Technology is an important force in the economy, culture, and society. Among the most important jobs of the future will be those that require technical knowledge. Many businesses use technology to develop new products and services, and to maintain their competitive edge. Technologists use scientific and theoretical knowledge to design and implement technology solutions. These solutions are designed to solve problems in a variety of areas. They are often delivered in a timely manner and within budget. In addition to the technical skills, these professionals also have to be skilled in manufacturing, designing, communicating, and developing.
The concept of technology is a very old idea. It originated in ancient Greece. Aristotle discussed the concept of technology in his Physics II.8, referring to Democritus’ claim that weaving imitated nature. However, Aristotle did not make a distinction between the artifacts that he used for his discussion and the natural world. He wrote, “Nature, as well as the man, is not the only source of the things that we use for our work,” arguing that technological artifacts are created to imitate nature.
Since then, philosophical reflection on technology has grown dramatically. The Renaissance led to an appreciation of human creativity. Philosophy of science and technology, in particular, focused on the role of evidence, the methods of knowledge generation, and reasons for believing a theory is true.
Technologists often see their work as problem-solving. Their aim is to bring the world closer to a desired state. As such, they must first determine what constitutes a problem before they attempt to solve it in a certain way. Although this process is generally represented as a series of translational steps, it is actually quite complex.
There are two main cores in technology: artifact-based services and technology. Artifact-based services include computer-based and artificial intelligence-based systems. In the practice of creating these artifacts, technological designers use their scientific understanding of the present world to create a new artifact that is useful or beneficial to people. While it is possible for an individual to produce an artifact using nothing but their own hand, technology is more often used in conjunction with science.
The first step in the process of developing a technology is to identify the customer’s needs. This step is usually followed by a more comprehensive and detailed analysis of the underlying ideas and processes. Sometimes called the ‘death valley’, promising early technologies are sometimes stalled in mid-development.
Similarly, the process of discovery is usually a step-by-step one, with the researcher gaining greater confidence and better understanding of the process. Each succeeding stage is more complex and requires sustained efforts to overcome. Nonetheless, little philosophical work has been done on how to best discover technology.
A key challenge, however, is to separate the descriptive from the prescriptive. One key way to do this is to establish a clear definition of the scope of the technology. Also, it is essential to distinguish between technology as a problem-solving path and as an artifactual process.