By AUGUSTINE, AKINTUNDE FARINOLA
This paper engages in a conceptual analysis of the word ‘revolution’ as it is applied in the phenomenon of ‘technological revolution’. It analyses the linguistic meaning of the word ‘revolution’ and probes it usage in the context of scientific, political and industrial revolutions. The paper, after highlighting various technological revolutions and exposing salient innovations that emerged from each, argues the usage of the word ‘revolution’ in ‘technological revolution’ portrays the idea of new technology evolving and wiping out the existing technologies, a sort of sharp discontinuity. The paper further contends that technological revolutions, such as ‘power revolution’, ‘the information and computer technological revolution, do not just affect one technology but several technologies in that particular era, thereby reshaping the culture and material condition of the people.
Keywords: revolution, technology, technological revolution, scientific revolution, culture.
The civilizations we experience in various human societies are results of our effort to improve the conditions of our existence. As generation upon generation passes, our ideas about nature and our understanding of the best means of interacting with our world changes. To depict some of these changes in our human inquiries and techniques, we deploy linguistics terms like ‘progress’, ‘advancement’, and ‘revolution’. As part of the task of the philosopher of technology, we are advised (by Don Ihde) to reflectively analyze ‘technology’ in such a way as to illuminate features of the phenomenon of technology itself. In obedience to this mandate, this essay shall embark on the conceptual analysis of the concept of ‘revolution’ as applicable to ‘technological revolution’ with reference to various instances in the course of human history.
We shall examine the idea of ‘technological revolution’ to confirm whether it connotes a sort of incorporation of existing technologies as new ones emerges or whether it portrays a ‘sharp discontinuity’ from the prior technologies. We shall begin by examining the dictionary definitions of ‘revolution’ in order to appropriate its usage in relation to technological advancement, progress, evolution or change. Then we shall critically explore historical accounts of technological revolutions with an attempt to narrate what happened. Afterwards, we shall juxtapose scientific and technological revolutions in order to highlight their influences on each other and how the concept of ‘revolution’ could be said to be applied in the same sense to both fields of human inquiry.
Finally, we shall make some inferences, on the nature of technological revolution, from our previous exposition and analysis. This will help us to finally display our understanding of the concept of ‘revolution’ as applicable to technological revolutions, and conclude with a discourse on the proper reaction of Africans towards the ongoing technological revolution.
- CONCEPTUAL CLARIFICATION
- What is Technology?
The word ‘technology’ has evolved in its implications. It could be thought of as a piece of physical hardware, which tends to be a layman’s view of the meaning, or as the knowledge that made the hardware possible. Harvey Brooks defined technology as ‘knowledge of how to fulfill certain human purposes in a specifiable and reproducible way”.
For Brooks, technology does not consist of artifacts but of the knowledge that underlies the artifacts and the way they can be used in society. So, a holistic understanding of the term ‘technology’ must not be limited to just a piece of hardware but much be inclusive of the bodies of rules and techniques, the large knowledge base that is specific to the creation of a particular piece of hardware and that made its production and application possible. In support of this view, Joseph C. Pitt said that technology is not a thing in itself; it is the techniques and methods, including machines, tools, social systems, etc, we use to make our way in the world.
The instrumental and anthropological definition of technology portrays it as a means to an end (the manufactured and used things themselves, and the needs and ends that they serve) and as a human activity (the manufacture and utilization of equipments, tools and machines). This definition surely holds for both handicraft and modern technology except for the fact that Heidegger felt that though it is correct, it does not show us technology’s essence. 
It should be noted that the term ‘technology’ should not be confused with the term ‘innovation’. The latter is the process by which technology is created and deployed in society, implying the creation as well of whatever support systems are necessary to install and use a technology. Let’s illustrate this point by using Thomas Edison’s inventions: the phonograph, the motion picture camera, and a long-lasting, practical electric light bulb. These inventions were of little social significance on their own, they became technologies as the knowledge of how they operated became reproducible, and they became innovations when support systems – including other inventions – became available: electric- power grids, home wiring, accounting and sales bureaus in commercial organizations, and other elements of systems able to deliver power to customers.
- What is Revolution?
