Benet Davetian c-2005

Theories of Technology

The manner in which we theorize technology has a very important effect on the manner in which we approach an ethical evaluation of technology.

The 'autonomous technology" theory considers technology as a self-fueled juggernaut that has a force and direction of its own. It is an inevitable force. Technological evolution in such a theory becomes a series of unanticipated consequences, the loss of human agency being one of them.

Yet such Tech-Determinism lacks knowledge of how technological innovations come into being and, most importantly, how they are evaluated, diffused and distributed. Inventions and innovations are triggered by internal as well as external events. There is more involved than technology's self-perpetuating force.

Many inventions come about not out of the desire to add to technology's force but to solve real human dilemmas. Bombardier invented the Ski-Doo when he lost a child who needed immediate hospital care…the horse-drawn sled was too slow. Bombardier reacted to his loss by inventing a mechanized snow vehicle.

Felix Wankel invented his rotary engine because he didn't like the aesthetics of noisy pistons that shook and pounded the passengers of an automobile.Velcro was invented by a man who got his coat caught in a bush and burrs. Trying to understand why the burs had such holding power, he came on the idea of creating the same effect using technology.

Innovation occurs due to many interactive factors: chance encounters, the profit motive, and the desire to improve society. Yet, all invention is not heroic. Abbot Payson Usher's 'theory of cumulative synthesis' suggests that the inventor is the result of a long social process. The Wright brothers benefited from a process of research that had been on-going for hundreds of years. They came up with a strategic invention that used prior novelty.
The social constructionism approach, developed by Trevor Pinch and Wiebe Bijker, suggests that a technological artifact is stabilized after a process of social discourse. When the bicycle was being invented, there occurred a long process of public discussion on how men's trousers and women's skirts were to be accommodated in the design of the bicycle.
Conflicting social interests lead to a resolution that affects the final form and distribution of an invention.In general, creation and diffusion of a technical innovation are very connected to one another. The notion of 'demand-pull,' or the notion that need automatically leads to invention is not empirically proven because we have no record of all the inventions that have not been invented but could have been. Technical knowledge also has a push of its own, affecting what is created. Equally, the public has a say on he eventual fate of an invention: markete research can greatly affect the form and future of a technical innovation and revise the design process.

NATHAN ROSENBERG presents an interesting theory regarding the fact it has been the West that has achieved technological domination. He has explained that a few factors contributed to the concentration of technical innovation in the West:
1) The experimental method helped ground science in actual production.
2) The West bridged gaps between science and technology by maintaining close links between the corporate world and the centers of scientific knowledge.
3) The West was culturally receptive to change.
4) There was relative freedom from political and religious interference.
5) The Western market system gave innovators great rewards.

EDGAR SILSEL explains that scientific innovation has deontological as well as utilitarian motivations. This dual nature of technology is caused by:
1) High value is placed on rationality. Rationality pushes aside passive adaptation to the world and multiplies the rate of technical innovation.
2) Social evolution and scientific evolution are linked.
3) Science was separated from natural philosophy and allowed to be a discipline of its own as of 1840.
4) Specialization has allowed the acceleration of innovation in many domains and allowed the synthesis of this knowledge in multiple technologies.
5) The post-Renaissance harmonization of abstract theory emanating from aristocrats and actual experimentation emanating from lower class artisans has been eliminated in the modern scientific establishment, leading to accelerated innovation.

THOMAS KUHN explains that there was a paradigm disruption as we went from Newtonian physics to Einsteinian physics. Similar paradigm shifts occur when a technical or scientific 'critical mass' is reached requiring a transformed view.CULTURAL THEORIES note that some inventions are made simultaneously by different individuals, suggesting that there is a period of social preparation and social concerns preceding an invention.
In a similar vein, Gerald Hotton, suggests that there are 'themata' or 'pre-theoretical presuppositions' embedded in a culture that affect the type and direction of research.
While some inventions are accidental, others follow a period of social development.

Everett Rogers locates a few important elements in the tech-invention and use process.
The invention must offer a degree of improvement on what was previously available.
It must have a cost that is affordable
The users must be able to understand how to use it.
Ideally, it must not be irrevocable and allow a period of testing.
It must be observable and visible.
The invention must be followed by communications that explain its use while creating acceptance for the artifact.
3. A period of time is necessary for its use and implementation.
4. It must enter the SCES---Socio Cultural Environmental System and respond to various criteria:
a. Respond to psychological needs.
b. Be compatible with the values of the particular culture.
c. Be compatible with domestic and international politics.

Diffusion is not only connected to 'technological determinism' but affected by a host of factors. The same technology can be received differently in various cultures, so diffusion is very dependent on audience. If the innovators ignore this basic fact, they can create considerable cultural disruption leading to an abnegation and weakening of the culture or to a demise of the innovation.

A technical innovation passes through a few definite stages:
1. Existing prior to the innovation is a Cultural Environmental Equilibrium (CES)
2. The technical innovation is introduced
3. A tension is created as a result of its introduction with the CES
4. The CES is transformed to a degree to accommodate the innovation
5. A new equilibrium is established in the CES that includes use of the innovation
So, TECHNICAL INNOVATION ….passes through a zone of cultural rehabituation. It is at this stage that we have the most vocal ethical debates and the nature of the debates affect the manner in which the innovation is accepted and the subsequent equilibrium that is established.

So an invention is definitely influenced by Socio Cultural Environmental Conditions even during its invention stage. And the degree of adaptation depends on a host of factors, including government intervention and policy, desired patterns of use and distribution, as well as SEC.

Resistance is also an important factor determining what social change ensues as a result of technical innovation. Talking exclusively of the impact of technological innovation on society without considering social reactions to innovation is misleading. The "impact" or "collision" theory of technology erroneously sees society as a passive agent. STD (strong technological determinism) obscures the dialectical nature of the technology-society relationship. We have simply to compare telephone use in France and North America to see this cultural factor at work. Many French citizens do not have a telephone by choice, because they are more comfortable with direct face to face contact. Moreover the time spent on the telephone is radically different in France and North America.