The development of technology has been the most life changing factor in human history. Through careful observation, and experimentation of and with the world around us our ancestors not only tried to understand the world, but also made use of resources to ensure more successful survival.
Discovering how to make a fire was elemental to our survival as a species as it proved to be a vital heat and light source, as well as enabled us to cook our meat before we eat – which helped protect us against disease.
The invention of farming, and subsequent improvements to agriculture allowed to feed more people, and use land more efficiently.
What these inventions have in common is that advancement was driven by a need for improvement- by the desire to enable better survival for your people, family, and friends.
It wasn’t physical features which made homo sapiens the dominant species on this planet, but the development of a large brain and unprecedented cognitive abilities. especially crucial was the development of our unique imagination, which allows us to simulate sensations like no other animal. This allows us to think outside the box, and breeds innovation.
Rather than developing a thick coat of fur to survive cold temperatures we could rely on our powerful brains to come up with an idea of how to survive the winter. Homo sapiens did exactly that when temperatures in Europe fell dramatically about 20,000 years ago, and they were confronted the last glacial maximum (a mini ice age if you will). There is evidence to suggest that it was during that period of time that people started using a needle for the first time. Below this paragraph is a picture of a needle made out of bone, which was found in France and dates back 13,000 years. However earlier examples have been found, such as one found in Russia. This allowed them to wear fitting clothes which are a lot more efficient at storing hear, rather than having to rely on rags of fur to keep warm. As a result early humans could be out tracking animals, and hunting for longer- which was crucial to the survival of our species during the harsh conditions of an Ice age.
This is a good example of how developing an intelligent brain allowed us humans to become such a adaptive species. Adaptation no longer meant to develop the physiological characteristics necessary for survival, but it could also mean to ‘think’ of a way to make survival possible or even more comfortable.
Therefore one could argue that initially the development of technology arose as a consequence of our intelligence, but also our imagination. It takes imagination and creativity to come up with an idea, and intelligence to implement this. In even more vague terms: we used our technology to overcome the perils facing our existence.
This is obviously no longer the case. Technology is an integral part of our society, and plays a role in every aspect of our lives. We rely on agriculture for our food and vast water networks for our supply of water- neither of these would work without a constant supply of electric power. Most of us rely on electronic devices to communicate, socialise, organise, play, navigate, shop .. pretty much anything ! The importance of technology in our daily lives cannot be understated.
As much as I am intrigued and fascinated by our technological capabilities, in my opinion we have the wrong motives behind developing some of the new, cutting- edge technologies currently dawning upon us.
Since technology can’t be ‘good’ or ‘evil’ – it is what we choose to do with it, that will determine its effect on our lives. There are examples of humanity simply not being ready for the responsibility that comes with new knowledge.
It wasn’t Albert Einstein’s formulation of the famous mass- energy equivalence (E=mc2) in 1905, nor was it the discovery of the neutron by James Chadwick in 1932, which ultimately lead to the development of the first nuclear bomb in 1945. The world was overhauled by war and all the great thinkers of the time were either forced to work on the development of weapons by their governments or felt that the threat of such a powerful weapon in the hands of the enemy was enough to justify their contribution.
Another example of us finding barbaric uses for astounding discoveries is what happened when 3-D printing became commercially available (yes, I am ignoring the fact that technically it’s been around since the 1980’s). The first commercial 3-D printer, cheap enough to not only have industrial uses became available in July 2013. Two months earlier, a U.S based firm called Defence Distributed published a downloadable plastic 3-D gun which could be printed by anyone owning a 3-D printer (these plans were thankfully forcibly removed by the United States Department of State).
Even though we continue to gain huge benefits from splitting atoms as well as 3-D printers, the fact that we don’t know how a new discovery will be implemented by everyone is an important lesson to be learned.
This will become increasingly important, due to how rapidly our technology is evolving. Since 1965 the number of transistors (which is closely related to computational power) has been (roughly) doubling every two years. This is according to Moore’s law which says that the number of transistors increases at an ever increasing rate.
With entirely new fields of technology dawning: A.I (artificial intelligence), the prolonging of human life, and nanotechnology just to name a few we need to consider who these novel technologies are going to impact, and what they are going to change about our society.
The problem is that in this world, we already face a growing class divide between rich and poor- whether we acknowledge it or not, and these technologies such as these would rapidly add to this effect.
A ‘cure’ for old age sounds fascinating at first, but the idea of privileged people living longer due to the fact that they could afford it just doesn’t seem quite right, considering that the majority of the world’s population is still fighting with treatable diseases due to the lack of access to medicine and struggling to gain access to food , water and energy.
We find ourselves in this situation because it happens to be unprofitable to provide cheap, reusable and easily accessible technologies – and the scientists/engineers develop luxury goods which will sell, as opposed to technologies which could tackle the world’s problems.
As much as any good hearted person would love to make a big contribution to solving problems humanity faces, this is often a difficult or even impossible task as it requires large amounts of funding; for equipment, materials, and staff.
The way that our entire society is built up to strive for profit, in itself is hindering the progression of us as a species- we are only as strong as our weakest link. Even though I do not doubt that our profit driven society is the reason for such rapid development, it is the reason not all people are developing at the same rate, if at all.
With such a vast technological development over the past century, we need to advance culturally to prevent more atrocities happening as a result of our inventions.
We have come such a long way, and we are capable of such incredible things : visiting the moon, sending a space probe beyond our solar system, genetic modifications, manipulating individual atoms… yet as a species we fail to fulfil our basic requirements to thrive.
I believe technology can help us to improve and survive successfully the same way it has done since the dawn of our time, if we direct it at more pressing issues than “when’s the new iphone coming out?”
I have no suggestion on where to start, or how this cultural change is supposed to happen.. but once again I do rely on my sense of optimism that a global change in mind can occur by tapping into the minds of the next generations and letting them think for themselves.
If anything has ever pushed us forward, then it was the sprouting of a novel idea and- and not the conservation of our old ways. I’m aware I haven’t answered the question in my title, but I’m hoping to at least animate more people to ask themselves and others this crucial question, and hopefully an answer will emerge.
 – http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/09/130916162003.htm
 – Hoffecker, J., Scott, J., Excavations In Eastern Europe Reveal Ancient Human Lifestyles, University of Colorado at Boulder News Archive, March 21, 2002
 – Einstein, A. (1905), “Ist die Trägheit eines Körpers von seinem Energieinhalt abhängig?”, Annalen der Physik 18 (13): 639–643,
 – 1935 Nobel Prize in Physics. Nobelprize.org. Retrieved on 2012-08-16
 – Ferenc Morton Szasz, The Day The Sun Rose Twice: The Story of the Trinity Site Nuclear Explosion July 16, 1945 (University of New Mexico Press, 1984). ISBN 978-0-8263-0768-2
 -Blueprints for 3-D printer gun pulled off website”. www.statesman.com. Retrieved 2013-11-10
 – Moore, Gordon E. (1965). “Cramming more components onto integrated circuits”