Technological evolution is the name of a science and technology studies theory describing technology development, developed by Czech philosopher Radovan Richta.
Theory of technological evolution
According to Richta and later Bloomfield, technology (which Richta defines as "a material entity created by the application of mental and physical effort to nature in order to achieve some value") evolves in three stages: tools, machine, automation. This evolution, he says, follows two trends: the replacement of physical labour with more efficient mental labour, and the resulting greater degree of control over one's natural environment, including an ability to transform raw materials into ever more complex and pliable products.
Stages of technological development
The pretechnological period, in which all other animal species remain today aside from some avian and primate species was a non-rational period of the early prehistoric man.
The emergence of technology, made possible by the development of the rational faculty, paved the way for the first stage: the tool. A tool provides a mechanical advantage in accomplishing a physical task, and must be powered by human or animal effort.
Hunter-gatherers developed tools mainly for procuring food. Tools such as a container, spear, arrow, plow, or hammer that augments physical labor to more efficiently achieve his objective. Later animal-powered tools such as the plow and the horse, increased the productivity of food production about tenfold over the technology of the hunter-gatherers. Tools allow one to do things impossible to accomplish with one's body alone, such as seeing minute visual detail with a microscope, manipulating heavy objects with a pulley and cart, or carrying volumes of water in a bucket.
The second technological stage was the creation of the machine. A machine (a powered machine to be more precise) is a tool that substitutes the element of human physical effort, and requires the operator only to control its function. Machines became widespread with the industrial revolution, though windmills, a type of machine, are much older.
Examples of this include cars, trains, computers, and lights. Machines allow humans to tremendously exceed the limitations of their bodies. Putting a machine on the farm, a tractor, increased food productivity at least tenfold over the technology of the plow and the horse.
The third, and final stage of technological evolution is the automation. The automation is a machine that removes the element of human control with an automatic algorithm. Examples of machines that exhibit this characteristic are digital watches, automatic telephone switches, pacemakers, and computer programs.
It's important to understand that the three stages outline the introduction of the fundamental types of technology, and so all three continue to be widely used today. A spear, a plow, a pen, and an optical microscope are all examples of tools.
The process of technological evolution culminates with the ability to achieve all the material values technologically possible and desirable by mental effort.
An economic implication of the above idea is that intellectual labour will become increasingly more important relative to physical labour. Contracts and agreements around information will become increasingly more common at the marketplace. Expansion and creation of new kinds of institutes that works with information such as for example universities, book stores, patent-trading companies, etc. is considered an indication that a civilization is in technological evolution.
Interestingly, this highlights the importance underlining the debate over intellectual property in conjunction with decentralized distribution systems such as today's internet. Where the price of information distribution is going towards zero with ever more efficient tools to distribute information is being invented. Growing amounts of information being distributed to an increasingly larger customer base as times goes by. With growing disintermediation in said markets and growing concerns over the protection of intellectual property rights it is not clear what form markets for information will take with the evolution of the information age.
Masse Bloomfield website
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