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Tuesday
Nov012011

What is Technology?

Technology is the making, usage and knowledge of tools, techniques, craftssystems or methods of organization in order to solve a problem or serve some purpose.

Wikipedia

That is the conventional definition of technology.

To me, technology is invariably bound to the notion of progress which I will explain in an instant. I see technology as the driving engine for progress:

Technology means
doing more with less.

Let me first talk about progress.

Progress

When I speak of progress, I do not have in mind a notion of social progress as put forward during the Enlightenment and by social evolutionists like Auguste Comte. More generally speaking, I do not have in mind any non-measurable entity based purely on philosophical reasoning. I also do not attach any subjective meaning to progress, such as the world becoming a better place over time, or culture and art becoming more mature over time.

Progress to me is the presence of a man-made (humanly caused) consistent historical trend in an accessible globally measurable quantity. Progress is not inherently good or bad—that is a moral judgment which remains in the eye of the beholder.

Examples of progress are global "health and wealth" (medical and economic) indicators such as the infant mortality rate, the average life expectency or the inflation-adjusted income per person. Some of them have been covered in this blog in the context of the eminent rise of Asia.

Progress introduces the notion of an arrow of time, otherwise a concept used in physics classes. For a trend to represent progress, the arrow of time must point in one and the same direction consistently over time on a macroscopic and holistic scale. So not every trend automatically means progress.

Technology and progress

I would argue that

Given the above understanding of progress,
all progress is driven by technology.

Why is that?

It is because progress is not merely caused by the growth of the human population—in fact, if there were any relationship, it would be the other way around. It is not caused by our physical body becoming stronger or our brains becoming smarter over time. It is not caused by the evolution of our species or the natural development of our environment.

Progress is caused because at some point, somebody invents a tool or a method which allows us as humans to do more with less. I call the process that generates new technology innovation. Every new piece of technology allows for more leverage of existing resources and technology.

The three paths of action

There are three paths of action and only one results in progress:

  1. Doing more with more
  2. Doing less with less
  3. Doing more with less

(There is doing less with more, but that is never done intentionally.)

Doing more with more is the approach at work when the headlines read "New stimulus bill passed" or "Tax breaks to boost the economy". Doing less with less is on the agenda when the headlines read "Austerity package unveiled" or "Government spending cut to stabilize debt".

Neither approach brings progress.

The only approach that brings progress is doing more with less. That is the path of technology. It is the path of finding a way to give birth to a sustainable trend based on leverage, catalization, and multiplication of what is already there—not merely its reallocation and distribution.

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