Engineering -- an endless frontier
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Three aspects of technology

Far from being opposite to culture, technology is an inalienable element of culture that permeates the fabric of our ways of life.  Residing not only in high-tech goods and services but more importantly in human understanding, it influences how we do things , relate to each other, and organize our social institutions.

Technology has three major aspects: goods and services, human activities that create these products, and capabilities that enable technical activities.  The aspects are interrelated and mutually reinforcing.  Activities in research, development, and production create not only consumer goods and services but also knowledge and skills, which supply the growth of technological ability.  On the other side, people’s demand for goods and services stimulate technological activities, some of its results are ploughed back as social investments in education, research, and infrastructure, which expand technological capability.  Thus technology progresses under the “supply push” and “demand pull,” influenced in each step by myriad factors such as natural resources, economic conditions, and consumer tastes.



Technological products and infrastructures

High-tech goods and services permeate our daily life.  Less conspicuous are various implements and infrastructures geared toward processes of production.  Besides being capital investment, they embody certain human skills and experiences in hardware:

  • plant layouts and operating procedures

  • machines for agriculture and manufacture

  • control mechanisms for automation

  • standards for technological systems and products

  • public infrastructures for energy, communication, transportation, information processing, public health, and national defense.


Descriptions of major engineering products are found in  More extensive references are found under various branches of engineering.

Goods and services

Armstrong, N. 2000. The engineered century. 

Badamis, V. V. 1998.  Home appliances get smart.  IEEE  Spectrum, 35(8): 36-40.

Borwn, D. E. 2002.  Inventing America: From the Microwave to the Mouse.  Cambridge, MIT Press.

Johnstone, B. 2001.  A bright future for displays.  Technology Review, April, 81-8.

Morton, D. 1999.  Viewing television’s history.  Proceedings of the IEEE, 87: 1301-4.

Rhodes, R. 1999.  Visions of Technology, New York: Simon & Schuster.

Sobel, A. 1998.  Television’s bright new technology.  Scientific American, May, 70-7.  


Anderson, R. N. 1998.  Oil production in the 21st century.  Scientific American, 278(3): 86-90.

Bull, S. R. 2001.  Renewable energy today and tomorrow.  Proceedings of the IEEE, 89: 1216-27.

Hoffert, M. I. et al. 2002.  Advanced technology path to global climate stability: energy for a greenhouse planet.  Science, 298: 981-8.

Holdren, J. P. and Baldwin, S. F. 2001.  The PCAST energy studies.  Annual Review of Energy and Environment, 26:391-434.

Katzer, J. R., Ramage, M. P., and Sapre, A. V. 2000.  Petroleum refining poised for profound changes.  Chemical Engineering Progress. July, 41-52.

Mandelbaum, R. 2002.  Reap the wild wind.  IEEE Spectrum, 39(10): 34-9.

Ramage, J. 1997.  Energy: a Guidebook.  New York: Oxford University Press.

Ramakumar, R. 1993.  Economic aspects of advanced energy technologies.  Proceedings of the IEEE, 81: 318-27.

Service, R. F. 2000.  New tigers in the fuel cell tank.  Science, 288: 1955-7.

Srinivasan, S., Mosdale, R., Stevens, P. and Yang, C. 1999.  Fuel cells: reaching the era of clean and efficient power generation in the twenty-first century.  Annual Review of Energy and Environment, 24: 281-328.


Green, R. 2000.  Competition in generation: the economic foundation.  Proceedings of the IEEE, 88: 128-39.

International Energy Agency. 2000.  Electricity Information.  Paris: International Energy Agency.

Schurr, S. H., Burwell, C. C., Devine, W. D., and Sonenblum, S. 1990.  Electricity in the American Economy.  New York: Greenwood Press.


Light, W. and Collins, B. L. 2000.  Setting the standards.  Mechanical Engineering.

Sherif, M. H. 2001.  A framework for standardization in telecommunications and information technology.  IEEE Communications Magazine, 39(4): 94-101.