In the first place, the word ‘revolution’ originates in the word ‘evolution’…to re-evolve. So, as applicable to technological revolution, we might simply say that the efficiency of technology has evolved. So, the question then is: what does it mean to ‘evolve’? The linguistic meaning of ‘evolution’ means ‘to develop gradually from a simple to a more complicated from’. Secondly, the word ‘revolution’ point to ‘an epochal and irreversible change’. This understanding of ‘revolution’ was applied in a systematic way to events in science and politics. In just this sense, the first revolutions may have been the scientific revolution, and the ‘American’, ‘French’, and ‘Russian Revolutions’ are its progeny. Ordinarily in some of those instances listed above, the word ‘revolution’ might simply imply the overthrow of one power structure by another.
From antiquity through the modern period, a ‘revolution’ invoked the idea of a periodically recurring cycle. Later on, we have the idea of revolution as a radical and irreversible reordering -that is, the bringing about of a new state of affairs that the world had never witnessed before and might never witness again. Meanwhile, our analysis in this essay will aid us in arriving at a proper sense in which the concept of ‘revolution’, properly understood, could be applicable to ‘change’ or ‘evolution’, but not ‘progress’, in ‘technology’. Technological progress is quite different from technological revolution or change because the term ‘change’ is a neutral term but ‘progress’ is neither neutral nor value-laden. For Hans Jonas, technological progress refers to the restlessness of modern technology, in which a technology in itself begets the problems which it is then called upon to overcome by a new forward jump.
- TECHNOLOGICAL REVOLUTIONS
In the history of ideas and events within the human planet, we have obtained accounts of technological revolutions such as Neolithic Revolution, Agricultural Revolution, Green Revolution, Metallurgical Revolution, Industrial Revolution, Information and Communication Technological Revolution. Due to the time and space constraint of this essay, we shall briefly probe into three of these instances.
- Neolithic Revolution
It is first and foremost a socioeconomic and technological transformation which involved a shift from food-gathering to food-producing. Neolithic revolution represents a change of historical direction initiated by humans themselves in response to their changing environments. The Neolithic revolution was a techno-economic process that occurred without the aid or input of any independent science.
This first major technological revolution (the domestication of plants and animals) points the transformation of hunter-gatherer societies into pastoral, horticultural, or agricultural societies. Such that plant and animal domestication allowed societies to adapt to the nexus of population and resource pressures, solutions were provided to problems such as malnutrition, starvation, epidemic disease, social inequality, and environmental degradation. There are instances in which innovation itself can also be considered a technology when and if it is reduced to a set of specified rules and procedure.
- Industrial Revolution
The industrial Revolution was a confluence of technological breakthroughs that began roughly with the invention of steam-powered equipment in the 18th century. Steam power amplified the horse-power (that is, the hydro, wind, and animal powered systems already in place) being applied in the world’s production process. This new technology overcome the previous constraints that limited the distance between the power source and the production activity, and the modern factory an new forms of transportation was born as we have steamships and railroads (instead of canal boats) and the motion of the world accelerated.
In the case of Industrial revolution, the conversion from invention to full assimilation was drawn out over roughly half a century. For instance, it took nearly forty years, after its invention, before electricity was brought to U.S households
- Transportation and Communication Technological Revolution
This revolution occurred at the turn of the 20th century along with the invention of publishing, telephone, radio, photographic, and motion picture industries. In this same period, the widespread use of computers was revolutionary too as computers makes new products and services possible.
- SCIENTIFIC-TECHNOLOGICAL REVOLUTION: An Analysis
Considering the complex relationship that exists between science and technology, any analysis of technological revolution that excludes scientific revolution will obviously be inadequate. Meanwhile, it would be wrong to think that science is the basis of technological revolution. Using the scientific communities in the West (as distinct from those in the Islamic world or the East) as instances, those technological developments so essential for science and for the economic growth of the West were not themselves the products of scientific research. Some preceded the origin of the new science, others were developed without scientific understanding of how or why they worked; many, in fact, provided the impetus for development of new scientific fields.
