Technology - the very word strikes fear into the hearts of some and inspiration into the minds of others. The speed at which our ideas are thrusting us forward into previously unchartered waters is almost breath-taking, and yet, at the same time, one wonders if we may be close to creating a Frankenstein that we will no longer be able to control, or, to a lesser degree, what if our enemies program their technology to outsmart ours? Will the world of the future belong to those who have best co-opted new ideas, tools, equipment, and even weapons to their advantage?
By definition, technology is the harnessing of scientific knowledge for practical purposes, especially in industry. Accordingly, the first technological advance may have been the discovery of the wheel or the usefulness of fire or the plow. The evolution of ideas to improve or create something that better facilitates or assists someone or something else is a more abstract explanation of technology, one that is rooted in the creative thinking processes within the human mind.
According to the History of Technology, both Homer and Hesiod considered the "spoken word or manual craft or cunning skill" to be technology at work. Later, Aristotle would coin the Greek term "technologia" to refer to scientific knowledge, theoretically, practically, and productively. Today, the concept of technology seems to encompass both the thinking skills and the practical tools that humans use to solve a problem or serve some other valuable purpose.
It would seem that no area of life is immune from technological applications and, sometimes, complications. We now know that certain behaviors, such as smoking, overworking, and eating too much unhealthy food, can make us sick. This presents us with new decisions that may not always be in keeping with our natural desires. We have the ability to see life developing within the womb and the moral dilemma of what to do if that life seems less than perfect.
Globally, technology has successfully shrunk our world. Business that might once have taken weeks or months can now be conducted in minutes. Exposure to increased information has made competition stiffer among advanced, wealthier countries, but developing nations are also beginning to enter into the world game. In some ways, technology has "democratized the opportunity to be rich," both individually and corporately.
Technology itself has become big business, with entire companies devoted to the development and marketing of technological advances. Education, health, science, personal and business communications, and government are just a few of the fortunate recipients. Many complicated jobs once painstakingly done by hand are now completed with a keystroke - or soon will be. The tedious task of medical billing is quickly moving toward a streamlined, technological solution. But even enjoyable activities, such as shopping, are increasingly computer-based.
"Technology today is so prevalent, so sophisticated, and so powerful that most of us no longer ask ‘what is in the box?' ... but rather ‘what can it do for me?' (give me directions, play games, feed the dog when I'm home late)..." says Tracy Delphia of Channel Research.
Will technology outgrow mankind? Have we opened a Pandora's box without understanding the possible consequences? Yes, we now have the technology to blow the world apart or decimate entire populations with chemical warfare, but we also have a chance to cure cancer and heart disease and to drive safer cars and produce better energy.
According to Bill Gates, founder of Microsoft, "The advance of technology is based on making it fit in so that you don't really even notice it, so it's part of everyday life." Perhaps we can even learn to use technology to fix our mistakes.
Sonja Thompson started at TechRepublic in October 1999. She is a former Senior Editor at TechRepublic.