Technological change

Technological change
Original model of three phases of the process of Technological Change

Technological change (TC) is a term that is used to describe the overall process of invention, innovation and diffusion of technology or processes[1][2]. The term is synonymous with technological development, technological achievement, and technological progress. In essence TC is the invention of a technology (or a process), the continuous process of improving a technology (in which it often becomes cheaper) and its diffusion throughout industry or society. In short, technological change is based on both better and more technology.


Modelling technological change

In its earlier days, technological change was illustrated with the 'Linear Model of Innovation', which has now been largely discarded to be replaced with a model of technological change that involves innovation at all stages of research, development, diffusion and use. When spoken about "modelling technological change" often the process of innovation is meant. This process of continuous improvement is often modelled as a curve depicting decreasing costs over time (for instance fuel cell which have become cheaper every year).

  • TC is often modelled using a learning curve, ex.: Ct=C0 * Xt^-b
  • TC itself is often included in other models (for instance climate change models) and was often taken as an exogenous factor. These days TC is more often included as an endogenous factor. This means that it is taken as something you can influence. It is generally accepted[by whom?] that policy can influence the speed and direction of TC (for instance more towards clean technologies). This is referred to as Induced Technological Change.


The creation of something new, or a "breakthrough" technology. For example, a personal computer.


The spread of a technology through a society or industry. The diffusion of a technology generally follows an S-shaped curve as early versions of technology are rather unsuccessful, followed by a period of successful innovation with high levels of adoption, and finally a dropping off in adoption as a technology reaches its maximum potential in a market. In the case of a personal computer, it has made way beyond homes and into business settings, such as office workstations and server machines to host websites.

For mathematical treatment of diffusion see: Logistic function

For examples of diffusion of technologies see: Diffusion of innovations#International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA)

For assorted diffusion curves such as appliances, household electrification and communications see: Diffusion of innovations#Diffusion data

Technological change as a social process

Underpinning the idea of technological change as a social process is general agreement on the importance of social context and communication. According to this model, technological change is seen as a social process involving producers and adopters and others (such as government) who are profoundly affected by cultural setting, political institutions and marketing strategies.

Elements of diffusion

Emphasis has been on four key elements of the technological change process: (1) an innovative technology (2) communicated through certain channels (3) to members of a social system (4) who adopt it over a period of time. These elements are derived from Everett M. Rogers Diffusion of innovations theory using a communications-type approach.


Rogers proposes that there are five main attributes of innovative technologies which influence acceptance. These are relative advantage, compatibility, complexity, trialability, and observability. Relative advantage may be economic or non-economic, and is the degree to which an innovation is seen as superior to prior innovations fulfilling the same needs. It is positively related to acceptance (i.e., the higher the relative advantage, the higher the adoption level, and vice versa). Compatibility is the degree to which an innovation appears consistent with existing values, past experiences, habits and needs to the potential adopter; a low level of compatibility will slow acceptance. Complexity is the degree to which an innovation appears difficult to understand and use; the more complex an innovation, the slower its acceptance. Trialability is the perceived degree to which an innovation may be tried on a limited basis, and is positively related to acceptance. Trialability can accelerate acceptance because small-scale testing reduces risk. Observability is the perceived degree to which results of innovating are visible to others and is positively related to acceptance.

Communication channels

Communication channels are the means by which a source conveys a message to a receiver. Information may be exchanged through two fundamentally different, yet complementary, channels of communication. Awareness is more often obtained through the mass media, while uncertainty reduction that leads to acceptance mostly results from face-to-face communication.

Social system

The social system provides a medium through which and boundaries within which, innovation is adopted. The structure of the social system affects technological change in several ways. Social norms, opinion leaders, change agents, government and the consequences of innovations are all involved. Also involved are cultural setting, nature of political institutions, laws, policies and administrative structures.


Time enters into the acceptance process in several ways. The time dimension relates to the innovativeness of an individual or other adopter, which is the relative earlyness or lateness with which an innovation is adopted.


The term mythologised of technology refers to how technology start and elites who invented the new technology. By focusing on its process, it is proved MacKenzie and Wajcman’s argument of “social determination of technology”,(Green,2001,pp. 1-20) which means it is social that realizing technology change, and sustained it. There are four factors motivate technology innovation, which involve intellectual agenda, economic, politics, and existing infrastructure (Green,2001,pp. 1-20).


