What Is Technology?


Technology can most broadly be understood as the tools, both material and virtual, that people use to achieve practical goals. It can also be understood as the way these tools are used, including the ways in which they are arranged to form networks and systems. Technology also includes the knowledge that people acquire and apply in using technology. These are often called technological cultures.

The term technology is derived from the Greek word techne, meaning skill in manipulating things—originally woodworking skills but soon broadened to include a wide range of expertise, from medicine to rhetoric. Individual inventiveness is essential to technological development, but so is the broader understanding of the principles that govern the properties and behavior of natural phenomena, which is gained through scientific knowledge.

Technological progress is the driving force behind a large part of economic growth, and many of the most important and beneficial aspects of our current society have emerged from technological breakthroughs. However, technology is a two-edged sword: It is sometimes the cause of significant problems, such as environmental damage and social disintegration.

The challenge for scientists and engineers is to look as far ahead and as wide afield as possible in developing new technologies, in order to minimize risks and maximize benefits. They must also strive to make the fullest and most complete use of available information, especially in estimating costs, side effects, and long-term consequences. In this way, they can help ensure that the most appropriate and safest technologies become available.