Technology is the set of tools, materials, and methods that help humans accomplish practical goals. It encompasses both tangible and intangible tools, as well as the means of using those tools, such as computer systems and software applications. In addition, it includes the knowledge required to design and use such tools. Technology is fundamental to science, engineering, and everyday life.
Technology has been a central part of human culture for as long as there have been people. In many ways, it is as fundamental as language, ritual, values, commerce, and art. It is not, however, an independent domain. Like all other cultural systems, it shapes and reflects the values of those who develop it and use it. It is therefore often a source of controversy and conflict, both philosophical and practical.
In general, technological innovations spread or fade largely on the basis of free-market forces. Individual inventiveness plays a role, but so do social and economic considerations such as consumer acceptance, patent laws, the availability of venture capital, media attention, local and national regulations, and other political incentives and disincentives. These forces influence what technologies are made, paid attention to, invested in, used, and abandoned. Occasionally, the use of certain technologies becomes a matter for public debate and even formal regulation, as with contour plowing, vaccines, genetic engineering, nuclear power plants, and other recent developments.
Almost every technological innovation has its advantages and disadvantages. Engineers and scientists have a responsibility to assess the potential side effects of their designs as much as possible before implementing them. They must consider not only negative impacts, but also what the technology might contribute to society and humanity as a whole.
A significant number of technologies have become integral to human existence, including the Internet and the mobile phone. Other important examples are the electric car, air travel, industrial robots, and gene editing. These technologies are increasingly important to the economy and human health, but there is a growing concern that they might have negative side effects.
Many experts believe that technology will soon advance to a point where it will replace human workers. This has led to discussions of universal basic income and other policies intended to mitigate the impact of technology-driven unemployment. It has also fueled fears of technological dystopias, such as those described by Ray Kurzweil and others. In contrast, some members of the 1960s hippie counterculture developed a preference for locally autonomous and sustainable technology, which came to be known as appropriate technology. It has since inspired hacker culture and technopaganism.