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June 1, 2016updated 22 Sep 2016 2:33pm

Definition of technology

Technology is disrupting the world today, just as it has done for the last 2.5 million years, but how has the definition evolved over the centuries?

By Joao Lima

From Greek ‘tekhne’ and ‘logia’, technology has in a way or another been with humans since the Paleolithic period when stones were turned into tools.

During the caveman age, though the word was not there, stone tools, fire, animal leather, wheels, and other would be recognised as groundbreaking technologies and significant technological advancements.

Fast-forwarding more than 2.5 million years to today, technology has certainly evolved past such tools.

CBR lists five ways the definition of technology has changed over history.



Pre-17th Century

The closest form to the word technology was ‘tekhnologia’ and it appeared around 1605-15, meaning systematic treatment. The word was created through ‘inkhorn’ which basically refers to the methodology of borrowing foreign words (in this case the Greek words ‘tekhne’ and ‘logia’) to form an English word for something that has no given word until that date.

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During the Renaissance period, in 1627, English philosopher Francis Bacon wrote for the first time about a ‘state’ where the King would be advised by scientists and engineers.

At that time, scientists were already capable of predicting the weather, and refrigeration had also been invented. Bacon’s idea was the first time in history where "technology" came together with state affairs, yet he did not use the word himself. His vision was used to found the Royal Society in London in 1662.



18th and 19th Centuries

The oldest reference to the word ‘technology’ itself is from 1775, and was described by the Germans – teknologie – as a system of classification for the practical arts. In the 1800’s, teknologie was replaced by technik and meant the "totality of tools, machines, systems and processes used in the practice arts and engineering".

With the Industrial Revolution at its peak, around 1820 and 1830, the word technology appeared and it meant the application of knowledge dealing with the mechanical arts for practical purposes and the end-product resulting from those applications.

In 1898, the word technology started to appear more often, and its definition also changed as the industry evolved through the 20th and 21st centuries.



Early 20th Century

According to the Encyclopaedia Britannica, and professor of the history of technology Robert Angus Buchanan, by the early 20th century, the term embraced a growing range of means, processes, and ideas in addition to tools and machines.

In 1937, American sociologist Read Bain wrote that "technology includes all tools, machines, utensils, weapons, instruments, housing, clothing, communicating and transporting devices and the skills by which we produce and use them".

"By mid-century, technology was defined by such phrases as the means or activity by which man seeks to change or manipulate his environment," according to Buchanan.



20th Century

In 1979, the Random House College Dictionary gave one of the most detailed definitions of technology to date dividing technology into five different categories.

It said that technology was the branch of knowledge that deals with industrial arts, applied science, engineering, etc. Secondly, it was the application of knowledge for practical ends, as in a particular field: educational technology.

This is followed by the terminology of an art, science, etc.; technical nomenclature, and a technological process, invention, method, or the like of.

Lastly, the dictionary defined technology has the sum of the ways in which a social group provide themselves with the material objects of their civilization.

Year later, in 1998, the second edition of the Oxford Dictionary of Sociology wrote that technology is a "term used rather loosely in sociology, to mean either machines, equipment, and possibly the productive technique associated with them; or a type of social relationship dictated by the technical organization and mechanization of work(…)".



21st Century

Today, technology encompasses many disruptive trends and is seen as a fundamental part of human life. When most people hear about technology, they will think of computers, mobile phones and any sort of digital-enabled device.

Disruptive IoT trends, across all sectors from industrial to healthcare, are also redefining what technology means to today’s society.

According to the Oxford Dictionary, technology is the application of scientific knowledge for practical purposes, especially in industry. This definition then branches out to machinery and devices developed from scientific knowledge.

The dictionary also says that technology is a branch of knowledge dealing with engineering or applied sciences.

For the Encyclopaedia Britannica, technology today is the application of scientific knowledge to the practical aims of human life or, as it is sometimes phrased, to the change and manipulation of the human environment.

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