Machinery and equipment

Appenzeller, T. and Norman, C. 1997.  New eyes on hidden world.  Introduction to a special issue on imaging technologies in Science, 276 (27 June): 1981-98.

Ashburn, A. 1988.  The machine-tool industry: the crumbling foundation.  In Is New Technology Enough? Hicks, D. A. ed.,  Washington D.C.: American Enterprise Institute, pp.19-85.

Douthwaith, B. 2002.  Enabling Innovation, London: Zed Books.  (agricultural machinery)


Ball, P. 1997.  Made to Measure: New Materials for the 21st Century.  Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Peterson, D. J., LaTourrette, T., and Bartis, J. T. 2001.  New Forces at Work in Mining.  Santa Monica, CA: RAND.

Communication and information processing

Foster, I. 2002.  The Grid: a new infrastructure for 21st century science.  Physics Today, February, 42-7.

Pool, I de Sola, 1983.  Technologies of Freedom: On Free Speech in an Electronic Age.  Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

Scientific American, 1997.  The Internet: fulfilling the promise.  Special issue, March.

Waldrop, M. M. 2002.  Grid computing.  Technology Review, May, 31-7.

Transportation and navigation

Bretz. A. 2000.  X marks the spot, maybe.  IEEE Spectrum, 37(4), 26-36.

Herring, T. A. 1996.  The global positioning system.  Scientific American, February, 44-50.

Perry, T. S. 1997.  In search of the future of air traffic control.  IEEE Spectrum, 34(8): 18-35.

Stix, G. 1994.  Aging airways.  Scientific American, 271(5): 96-105.

National defense

Drell, S. D. 2000.  On physics and national security.  Introduction to a special issue in Physics Today, December, 25-56.


Technological innovation and economic growth

Science and engineering are brains that cannot make wide social impact without the productive brawn of industry.  Until recently, economists were unable to incorporate in their mathematical theories the effects of technology on economic growth.  However, economic analysts and historians have always observed the relation between innovation and competitiveness.

Abernathy, W, J. 1978.  The Productivity Dilemma.  Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.

Arora, A., Landau, R., and Rosenberg, N., eds. 1998.  Chemicals and Long-term Economic Growth.  New York: Wiley.

Branscomb, L. M. and Keller, J. H., eds. 1998.  Investing in Innovation.  Cambridge: MIT Press.

Crow, M. and Barry, B. 1998.  Limited by Design: R&D Laboratories in the U.S. National Innovation System.  New York: Columbia University Press.

Cusumano, M. A. and Selby, R. W. 1996.  How Microsoft competes.  Research Technology Management, 39(1): 26-30.

Dertouzos, M. L., Lester, R. K., and Solow, R. M.  1989.   Made in America: Regaining the Productivity Edge.  New York: Harper.

Edgertpm, D. E. H. ed. 1996.  Industrial Research and Innovation in Business.  Cheltenham, UK: Elgar.

Freeman, C. and Soete, L. 1997.  The Economics of Industrial Innovation, 3rd ed.  Cambridge: MIT Press.

Hagonnet, P. and Silandes, S. ed. 1991. Favorites of Fortune.  Cambridge, Harvard University Press.

Helpman, E. ed. 1998.  General Purpose Technologies and Economic Growth, Cambridge, MIT Press.

Hicks, D. A. ed. 1988.  Is New Technology Enough?  Washington D.C.: American Enterprise Institute.

Landau, R. 1994.  Uncaging Animal Spirits: Essays in Engineering, Entrepreneurship, and Economics.  Cambridge: MIT Press.

Landes, Davis S. 1998.  The Wealth and Poverty of Nations: Why Some are So Rich and Some So Poor.  New York: Norton.

Mokyr, J. 1990.  The Lever of Riches: Technological Creativity and Economic Progress.  New York: Oxford University Press.

Mokyr, Joel. 2002.  The Gifts of Athena: Historical Origins of the Knowledge Economy.  Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Mowery, D. C. and Rosenberg, N. 1998.  Paths of Innovation.  New York: Cambridge University Press.

