Innovation and invention, as has been popularly claimed, is the most powerful driving force in human history. In fact, almost all significant changes and shifts of paradigm of the entire human race have come directly from the development, use, and continuous application of technology. Today, advances in medicine, computer science, mathematics, physics, and almost any other discipline significantly affects the way the world works and operates. These inventions, in turn, are developed further by scientists in order to be more useful in practical application and not only in theory.
One could not stress in a few paragraphs how important inventions have been over the past 5000 years of the human race and have allowed us to develop as a modern culture solving many of today’s current problems. Although inventions are far from being able to address all the issues and difficulties that human beings experience in day-to-day life, scientists are finding you were in better ways in order to solve these problems either through machinery or applied science in order to achieve this goal.
From the invention of the knife in Ethiopia, to the development of clothing, to agricultural materials, to metallurgy, irrigation development, and fast-forward millennia to the Industrial Revolution and the development of laser technology and microprocessors, inventions have always been associated to progress. In fact, in this paper, we could safely conclude that progress of the human race may be directly related to inventions.
However, the essential topic for today’s discussion goes through the opposite end of the argument. If it is true that progress is a direct result of invention, then could we clearly and confidently say that all inventions results and progress of the human race? In order to answer this question, we would be drawing to various historical documents and frameworks, as well as literature covering the topic, specifically and specially focusing on the subject of information-technology innovations.
In order to do this also, we would be providing various examples of such technology and modern applications so that we may be able to have a clear understanding and definition of the line between invention and progress. However, we must first be able to take the time to define what progress is. According to definition and relevant sources, progress may be divided into evolutionary progress — the development of ideas in a large-scale trend of the evolution of the human race towards the improvement and development of the way of life of these people.
There is also scientific progress, which is the increase of scientific knowledge in order to solve problems through the application of the scientific method. A less obvious integration of our discussion but is nevertheless relevant in the topic is social progress, in which there are specific changes that occur in society either through the application of technology or any other scientific creation or material, in order to develop society to a higher state and so previous problems that could not be approached and solved by existing technology and materials.
From the point of view of social economics and development, in a popular article written in 1997 for the American economic review, researchers have pointed out that technological progress, mobility, and other such factors involved in scientific development in order to be applied to the solving of problems that are currently being faced by the human race ultimately results in economic growth not only in the sense of the ability of consumers to have more choices with respect to consumption, but also in perception and way of life as well (Galor & Tsiddon, 1997).
As the article further points out, the application of technology to solving real life problems and can pass this scientific evolution and development and channels through the greater area of society. Therefore, at least in the case of perception, happiness, and other economic factors that indicate success, development, and progress, technological innovations have played a key role in such human development.
In fact, as early as 1985, in a book entitled high Technology, Space, And Society, the author has identified that even though early evolutions in space travel could not conceivably have as much benefits as would have originally been publicized by the government, it nevertheless allows for the public to focus on a specific pool of future technological applications, which in fact gives it powerful lobbying power in the case of public good choice and electoral votes (Castells, 1985).
In 2003, a book was also published discussing the impacts of technological improvement to the human race by identifying various examples of biotechnology, nanotechnology, information technology to be key driving factors in the evolution of society (Roco & Bainbridge, 2003). As the book discusses, and as many other scientists around the world agree with the author, technological improvement in the modern day has increased the ability of human beings to adapt and control their environment like never before.
In fact, the book further goes to discuss various levels of technological advancement in information technology which has significantly affected towards the positive light human evolution because of the development of easier communications, the lowering of transaction costs, and the ability to connect with each other and distribute ideas which play a domino effect in further improvements in future technology and scientific application of ideas.
In the past, technological improvements addressed only a specific market. This means that necessity is the mother of invention. However, because of the advancements of information communication technology, there are further incentives to create such inventions through application of mass collaboration and global interaction in order to solve real world problems and expedite inventions and improvements in various fields of science and technology.
Furthermore, improvements in information communication technology have also allowed for it to feed its own innovation — meaning that as information communication technology improves, it gives various incentives to improve that same information-technology so that recent studies have reflected that it is the highest performing and changing industry in today’s modern world (Hersh, 2004). However, various references and researchers have also pointed out that improvements in technology, and eventually the creation of inventions that have directly resulted from such improvements and application of ideas, often have unintended consequences.
In fact, looking at the definition of progress that the paper had given above, many inventions could not conceivably be classified under human development and improvement of society. In a book written in 2000, authors had identified that technology, learning, and innovation have consequences that were not originally conceived by those scientists, researchers, and academics who formulated them (Kim & Nelson, 2000).
The subject that the book focused upon was the economic implications and second-generation unintended effects of technological development and innovations to the economy. Also such reference focuses on economic implications and market consequences of inventions, we could nevertheless see that other than the economy, they’re also negative effects — effects that we could clearly not connect to progress from the definition that had been given above — of technological improvements and innovations.
