The use of tools, power, and materials, generally for the purposes of production. Almost every human process for getting food and shelter depends on complex technological systems, which have been developed over a 3-million-year period. Significant milestones include the advent of the steam engine in 1712, the introduction of electricity and the internal combustion engine in the mid-1870s, and recent developments in communications, electronics, and the nuclear and space industries. The advanced technology (highly automated and specialized) on which modern industrialized society depends is frequently contrasted with the low technology (labour-intensive and unspecialized) that characterizes some developing countries. Intermediate technology is an attempt to adapt scientifically advanced inventions to less developed areas by using local materials and methods of manufacture. Appropriate technology refers to simple and small-scale tools and machinery of use to developing countries.
Power In human prehistory, the only power available was muscle power, augmented by primitive tools, such as the wedge or lever.
The domestication of animals about 8500 BC and invention of the wheel about 2000 BC paved the way for the water mill (1st century BC) and later the windmill, which was in use in Asia by 400 AD. Not until 1712 did an alternative source of power appear in the form of the first working steam engine, constructed by English inventor Thomas Newcomen; subsequent modifications improved its design. English chemist and physicist Michael Faraday's demonstration of the dynamo in 1831 revealed the potential of electromagnetic induction and electrical generation, and in 1876 the German scientist Nikolaus Otto introduced the four-stroke cycle used in the modern internal combustion engine. The 1940s saw the explosion of the first atomic bomb and the subsequent development of the nuclear power industry. Latterly concern over the use of non-renewable power sources and the pollution caused by the burning of fossil fuels has caused technologists to turn increasingly to exploring renewable sources of energy, in particular solar energy, wind energy, and wave power.
Materials The earliest materials used by humans were wood, bone, horn, shell, and stone. Metals were rare and/or difficult to obtain, although forms of iron were in use from 1000 BC. The improvements made to the blast furnace in the 15th century enabled cast iron to be extracted, but this process remained expensive until English ironmaker Abraham Darby substituted coke for charcoal in 1709, thus ensuring a plentiful supply of cheap iron at the start of the Industrial Revolution. Rubber, glass, leather, paper, bricks, and porcelain underwent similar processes of trial and error before becoming readily available. From the mid-1800s, entirely new materials, synthetics, appeared. First dyes, then plastic and the more versatile celluloid, and later drugs were synthesized, a process continuing into the 1980s with the growth of genetic engineering, which enabled the production of synthetic insulin and growth hormones.
Production The utilization of power sources and materials for production frequently lagged behind their initial discovery. The lathe, known in antiquity in the form of a pole powered by a foot treadle, was developed further in the 18th century when it was used to produce objects of great precision, ranging from astronomical instruments to mass-produced screws. The realization that gears, cranks, cams, and wheels could operate in harmony to perform complex motion made mechanization possible. Early attempts at automation include Scottish engineer James Watt's introduction of the governor into the steam engine in 1769 to regulate the machine's steam supply automatically, and French textile maker Joseph Marie Jacquard's demonstration in 1804 of how looms could be controlled automatically by punched cards. The first moving assembly line appeared in 1870 in meat-packing factories in Chicago, USA, transferring to the motor industry in 1913. With the perfection of the programmable electronic computer in the 1960s, the way lay open for fully automatic plants. The 1960s–90s saw extensive developments in the electronic and microelectronic industries (initially in the West, later joined by Japan and the Pacific region) and in the field of communications.
21st century In the 21st century, ‘technology’ is often used to refer to the latest products of information technology (IT), such as tablet computers, game consoles, e-readers, or smartphones. Following Moore's law, the power of electronic devices (of a given size) has increased exponentially since the 1960s, with a doubling time of 18 months to two years. Even faster development occurred in the field of DNA sequencing, where the cost of sequencing a human genome dropped by six orders of magnitude (from billions of dollars to thousands) between 2000 and 2012.
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