The Online Encyclopedia and Dictionary






Technological evolution

Origins of theory

According to Czech philosopher Radovan Richta, in his 1967 publication “Man and Technology in the Revolution of Our Day”, technology (which he 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 distinct stages: tool, machine, automaton.

According to Richta, this evolution 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, was an arational period of the 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 is material object such as a spear, arrow, or hammer that augments physical labor to more efficiently achieve his objective. 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. Examples of this include cars, trains, computers, and lights. Machines allow humans to tremendously exceed the limitations of their bodies

The third, and final stage of technological evolution is the automaton. The automaton 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.

Theoretical implications

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 – and thus intellectual property, will become increasingly more important relative to material labor and physical goods. The creation of markets for intellectual property (such as universities, book stores, and patent-trading companies) is therefore an indication that a civilization is transforming into the final stages of technological evolution.

Last updated: 05-13-2005 07:56:04