BSTP – Lecture 1: History of Technology and Society I

Bridging Science, Technology and Policy will today cover the history of technology and society and how they interact. The first part covers the technical innovations up to the industrial revolution.

Science is how the environment around human functions. It is not human-centric. Technology on the other hand is made by humans to improve human live. Policy are human made rules that govern how we interact with one another.

In typical education settings, those topics are separated. Especially in technology – while human-centred – the human are “bracketed” out.

Drivers of Human Need

Technology can improve the management of human needs amongst them:

  • Productivity
  • Security & Comfort
  • Nutrition
  • Communication & Exchange
  • Mobility
  • Materials
  • Greed & Controls

By providing for the human needs survival rates of humankind are improved – on a basic level. Humans are comparatively weak animals and therefore pursued technology to improve their odds.

Human History

  • 2.5m to 10000BCE: Stone Age (Aleppo was settled around 8000 years ago)
  • around 10000BCE: Agrarian Revolution
  • 10000-4000BCE: Neolithic Age
  • 4000-1500BCE: Hydraulic Civilisations & Bronze Age
    • First time we created our own materials and did not only rely on natural occurring materials
  • 1500-500BCE: Iron Age
    • Move from soft material (bronze) to hard material (iron) which allowed for the first large scale warfare to occur
  • 500BCE-1400: Postclassical & Medieval Revolution
    • Global travelling began and colonisation started


Stone tools where created by sharpening stones to a pointy shape around 2.5million years ago. This cutting instrumented allowed improved hunting.

Horses were domesticated to reduce the work on humans. Humans already started genetically modifying animals to their need. Albeit with a crude approach of cross-breading. The plough was possible because horses could pull the weight. In 250BCE in China the horse collar was developed to increase the weight that a horse could move without hurting it.

Pulleys were developed to carry large weight for long distances (e.g. Stonehenge 2800 – 1100BCE). A human could not possible carry such heavy objects over any reasonable distance.

The oldest wheels were developed at least in 5000BCE. In a thought experiment, wheel development can be imagined to be humans cutting trees and realizing that they can roll due to their round trunk. Shorting the length of the trunk would be a first crude wheel.

In China the first hydroelectric dams where moving vertical plane wheels to grind grain. River-locks were developed to decided when boats would go downstream rather than to go with natural flow. Also, textile machinery was development. Chinese development was reduced through the Mongol conquest.

In Europe the Dark Ages reigned from 500 to 1000 which is associated with a loss of civilisation (developed by the Romans), however, decentralised development took off which eventually would help to give rise to Europe.


The earliest technology were sailing ships.

Humankind learned how to make lighter wheels to reduce the tiring of horses which in turn allowed to carry material further.

Civil engineering appeared in the form of roads and bridges.

The Chinese had the first 4-wheel car and the strongest ships until the 15th century. However, a Chinese emperor ordered the destruction of all ships (a policy decisions) which gave space to British and other Europeans to conquer the oceans. Ship trade and military gave then rise to Europe whereas Asia declined at that time.

The control of environment allowed humankind to move North.

Security & Comfort

Fire was a core development for security. With cooking food humankind was able to kill bacteria and have more food security. Also cooking allowed us to extract more calories from possible foods which in turn opened up more food sources.

Fire also allowed clay processing for construction and pottery. It also allowed for the first forms of (clay) art.

The first forms of infrastructure were for protection and agriculture. Bringing in water, removing waste and protecting a location allowed for urbanisation to come into existent.

Energy & Nutrition

Taming water in the form of canals, drainages and use water to do work where key forms of harvesting (water) energy. A water wheel could replace the work of 80 humans in 3000BCE. However, it required a casting technology to create the axle and animal grease to lubricate it. In turn this allowed for a food surplus and trading was possible.

In turn professions were possible due to the fact that not everybody needed to collected food. Starting from here empires could be build and began to emerge historically.

Any innovation up to the 15 century took place in Southern Europe, the Middle East and China.

Communication & Exchange

Language, symbolic communication and paintings arose quite early (first drawings are from 30000BCE). In 3000BCE taxes were first introduced in Egypt which allowed to form the first state. In 8000BCE the first form of cash was created in Mesopotamia in the form of exchangeable clay tokens.

The Roman empire had 75000km of roads which made communication difficult. Paper (first created in 5000BCE) in turn allowed to communicate information easier over longer distance and time. Therefore assets could be assigned to define (cultural) ownership.


Copper smelting was probably developed in 5000BCE in Anatolia. Iron was first smelted in 1500 BCE in China. War, kingdoms and aristocracy arose out of the iron production.

Greed & Control

Weapon development drove defence development which drove siege machinery development. The rise of weaponry allowed wars, empires, bureaucracies and public works to be created.

Chemical knowledge was a game changer. The British developed cannons which allowed England to grow into an Empire. The casting of cannons was a difficult technological achievement. Casts must maintain a very straight barrel to shot straight ahead. Without cannons the British Empire could not have arisen.


In China and Japan a single ruler controlled innovation to subdue rebellion (e.g. destroying their own navy in China and turning inwards). In contrast Europe was completely decentralised after the fall of the Roman empire and a technology race was driven my military needs. Consequently Europe surpassed Asia technologically in the 1400s and the European Colonisation began on a large scale.