a set of organised tasks involving people and machines that meet sustainable objectives. In this sense, it is a tool that can be used to improve people’s lives and the natural environment, but it must always be developed in a way that is consistent with ethical principles.

In the late 1900s it became possible to fit the parts that make electronic products work into tiny chips called integrated circuits. This enabled the creation of personal computers, compact disc players, cellular telephones and digital cameras, among other inventions. At the same time, doctors began to apply electrical technology directly to living things. Hearing aids and kidney dialysis machines are examples of such technology. More recently, pacemakers have been placed inside the bodies of humans to help keep their hearts beating continuously. These devices operate from outside the body, but doctors also plan to place electrical devices in living cells, allowing them to monitor and regulate the human body from within. This is a revolutionary step that could allow scientists to cure diseases like cancer and Alzheimer’s disease, as well as to extend the life of patients suffering from heart failure. This will require a profound shift in our understanding of the relationship between the human body and the technology that controls it.

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