Technological revolution

Axe made of iron, dating from Swedish Iron Age, found at Gotland, Sweden. The iron - as a new material - initiated a dramatic revolution in technology, economy, society, warfare and politics.

Technological revolution is, in general, a relatively short period in history when one technology (or better a set of technologies) is replaced by another technology (or by the set of technologies). As Nick Bostrom wrote: “We might define a technological revolution as a dramatic change brought about relatively quickly by the introduction of some new technology.” [1] It is an era of an accelerated technological progress characterized not only by new innovations but also their application and diffusion.

A difference between technological revolution and technological change[2] is not clearly defined. The technological change we could see as an introduction of an individual (single) new technology, while the technological revolution as a period in which more new technologies are adopted at the almost same time. These new technologies or technological changes are usually interconnected - as 3rd Kranzberg's law of technology says: "Technology comes in packages, big and small."[3]

Description : By Joseph C. Galisim

The Spinning Jenny and Spinning Mule (shown) greatly increased the productivity of thread manufacturing compared to the spinning wheel.
A Watt steam engine. The steam engine, fuelled primarily by coal, propelled the Industrial Revolution in Great Britain and the world.
IBM Personal Computer XT in 1988 - The PC was an invention that dramatically changed not only a professional but also personal life.

A new technological revolution should increase a productivity of work, efficiency, etc. It may involve not only material changes but also changes in management, learning, social interactions, financing, methods of research etc. It is not limited strictly to technical aspects. Technological revolution so rewrites the material conditions of human existence and also reshape culture, society and even human nature. It can play a role of a trigger of a chain of various and unpredictable changes.[4]

"What distinguishes a technological revolution from a random collection of technology systems and justifies conceptualizing it as a revolution are two basic features:

1. The strong interconnectedness and interdependence of the participating systems in their technologies and markets.

2. The capacity to transform profoundly the rest of the economy (and eventually society)."[5]

The consequences of a technological revolution are not exclusively positive but also not that negative :3 - for example, it can have negative environmental impact and cause a temporal unemployment (so called technological unemployment).

The concept of technological revolution is based on the idea (not unquestioned) that technological progress is not linear but undulatory. Technological revolution can be:

The concept of universal technological revolutions is a key factor in the Neo-Schumpeterian theory of long economic waves/cycles[6] (Carlota Perez, Tessaleno Devezas, Daniel Šmihula and others).


The most known example of technological revolution was the Industrial revolution in the 19th century, the Scientific-technical revolution about 1950 - 1960, the Neolithic revolution, the Digital revolution etc. The notion of "technological revolution" is frequently overused. Therefore, it is not easy to define which technological revolutions having occurred during world history were really crucial and influenced not only one segment of human activity but had a universal impact. One universal technological revolution should be composed from several sectoral technological revolutions (in science, industry, transport etc.).

We can identify several universal technological revolutions which occurred during the modern era in Western culture:[7]

Attempts to find comparable periods of well defined technological revolutions in the pre-modern era are highly speculative.[8] Probably one of the most systematic attempts to suggest a timeline of technological revolutions in pre-modern Europe was done by Daniel Šmihula:[9]

The potential future technological revolution

After 2000 there became popular the idea that a sequence of technological revolutions is not over and in the forthcoming future we will witness the dawn of a new universal technological revolution. The main innovations should develop in the fields of nanotechnologies, alternative fuel and energy systems, biotechnologies, genetic engineering, new materials technologies etc.[10]

Relation to "Technological revolution" and "technical revolution"

Sometimes the notion of “Technological revolution” is used for the Second Industrial Revolution in the period about 1900. But in this case the designation “Technical revolution” would be more proper. When the notion of technical revolution is used in more general meaning it is almost identical with technological revolution but technological revolution requires material changes in used tools, machines, energy sources, production processes. Technical revolution can be restricted to changes in management, organisation and so called non-material technologies (e.g. a progress in mathematics or accounting).

List of intellectual, philosophical and technological revolutions (sectoral or universal)

Technological revolution can cause the production-possibility frontier to shift outward. and initiate economic growth.

See also


  1. Bostroam, Nick (2006): Technological revolutions: Ethics and Policy in the Dark, Nanoscale: Issues and Perspectives for the Nano Century, eds. Nigel M. de S. Cameron and M. Ellen Mitchell (John Wiley, 2007): pp. 129‐152.
  2. Derived from Jaffe et al. (2002) Environmental Policy and technological Change and Schumpeter (1942) Capitalism, Socialisme and Democracy by Joost.vp on 26 August 2008
  3. Kranzberg, Melvin (1986) Technology and History: "Kranzberg's Laws", Technology and Culture, Vol. 27, No. 3, pp. 544-560.
  4. Klein, Maury(2008): The Technological Revolution, in The Newsletter of Foreign Policy Research Institute, Vol.13, No. 18.
  5. Perez, Carlota (2009):Technological revolutions and techno-economic paradigms., in Working Papers in Technology Governance and Economic Dynamics, Working Paper No. 20, (Norway and Tallinn University of Technology, Tallinn)
  6. for example: Perez, Carlota (2009):Technological revolutions and techno-economic paradigms., in Working Papers in Technology Governance and Economic Dynamics, Working Paper No. 20, (Norway and Tallinn University of Technology, Tallinn)
  7. based on: Šmihula, Daniel (2011): Long waves of technological innovations, Studia politica Slovaca, 2/2011, Bratislava, ISSN 1337-8163, pp. 50-69.
  8. for example: Drucker, Peter F. (1965):The First Technological Revolution and Its Lessons.
  9. Šmihula, Daniel (2011): Long waves of technological innovations, Studia politica Slovaca, 2/2011, Bratislava, ISSN 1337-8163, pp. 50-69
  10. Philip S. Anton, Richard Silberglitt, James Schneider (2001): The Global Technology Revolution - Bio/Nano/Materials Trends and Their Synergies with Information Technology by 2015., RAND, ISBN 0-8330-2949-5
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