Technology and culture in antiquity

image: survey instruments, 1728 The history of technology was sometimes approached as a self-contained field of study. A more fruitful approach in the past thirty years has involved a broader perspective, placing technology change within a broader context of social change and cultural values. A good example is Lynn White's Medieval Technology and Social Change, where …

Technology in the ancient world: time

We don't think of the ancient world as being one that was rich in technological innovation or progress. And yet in a number of areas, there were very significant developments in technology -- in ships, mining, fortification, siege engines, road-building, and bridges and aqueducts, for example. And there is the intriguing example of the Antikythera …

The Antikythera mechanism

image: reconstructed device as created by UCL team When we think about scientific and technological knowledge in the ancient world, one generally thinks of philosophy and a little bit of pre-scientific musing about the nature of reality. Water? Fire? Flux? The ancient Greeks had knowledge of mathematics and geometry, of course, and a certain level …

Analytic philosophy of meaning and smart AI bots

One of the impulses of the early exponents of analytic philosophy was to provide strict logical simplifications of hitherto vague or indefinite ideas. There was a strong priority placed on being clear about the meaning of philosophical concepts, and more generally, about "meaning" in language simpliciter. Here are the opening paragraphs of Rudolf Carnap’s The Logical Structure …

Defining the philosophy of technology

The philosophy of technology ought to be an important field within contemporary philosophy, given the centrality of technology in our lives. And yet there is not much of a consensus among philosophers about what the subject of the philosophy of technology actually is. Are we most perplexed by the ethical issues raised by new technological …

Social factors driving technology

In a recent post I addressed the question of how social and political circumstances influence the direction of technological change (link). There I considered Thomas Hughes's account of the development of electric power as a "socio-technological system". Robert Pool's 1997 book Beyond Engineering: How Society Shapes Technology is a synthetic study that likewise gives primary attention to …

Thomas Hughes on electric power as a sociotechnical system

We have quite a few ideas about how technology affects us personally and socially. But we are less aware of the ways in which facts about the contemporary social world influences the development of technology -- at any given time in history. Technological change is a complex social process, and one that is influenced by …

An existential philosophy of technology

Ours is a technological culture, at least in the quarter of the countries in the world that enjoy a high degree of economic affluence. Cell phones, computers, autonomous vehicles, CT scan machines, communications satellites, nuclear power reactors, artificial DNA, artificial intelligence bots, drone swarms, fiber optic data networks -- we live in an environment that …

Responsible innovation and the philosophy of technology

Several posts here have focused on the philosophy of technology (link, link, link, link). A simple definition of the philosophy of technology might go along these lines: Technology may be defined broadly as the sum of a set of tools, machines, and practical skills available at a given time in a given culture through which human needs and …

Ethical principles for assessing new technologies

Technologies and technology systems have deep and pervasive effects on the human beings who live within their reach. How do normative principles and principles of social and political justice apply to technology? Is there such a thing as "the ethics of technology"? There is a reasonably active literature on questions that sound a lot like …

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