2006 | 42 | 2(168) | 205-228
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Technology and Change: The Role of Informational Technology in Knowledge Civilisation

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Technology contributed essentially to the change of civilisation eras, from the industrial to informational and knowledge civilisation observed now. The change has a social character, but resulted from technology. The related dematerialization of work was desired by many social thinkers, but ironically, they often condemned technology as an autonomous, alienating, dehumanising force, as a technocratic tool of enslavement or functionalist view of the world. This is still a reason of the lack of understanding of technology by social sciences, in particular by postmodern social philosophy. An acceptable definition of technology at the beginnings of knowledge civilisation era is proposed in the paper; it stresses that technology is a basic human faculty that concentrates on the creation of artifacts needed for humanity in dealing with nature. As suggested by Heidegger, technology is, in its essence, a truth revealing, creative activity, thus it is similar to arts. It is also, for the most part, a problem solving activity. This definition stresses also the necessary distinction between technology proper and the system of its socio-economic applications. The relation of technology proper and basic science forms a positive feedback loop: technology supplies tools and poses new problems and concepts for basic science; basic science produces results later applied in technology. More important is the second positive feedback loop between technology proper and the system of its socio-economic applications, which are managed by technology brokers, i.e. entrepreneurs, managers, bankers, etc. This second feedback loop brings about most social and economic results of technology, but at the same time it might result in grave dangers, because processes of socio-economic adoption of technological novelties in this feedback loop are avalanche-like. Such processes are known e.g. in nuclear reactors, where must be controlled and stabilised by additional negative feedback. If this additional stabilisation does not work properly, disasters might occur. An intuitive perception of the threat of such disasters is the essential reason of the condemnation of technology by social sciences. In socio-economic adoption of technology, the stabilisation of avalanche-like processes is Achieved by market mechanism, but this mechanism on high technology markets does not function ideally and, obviously, markets do not resolve ethical issues of technology adoption. Since technology brokers are educated mostly by social, economic, management sciences, the responsibility for socio-economic applications of technology, for overseeing the effective limitations of blind social fascination with technology lies also at social sciences. We also are repeating and strengthening, in new conditions, the Heideggerian warning about human fascination with technological possibilities: we must take care in the knowledge civilisation era not to become blinded by the seemingly unlimited possibilities of products and services offered by technology, in particular – we must take care to preserve our intellectual environment , the intellectual heritage of humanity. .
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  • A. P. Wierzbicki, Japan Advanced Institute of Science and Technology, Asahidai 1-1, Nomi, Ishikawa 923-1292, Japan; Instytut Lacznosci, ul. Szachowa 1, 04-894 Warszawa, Poland
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