It will be pertinent at this point to note the sense in which we distinguish between ‘science’ and ‘technology’. By ‘science’, we strictly refer to the modern sciences of physics, chemistry, biology, and geology – and their numerous extensions: psychology, nuclear physics, biochemistry, cosmology, and more. While by ‘technology’, we refer primarily to the modern activities of making ad using artifacts, especially in applied science, engineering, medicine, decision-making, and management. As noted, we could notice that these two terminologies are different though interrelated. While science provides descriptive knowledge of the world, technology provides increasingly powerful means. Meanwhile, we cannot deny the fact that some aspects of technology are highly dependent on scientific knowledge or theory (for example, designer materials, computers, biotechnology, and genetic engineering). So, one might simply say that science and technology as similar in the sense that they independently produce both the devices as well as the knowledge and differs in the sense that while the aim of science is to find truth about the physical world, technology aims at solving practical problems. As Hans Jonas puts it, ‘mutual feedback operates between science and technology; each requires and propels the other. It is either they live together or must die together’
So, technological revolution is not necessarily based on prior progress in science, but on prior technological revolutions. The question then is whether technological revolution is a sort of improvement over the earlier or existing technologies or whether is a sharp ‘discontinuity’ from the prior technologies. If we understand the concept of revolution taking a leap from one of the leading figures that has played a comparable role for contemporary technology studies, Thomas Kuhn, we will argues too that technological revolution connotes the idea of new technology evolving and wiping out the existing technologies, a sort of sharp discontinuity or ‘paradigm’ shift.
In The Structure of Scientific Revolution (1970), Thomas Kuhn discussed diverse individual revolutions with particular emphasis on Corpenican, Newtonian, Chemical and Einsteinian revolutions. He suggested that scientific revolutions have a three-beat sequence of stages. The pattern begins with a period of ‘normal science’, within which scientists apply and extend a dominant ‘paradigm’. The second stage is a period of conflict within which supporters of a second paradigm seek to overthrow the hitherto dominant paradigm. And the third stage is a new period of normal science under the victorious second paradigm. It should be noted that a number of historical developments traditionally labeled “revolutions” appear to fit the Kuhnian pattern: Transition from Aristotelian physics to Newtonian physics, from Phlogiston chemistry to oxygen chemistry, from Newtonian mechanics to general relativity theory, and from classical physics to quantum physics. Can we say that technological revolution also follows this pattern?
Scientific revolution might point to a coherent, cataclysmic, and climatic event that fundamentally and irrevocably changed what people knew about the natural world and how they secured proper knowledge of that world. It could be interpreted as a process of rethinking older experience. This revolution witnesses the contributions of individual disciplines and was an event that primarily has to do with not just the mathematical and physical sciences but also possessed chemical, pharmaceutical, or medical features as well.
From a historical point of view, we can establish the fact that the revolutions in science over the last fifty years impacted a revolutionary style to technology and the reciprocity between the two concurrent steams (take Nuclear physics as an instance). It’s obvious that an agent of restlessness is implanted in modern technology by its functionally integral bond with science.
- CONCEPTUAL UNDERSTANDING OF TECHNOLOGICAL REVOLUTION
Technological revolution changes the conception or definition of technology, a sort of paradigm shift. Technology has previously been defined as comprising the use of artificial implements for the business of life, together with their original invention, improvement, and occasional additions. But this conception changes with the advent of modern technology. That was why Hans Jonas argued that new technologies sometime suggest or impose new ends:
“who had ever wished to have in his living room the Philharmonic orchestra, or open heart surgery, or a helicopter defoliating a Vietnam forest? Or to drink his coffee from a disposable plastic cup? Or to have artificial insemination, test-tube babies, and host pregnancies? Or to see clones of himself and other walking about?
Technological revolution occurred more by accident than by design. In other words, they are not consciously created changes. This fact could be supported with instances from Agricultural revolution and the Metallurgical revolution.
Technological revolution is an occurrence which affects not just one technology but several technologies. This fact is well illustrated using Power revolution as an instance. The creation and spread of new sources of power is the fundamental revolution of all. The power revolution laid the foundation for the new technologies that transformed transportation, communication, and production. It hastened the settling of the continent, multiplied the productivity of a people short on labour, and became an indispensable engine driving material progress.
Just as scientific revolution led to technological advancement, the latter also advances the former. For instance, advances in chemistry produced a host of new products from coal tar such as medicine, perfumes, aniline dyes, benzene, and carbolic acid. They also gave the world glucose syrup, nitroglycerine, cheap aluminum and fertilizers. In turn, the industrial revolution of the 19th century brought the discovery of germ theory, use of anesthesia, artificial limbs, antiseptic surgery, and other advances. New telescopes, microscopes, and spectroscopes transformed the field of optics, and the kinetoscope offered the promise of a seductive new form of entertainment in the form of moving pictures.
