Technological advancement is usually a very well-defined concept; however, it often has a wide meaning to so many individuals and particularly many in the business and academic worlds. Technological change is usually defined as any change that improves the ability of a system to serve a purpose or solve a problem. Technological innovations do not necessarily impact every aspect of human interaction; for instance, new machines such as the electric shaver can completely replace shaving chores. However, there are also many positive aspects to technological advancements, as we will see in this article. In fact, progress in technology has in many ways improved the quality of life.
For a student who wants to learn more about how technological advances have impacted society, the best place to get started is with an introduction to the theory of evolution. Students should start by reading Robert E. Kaplan’s classic textbook, The Wealth of Nations. This text discusses in great detail the level of technological development that has taken place throughout history. In addition to discussing how different societies around the world have developed over time, Kaplan traces the development of civilization through time, identifying particular patterns and inventions that have helped shape human civilizations.
One of the most common arguments advanced against the idea that there has been a vast amount of technological advances in the “invention fallacy.” According to this argument, new inventions are rare and thus it is impossible to tell whether or not new technologies actually improve the quality of life. The flaw in this argument is the fact that often inventions only become popular after one significant instance of their use. There have been many instances where individuals have made a simple invention that was used in a completely different context and has become wildly popular. As Kaplan points out, this makes it extremely difficult to determine whether or not an invention has become widely accepted merely because of its existence.
Another problem associated with those who reject the idea that new technologies increase the overall quality of life is the notion that previous knowledge should not be utilized. There are a number of cases in which previous knowledge proves to be crucial for a particular invention, and when this knowledge is available, some people are reluctant to utilize it. According to Kaplan, there are two different types of prior knowledge: human knowledge, which can be considered the common good knowledge, and technological knowledge, which is only relevant for particular purposes and cannot be exploited for a broader audience.
Proponents of technological advances frequently point out that most major advances have been driven by the application of previously unknown techniques and knowledge. For example, the Wright brothers had previously worked on projects related to airplanes, yet it was necessary for them to develop their airplane designs based upon their knowledge of aerodynamics. Also, when hydrogen and oxygen became available for transportation, the automobile became a necessary item. Similarly, airplane engines were originally developed for gliders, yet the modern-day gas engine has been developed from the basic principles of the ancient ancients. If these previous innovations had never been discovered, the progress of aviation would have been limited.
While technological advances sometimes bring about great leaps forward in specific areas, such as communication and education, critics argue that such advances do not lead to significant increases in general quality of life. Kaplan points out that while many new ideas that result from scientific research are beneficial, the process of developing new ideas is often slow, thus making new ideas irrelevant over time. Additionally, some of the more radical new ideas may be met with opposition, preventing them from being implemented. As such, critics argue that technological advances must be both gradual and democratic, allowing for an open process in which different people and different ideas can be discussed and developed before new ideas are introduced into the mass market.