Technology Trends

Science-based technology

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The most striking influence of science on society is the generation of an essentially novel technology out of basic, discovery-oriented research.

The prime example is the electrical industry, which grew up in the late nineteenth century as a direct outcome of the pioneering researches of Michael Faraday — and many others — in the early part of the century.

The development of this industry by inventors and entrepreneurs such as Thomas Edison and Werner Siemens cannot be imagined without the theoretical understanding and empirical knowledge obtained previously by ‘pure’ scientists who had no direct utilitarian motives.

A twentieth-century example is the development of nuclear engineering, both for weapons and for electrical power generation. This gigantic technology, is based directly upon the primary researches of academic scientists, such as Ernest Rutherford and Enrico Fermi, which were undertaken in the firm belief that their discoveries were most unlikely to be put to any important practical use.

A development that is now under way. with unforeseeable consequences for the twenty-first century, is the application of fundamental understanding of the molecular basis of heredity to industrial and medical ends, in the form of biotechnology, Quite novel science-based technologies may be generated from basic science on a variety of wales.

Thus radar developed out of academic research on the propagation of radio waves in the upper atmosphere of the Earth, whilst the principle of the laser was derived from the fundamental thrones required to explain quantum phenomena in atoms. It is a commonplace of modem engineering, medicine and agriculture that completely novel techniques and devices may be conceived and put to use by the exercise of scientific knowledge which was originally acquired for its own sake’, or in the pursuit of quite different ends.

Thus, the knowledge that accumulates in 114 Science and technology the scientific archives can be considered a vast resource to be exploited for its unsuspected technological uses.

 Technology-based sciences

It is important to realize that not all advanced technologies derive from basic science. Thus, for example, the practical techniques of-mining and metallurgy have their origins in the mists of antiquity, and continue to be extended and improved by inventive craftsmanship and imaginative design. Most of the patentable in Vall1011S incorporated into the design and manufacture of a modern motor car were produced in this way, by workshop engineers rather than by laboratory scientists.

Traditional techniques have proved amenable to scientific study. and have been found to have an underlying scientific rationale.

This applies particularly to medicine, whose therapeutic arts have been studied systematically from the time of the Ancient Greeks. The effort to understand and master the natural phenomena of human disease has thus developed into a highly sophisticated science, with a characteristic body of deep theory to explain these phenomena and bring them under control.

In a similar way. a variety of ancient crafts were transformed in the nineteenth century into the technology-based science of industrial chemistry, whilst in the twentieth century the practical technical knowledge of the metallurgist has been incorporated in a new science of materials.

The same process is to be observed in almost all fields of practical human activity : ‘technologies’ such as agriculture, civil engineering, food processing, architecture. etc.. have developed their respective ‘sciences’ to guide further technical progress.
 Scientific technique

Quite apart from their specific applications in advanced technologies, the ideas. concepts, theories, instruments, data and techniques of science permeate practical life. Inventors, farmers, parents, motor mechanics, builders and other persons in innumerable skilled and semi-skilled professions acquire a rough outline of the scientific views of the day. and apply them artlessly to the solution of day-to-day problems.

Thus, for example. the concept of energy, around which the science of thermodynamics was developed in the mid-nineteenth century. is the key variable in every practical decision concerning fuel resources, power generation, space heating. propulsive efficiency of vehicles. etc. Again, biochemistry and physiology have provided the basic facts and theories of the practical science of nutrition, so that ‘everybody’ nowadays knows about calories and vitamins, and tries to act in accordance with this knowledge.

The fact is, however, that people not only make use of the products of science-based technologies. such as pocket calculators and pep-pills; they also use elementary science-based techniques in dealing with practical problems, and orient themselves in the life-world by science-based modes of thought (Sol).

Where these techniques and modes of thought are lacking, as they still are amongst the general population of most developing countries, the instrumental function of science in society is greatly reduced. Thus, for example. complete ignorance of the bacterial causes of disease is one of the main obstacles to the widespread use of scientific methods of elementary hygiene in many countries.

At this point, of course, we are not saying whether the influence of modern science and technology in the Third World is good or bad: we are merely noting that this influence is not to be measured solely in terms of rice yields and expenditure on machine guns.
 Science or technology

One of the most tangled issues in the study of science and technology is the relationship between these two terms. It is easy to give clear-cut examples of each category, such as cosmology on the one hand and automobile manufacture on the other, but where to do we draw the line between them?

Until recently it was customary to make a distinction between science as the generation of knowledge primarily for its own sake, and technology as a body of knowledge concerning a practical technique. Unfortunately this convenient distinction has not been maintained in common use where a decision to build a computer factory is described as same policy, and the computer itself is called a piece of modern technology. For this reason, the term academic science was used in previous chapters, to indicate that the discussion was primarily about science in that traditional sense. But the difficulty is not purely semantic. In its strict meaning as a body of knowledge concerning a technique. rather than the routine practice of the technique or its material products. every technology is committed to the regulative principles of  science.

Whether this knowledge can be regarded as scientific then depends upon one’s notion of what further criteria must be satisfied. Must it be theoretically explanatory and predictive, for example, as a philosopher might insist, or available in a public archive as a sociologist might argue?

Or should the distinction still rest on the purpose for which the knowledge is sought? Historically speaking, every technology tends to become more and more subject to the characteristic ‘method’ of science.

A practical craft, such as pottery or ploughing, may have been passed on from generation to generation, by imitative apprenticeship with very little formal instruction. Although this process may permit a subtle and sophisticated evolution of the tacit knowledge embodied in the craft (%n), it still lacks the explicitness and generality of a genuine science.

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