Technological revolution makes old ideas and old ways of doing things obsolete. This fact is obvious from the instances of recent technological revolutions such as revolution in Information and Communication Technology (starting with the advent of the telephone to the present age of wireless and internet enabled computers) and The Military Technological Revolution (with the development of new war-fighting technologies). The ICT revolution brought about a faster and less expensive means of transmitting data and ideas around the globe. It is changing the world of ideas in essentially the same way that railroads changed our conception of physical transportation. That was why Maury Klein argued that Technological revolutions rewrite not only the material conditions of our existence but also reshape culture and even human nature.
Technological revolutions rewrite not only the material conditions of our existence but also reshape culture and even – perhaps – human nature. The scientific revolution, the Enlightenment, the consumer revolution, and the industrial revolution are among the most important revolutions of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries that were deemed to have ushered in the modern age. The succession of scientific, industrial, and political revolutions really ushers in the modern age, and this lasted through at least the middle of the twentieth century. It was actually the emergence of industrial society in the eighteenth century that resulted in an industrial revolution – a revolution that was made possible by technological innovations in metallurgy, chemical technology, and mechanical engineering. As a matter of fact, the recent emergence of an information society is also the product of a largely technological revolution, in information technology. Many authors point specifically to the revolution in information technology as a moment of entering into an information age (or, equivalently, a postindustrial age) in which an economy based on information, not goods, has become the organizing principle of society.
In this essay, we have been engaged in a descriptive and analytic view of technological revolution without delving into the issue of whether technological revolutions increase inequality, promote violence, threaten cultures or harm the environment. Such ethical concern is not within the scope this paper. Meanwhile, we shall use the insights obtained from our analysis to probe the current technological trend so as to recommend the proper attitude developing nations in Africa needed to display towards ‘technological revolution’.
In this 3rd millennium, the emerging technologies aim at just one thing – to create better humans! Towards this end, we have witnessed a lot of research efforts in the discipline of science and technology (fields such as Biomedical engineering, Genetic engineering, Neurobiology, Neurosciences, Biophysics, Biotechnology and Nanotechnology). The dissatisfaction of researchers, technologists, and innovators behind this revolution is in the limitation of our human nature. This provokes this call their restless zeal to create ‘SUPER HUMANS’. Today, Genetic Engineers claim to have gained the ability to ‘create life’ to ‘specification’ and to temper with human genes in order to create a better human. Recently, we witnessed the interchanging of organs between species and growing of human organs on animal tissues.
In Computer and Communication Technology, attention has shifted from creating computers to the creation of robots. Robots, they think, would assists mankind as they are built to surpass humans in various activities and to do what humans literally cannot do. Countries like Japan, China, Germany, UK, France, South Korea, Canada, Italy and Brazil lead in robotic technology as they deploy researchers, engineers, technocrats and specialists in artificial intelligence, and 3D Artists in developing robot that could respond to quick actions. Some of their inventions include: Multi-legged Robots, NASA’s Robot Astronaut, NEXI-Robot, SEROPI-2,ALPHA-DOG-Robot,HUBO,ASIMOetc.
Furthermore, experts in Robotics engineering and the field of Artificial Intelligence, in collaboration with Biomedical engineers, Neurobiologists, Neurosurgery, Biophysicists, Biotechnicians, and engineers of Nanotechnology, have presented their ‘breakthroughs’ in creating spare parts or laboratory grown organs for vital human heart, kidney, liver, and lungs; in keeping a human brain alive outside the body ( or even transporting a human head from one body to another); in understanding and manipulating brain processes and signals through the use of microchips or tiny electrode that could replace part of the brain or posses more brain power; and in understanding and altering human DNA Code in order to remake humans. From our analysis above, are these not instances of technological revolution?
