Technology refers to the use of tools, devices, systems, and methods to order and transform matter, energy, and information. The process that makes this possible is called technological development.
Technological developments are often accompanied by changes in the way people live their lives and how they work. They also contribute to large-scale economic and cultural change.
Many technological innovations spread or disappear on the basis of free-market forces, but they sometimes come under public debate and are subject to formal regulation. Some of these issues have serious consequences.
The word “technology” is derived from the German term, Technik, which means “art of making things”. This is a broad category that encompasses many different kinds of activity–including engineering, medicine, law, and the arts.
A scholarly definition of technology is that it is the rational process of creating means to order and transform matter, energy, andinformation in ways that realize certain valued ends. The process involves a wide variety of knowledge, including scientific, engineering, historical, linguistic, and mathematical knowledge.
This knowledge consists of the facts and procedures that make technological processes possible, as well as the understanding that enables us to discover new means for such transformations. It is the knowledge that gives rise to the technological objects and services we take for granted–including toothbrushes, airplanes, computer chips, or transportation systems.
Technology can be used to accomplish a wide range of goals, from making life easier to improving the environment or fighting diseases. However, the technology must be designed and developed to satisfy a range of constraints–from physical laws and limitations of materials to cost, availability, and safety.
Optimal designs strike reasonable compromises among those constraints. They take into account economic, social, and political concerns as well as ecological and ethical values.
These constraints require that we design technology so as to meet the needs of humankind, balancing both its potential benefits and its risks. Achieving this balance is a challenge for engineers and other designers.
The most important aspect of a successful technology design is to identify and resolve its constraints. By addressing these limitations, engineers can create products that provide significant advantages over alternatives and offer a better quality of life to people who use them.
The best engineers, philosophers, and designers are able to consider the constraints of technology from multiple perspectives, taking into account both what the design can do and what it should not do. They do this by weighing the tradeoffs between these competing objectives–for example, maximizing utility in terms of energy, usability, and safety while minimizing the costs associated with its production.