It is elites who have intellectual agenda[3] make technology change possible. However, it can not split their knowledge. Knowledge is not neutral, as it is “Socially bound knowledge” (Green,2001,pp. 1-20). The elites can create new technology as they are able to access knowledge physically and they can afford it. Both procedures underpin knowledge privilege within social context. Moreover, to prevail the new technology in social, it acquires the avant-guards who obtain knowledge as well, which makes them able to manipulate new technology. As knowledge which plays a role of force in technology is only granted to a limit population in technology experiment period, it proves technology is not neutral.

As the access to knowledge becomes easier with the spread of the Internet and access to everything from patent information to MIT class work and basic research papers approaches zero cost, the knowledge of an individual becomes limited by his/her interests and ability to understand. This change results in fundamental changes in the above concepts of elites and can result in innovation arising from multiple sources.

Corporation Corporations which are driven by economic value benefit technology and are benefited as well. In order to continue elites’ experimentation, financial support is necessary, and in most case it is from corporation funding. On the other hand, corporation would like to invest the invention as the potential huge commercial benefits from it. In this case, it implies that social determines technology as technology advance can not separate from economic support and it brings economic value as well.

However, this above interpretation has problems with observation of the real major innovations such as the actual development of the transistor and creation of the microprocessor not including any of the major electronics companies of the time (the big tube manufactures). The big tube manufactures did hire the best and brightest from the universities, but all the good ideas created by their research labs couldn't float through vacuum tube management.

Government To supply a steady environment for technology advance, the bureaucracy plays an essential role. It exerts its power and publishes laws to guarantee that investment can process properly, such as copyright. Without the safe social circumstance, the elites methodology will be stolen by the others(Green,2001,pp. 1-20), which prevents the invention processing properly in such chaos.

In recent decades, much of the technological advancements have not come from the governments of the world and most of the great government sponsored research projects have been failures. For example, the Fifth generation computer project in Japan.

Globalization as macro-social context Globalization trend is realized by technology advanced and motivates it as well. In another word, the global social change is increasingly both a cause and effect of technological enhance(Green,2001,pp. 1-20). Merchants appeal high technology, such as electronic business to run over-sea business, it not only benefits them enlarging their markets, but also make them finish business trading quicker. On the other hand, utilizing high technology realizes global social change, and makes communication access more conveniently.

There is another way of how existing infrustration implements technology advance. Public policy can stimulate technology development (Danna, 2007). For instance, feminists invented satellite to provoke masculinity domination social pattern, and by which they established their roles as early communication adopters(Danna,2007,p87-110). Before feminism movement, women are looked down on, so they provoke unequal social pattern by their contribution.

However, such interpretations can be viewed as nonsense with the invention of satellites as being totally orthogonal to feminism. Satellites are used for both economically benefits and satisfy human curiosity.


There is an example to elaborate how these four factors work in technology advance process- Edison’s bulb invention(Green,2001,pp. 1-20).Edison’s electrical power and lighting system can be achieved because of his inspiration. Via intellectual agenda(Green,2001,pp. 1-20), he published mythology, which aims to be funded by corporate without whom the research laboratories can not keep on. The corporation bought his idea for its potential bringing commercial benefit. As his invention of bulb liberates human movement (people can work not only in daytime, but also in evening), it inevitably prevails in overseas, and rise global social change.


Technological change is a term that is used in economics to describe a change in the set of feasible production possibilities.

Neutral technological change refers to the behaviour of technological change in models. A technological innovation is Hicks neutral, following John Hicks (1932), if a change in technology does not change the ratio of capital's marginal product to labour's marginal product for a given capital to labour ratio. A technological innovation is Harrod neutral (following Roy Harrod) if the technology is labour-augmenting (i.e. helps labor); it is Solow neutral if the technology is capital-augmenting (i.e. helps capital).[4][5]


  1. ^ Derived from Jaffe et al. (2002) Environmental Policy and technological Change and Schumpeter (1942) Captitalism, Socialisme and Democracy by Joost.vp on 26 August 2008
  2. ^ S. Metcalfe (2008). "technical change," The New Palgrave Dictionary of Economics, 2nd Ed. Abstract.
  3. ^ Green, 2001,pp. 1-20
  4. ^ J.R. Hicks (1932, 2nd ed., 1963). The Theory of Wages, Ch. VI, Appendix, and Section III. Macmillan.
  5. ^ Peter L. Rousseau (2008). "biased and unbiased technological change," The New Palgrave Dictionary of Economics, 2nd Ed. Abstract.

online source Abstract and excerpt.

  • Green,L2001 Technoculture, Allen&Unwin, Crows Nest, pp. 1-20

See also

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