In fact, because of the detrimental effects of many of today’s technological development and inventions, there are new fields in management that focus specifically on the management of new inventions and application of technology in order to make sure that it is constructive — and not destructive — to the organization, the individual, and even society as a whole (Dahlman, Ross-Larson, & Westphal, 1998).
As we have mentioned, information technology industries and disciplines have a large hand to play in invention and innovation. However, the specific focus of this industry has never been so evident as today, as more and more of society has become dependent on the use of computers and technology relevant information technology and communications.
From the development of microprocessors, to fiber optics which allows for high-speed broadband Internet, to recent innovations in neuronal networks, events to be interconnectivity of computers to create the collaboration online, information technology has played the cutting edge innovator in today’s modern society, and is therefore also the playground for the development of new inventions (Bresnahan, Brynjolfsson, & Hitt, 2002).
Taking from the point of view of progress and development, information technology and the various inventions that fall under this category and fact and indeed be classified towards human development. However, there is also a trend in information-technology inventions that not only contribute to the development of the problems in society, but are also offering problematic continuous situations in the present as well. Take, for example, the invention of the most prevalent problem of information communication technology today — the modern computer virus.
In a study that was published as early as 1993 when computers had not yet reached the level of popularity as is seen today, researchers had already identified a measurement and modeling technique of computer virus prevalence (Kephart, White, Center, & Heights, 1993). As early in this era where viruses have not yet become so popular as compared to the modern age, researchers had already seen instances of viral outbreaks in computer systems even though only a few large corporations and small and medium enterprises have integrated such new information technology devices into their operations.
This research, and many others like it reflecting the amount of computer virus infections at this time, showed that innovation and invention does not necessarily lead to progress especially if individuals may be able to make use of such innovations to create new inventions for goals that would be detrimental to society as a whole.
In 2005, a book was published discussing computer virus research and how companies that integrated information technology systems — which is to say almost all companies today — into their operations may be able to protect themselves from malicious access by computer experts and writers of such viruses to access their systems (Szor, 2005). There is a rich collection of reference of the topic of the proliferation of such malicious inventions in information-technology is in fact directly opposed to our definition of progress.
The invention of such methods to facilitate and exponentially increase death, coercion, then almost any other capability that one could think of a relation to malicious code to infect computer machines pose as an essential question of whether or not these creations reflect the price of progress and innovation in the information-technology industry. In the philosophical discussion of human progress, there is also focus and discussion on correlating warfare to progress.
Although we did in fact relate to many of today’s modern inventions as a direct result of the consequences that come from human conflict and war — such as the development of nuclear and atomic energy, flight, and other related fields, researchers and experts could not help to discuss whether or not such inventions could be classified under human progress especially if the price of the development and application of inventions are the loss of lives and the facilitation of conflict.
Therefore, this also becomes an essential discussion in the field of information technology. In the past, warfare was facilitated with the invention of physical goods and physical capital that significantly increases the competitive and comparative advantage of one organization, nation, or group, from another. Recently, however, in the proliferation of information technology in society, many other developments and inventions in the field have been associated to the proliferation and development of conflict.
For example, in a research article published in for example, in a book published in 1999 discussing networking warfare, there have been a long discussion with regard to invention of such networking and information technology machinery whose main purpose was to leverage information superiority against enemies and against future attacks. The concept basically revolves around the invention of recent networking abilities of machines in order to facilitate best strategy actions in cases of war and other conflict related events (Alberts, Garstka, Stein, & DEFENSE, 1999).
Although such developments in information technology definitely be classified as invention, one could not help but distinguish it from progress especially if the result does not have anything to do with human development and improvement of society — as the popular definition of progress relates to in the definition we have stated above. Some researchers have even pointed out that more than half of today’s inventions in the realm of information technology do not equate to progress because of second-generation effects that completely remove the first-generation positive implications of their creation and development (Szafranski, n. . ). For example, computers that were created specifically to encode messages and to facilitate cryptography are now being used by terrorists and those with malicious intentions in order to decode government and private information — including monetary transactions with private financial institutions such as banks — in order to facilitate information and electronic theft (Gompert, 1995).
Although the original purpose of such technology was to make sure that communication in terrorist networks are decoded by government agents, the fast turnover rate and distribution of free information towards the creation and duplication of inventions have allowed for not only more secure communications between such malicious channels, but have even involved the revealing in taking advantage of government secrets and private information through the use of such same technology by organizations which seek to make use of it in negative ways.
How, then, can such inventions be classified to progress if the ultimate effect in recent times is for it to be manipulated to the uses of agents and organizations that have over all destructive effects.
Courtney from Study Moose
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