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Skip to 0 minutes and 5 seconds In the 21st century, I suspect that many people think about technology at the same breath they think about internet, email, and various forms of technological devices. This is, of course, quite right. But the notion of technology is not a new one. New technologies always happen whether it be today or 50 years ago or 5,000 years ago. It’s perhaps worthwhile kicking off with a very brief, simple definition of the word “technology.” And a definition that’s usable is the following. It’s a systematic application of organized knowledge to resources to produce goods or services, the systematic application of organized knowledge applied to resources to produce goods or services. And in this way of thinking, we should consider three levels of technology.

Skip to 0 minutes and 59 seconds First of all, there’s physical technology– if you like, the artifact, the device. A good example here would be an airliner. But an additional level is the skills required to use that technology. So an airplane is useless without having human resources such as the pilot and the crew. And the third level is the organization surrounding the technology itself. So back to our airplane, navigation systems, airports, maintenence– if any one of those is missing, that technology’s not all that useful. That’s the way we think about technology as we look and gaze into the future. Obviously, we also know there’s a very well-recorded relationship between technology and human progress, technology and human development.

Skip to 1 minute and 49 seconds All kinds of studies show us, for instance, a very close relationship between the GDP per capita of a person in a country and the level of technology. That, I think, is almost indisputable. What’s interesting is that, in our game of futurology, the idea is not necessary to be forecasters of the next big thing but to realize that, in the systematic world in which we operate, all managers need to be able to manage technology, not just IT managers. We need to embrace technology and use that in a meaningful way to bring about a desired outcome. What of history? If we go back over the last roughly 250 years, we can identify five major technological transformations.

Skip to 2 minutes and 43 seconds The first one– we all learned about this probably some time at school in a history lesson– was the Industrial Revolution, the first Industrial Revolution back in the late ’70s until round about 1800. And this will be associated with things such as factory production and mechanization and automation. The second big, if you like, transformation was round about 1830 till round about 1850. That was the age of steam and railways. It originated in Britain but then spread into the rest of Europe and the USA. The third one was the age of steel, electricity, and engineering, which was round about 1860 to 1900. We associate with the USA and Germany, which actually overtook Britain in this regard.

Skip to 3 minutes and 32 seconds The fourth technological transformation is the age of oil, synthetics, and mass production in the USA, spreading to America until round about 1950. And the fifth and current one– probably not the last one, but the current one– is the age of information and telecommunications. As has been stated in previous occasions, as a slight footnote here one of the fastest-growing areas regarding information and telecommunications is Africa. Today in Africa, there are twice as many cell phone users as in the USA and more than the Western world. And this has also been a major bearing throughout the world and in Africa on things such as knowledge and the spread of knowledge. So that makes an effect on things such as economics.

Skip to 4 minutes and 20 seconds And our economies are prospering thanks to technology. Those are the well-known five technological transformations. Within that, we can also identify a number of what we call enabling technologies. Now, an enabling technology is one that is unique and interesting in its own right but also has a much bigger impact on society. An enabling technology will influence the world of economics and politics and resources, et cetera. And we could, as I said, identify five such technologies. One is information technology. The second one is biotechnology. The third one is materials technologies. The fourth one is energy technologies. And the fifth one is transportation technologies.

Technological trends

Technological trends: a systematic application of organized knowledge, which is applied to resources to produce goods or services.

After watching this video, choose an example of a technology and discuss it’s three levels. Explain how each of these levels work together as a system.

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Futurism and Business: Dealing with Complexity

University of Stellenbosch Business School Executive Development