This paper recommends that Africans, in their effort to adopt and adapt various outputs of technological revolutions emerging from the leading nations (United State, China, Germany, UK, France, South Korea, Canada, Italy), need to realize that the ongoing technological revolution, unlike previous ones, is a pure abuse of science and technology which will eventually have a ‘backfire’ on humanity. Africans should never be carried away be the eloquence of advocates of adoption of technological revolution, but carefully adopt only those ones that will be suitable to our environment, culture, and our location within the Cosmos. The questions that should continue to linger on our minds include: What will the world look like in the next 30 years? Will these restless individuals succeed in creating creatures that will violate or transcend human limits? Are we still going to be considered ‘humans’ when they succeed in transplanting consciousness, human soul/spirit, or human personality? Will Scientists surpass ‘God’ in REMAKING HUMANS?
 Don Hide, Philosophy of Technology (New York: Paragon House, 1987), p.38
 Harvey Brooks, “Technology , Evolution, and Purpose” in Modern Technology: Problem or Opportunity? Daedalus 109, no. 1 (Winter 1980), p.66
 C.f. Joseph C. Pitt, Doing Philosophy of Technology: Essays in a Pragmatist Spirit (USA: Springer,2011), p.viii
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 C.f. Eugene B. Skolnikoff, The Elusive Transformation: Science, Technology, and the Evolution of International Politics (Princeton, NJ. Publication: Princeton University Press, 1993), p. 16
 Oxford Advanced Learner Dictionary, 6th Edition, p.398
 C.f. Steven Shapin, The Scientific Revolution (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1998), p.2
 C.f. Hans Jonas, ‘Towards a Philosophy of Technology’, op.cit., p.193
 James E. McClellan III and Harold Form, Science and Technology in World History: An Introduction 2nd Ed. (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2006), p.17
 Ibid., p.23
 C.f. David Hess, ‘
 C.f. Jerry L Jordan, “Riding the S-Curve: Thriving in a Technological Revolution” in Economic Commentary (Cleveland), Jan 1, 2001, p.1
 C.f. Jerry L Jordan, “Riding the S-Curve: Thriving in a Technological Revolution”, op.cit, p.3
 C.f. Andrea Hornstein, “Growth Accounting with Technological Revolution’ in Economic Quarterly Vol.85, Issue 3, 1999, p.1
 C.f. Hedley, R. Alan, “Technological Diffusion or Cultural Imperialism? Measuring the Information Revolution” in International Journal of Comparative Sociology, Vol. 39, Issue 2, June 1998, p.1984
 C.f. Eugene B. Skolnikoff, op.cit.,p.15
 C.f. Encyclopedia of science, technology and ethics, p. xiii
 This opinion is actually a re-affirmation of Kitcher’s argument in his book ‘Science, Truth, an d Democracy’ (New York: Oxford University Press, 2001), p.97
 Hans Jonas, ‘Towards a Philosophy of Technology’, op.cit., p.195
 C.f.,Ibid., p.76
 C.f.,Ibid., p.78
 C.f. Steven Shapin, The Scientific Revolution (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1998), p.1
 C.f. Bruce T. Moran, Distilling Knowledge: Alchemy, Chemistry, and The Scientific Revolution (London: Harvard University Press, 2005), p.157
 C.f. Hans Jonas, “Toward a Philosophy of Technology” in Robert C. Scharff and Val Dusek (eds.), The Philosophical Condition: An Anthology, op.cit., p.191
 C.f. Maury Klein, The Genesis of Industrial America 1879-1920 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007), p.15
 C.f. M Klein, ibid., p.80
 C.f. Jerry L Jordan, “Riding the S-Curve: Thriving in a Technological Revolution”, op.cit, p.6
 C.f. Maury Klein, The Genesis of Industrial America (1870-1920) (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007), p.15
 C.f. Nick Bostrom, ”Technological Revolutions: Ethics and Policy in the Dark” in Nanoscale: Issues and Perspectives for the Nano century, eds. Nigel M. does Cameron and M. Ellen Mitchell Eds. (John Willey,2007), p.129
 C.f. Thomas J. Misa, “The Compelling Tangle of Modernity and Technology” in Thomas J. Misa et al(eds.)., Modernity and Technology (USA: Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 2003), p.6
 C.f. Ibid., p.12
 C.f. Ibid., p.33
 C.f. Philip Brey, ”Theorizing Modernity and Technology” in Thomas J. Misa et al(eds.)., Modernity and Technology (USA: Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 2003), p.43
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