Neef, D., Siesfeld, G. A., and Cefola, J. eds. 1998.  The Economic Impact of Knowledge.  Boston: Butterworth.  Contains “Uncertainty and technological change” by N. Rosenberg and informative papers on the measurement and new economics of knowledge.

Pakes, A. and Sokoloff, K. L. 1996.  Science, technology, and economic growth.  Introduction to a special issue in Proceedings of National Academy of Science, USA, 93: 12655.

Pollard, S. 1989.  Britain’s Prime and Britain’s Decline.  London: Edward Arnold.

Ramo, S. 1988.  Globalization of industry and implications for the future.  In Globalization of Technology, ed. by J. H. Muroyama and H. G. Stevens.  Washington, D.C.: National Academy Press, pp. 12-22.

Rosenberg, N. 1976.  Perspectives on Technology.  New York: Cambridge University Press.

Rosenberg, N. 1982.  Inside the Black Box: Technology and Economics.  New York: Cambridge University Press.

Rosenberg, N. Landau, R. and Mowery, D. C. 1992.  Technology and Wealth of Nations.  Stanford: Stanford University Press.


Managing technological risks

Disasters and fiascos

Bell, R. and Bennett, P. A. 2000.  IEC 61508 functional safety of electrical/electronic/programmable electronic safety related systems.  Computing and Control Engineering Journal, 11(1): 3-5.

Bell, T. E. and Esch, K. 1987.  The fatal flaws in flight 51-2.  IEEE Spectrum (2): 36-51.  Compare to Vaughan, D. 1996.  The Challenger Launch Decision.  Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Chaisson, E. J, 1994.  The Hubble War.  Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

Fielder, J. H. and Birsch, D. 1992.  The DC-10 Case: A Study in Applied Ethics, Technology, and Society.  Albany: State University of New York.

General Accounting Office. 1998.  Evolution and status of FAA’s automation program, GAO/T-RCED/AIMD-98-85.

Hayes, W. W., Chaker, A. A., and Hunt, C. 1999.  Learning from disasters.  Civil Engineering Magazine December,

Jezequel, J-M and Meyer, M. 1997.  Design by contract: the lessons of Ariane, IEEE Computer 30(1): 129-30.

Leveson, H. G. and Turner, C. S. 1993.  An investigation of the Therac-25 accidents.  IEEE Computer, 25(7), 18-41.

Lovell, J. and Kluger, J. 1994.  Apollo 13.  Boston: Houghton Mifflin.

Oz. E. 1994.  When professional standard are lax: the CONFIRM failure and its lessons.  Communications of the ACM, 37(10): 29-36.

Petroski, H. 1982.  To Engineer is Human: the Role of Failure in Successful Design.  New York: St. Martin’s Press.

Scigliano, E. 2002.  10 technology disasters.  Technology Review, June: 48-52.

Managing risks

Bruce, J. P., Lee, H., and Haites, E. F., eds.  1995.  Climate Change 1995: Economic and Social Dimensions of Climate Change.  New York: Cambridge University Press, chapters 1 and 2 explains the approaches in assessing the risks of global warming.

Edusi-Mensah, K. 1999.  Critical issues in abandoned information systems development projects.  Communications of the ACM, 40(9): 74-80.

Evan, W. M. and Manion, M. 2002.  Minding the Machine: Preventing Technological Disasters.  Upper Saddle River NJ: Prentice Hall.

Foster, K. R., Vecchia, P. and Repacholi, M. H. 2000.  Science and the precautionary principle.  Science, 288: 979-81.

Grahm, J. D. and Wiener, J. B. eds. 1995.  Risk vs. Risk: Tradeoffs in Protecting Health and the Environment.  Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

Heimann, C. F. L. 1997.  Acceptable Risk: Politics, Policy, and Risky Technologies.  Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.

Hoffrage, U., Lindsey, S., Hertwig, R., and Gigerenzer, G. 2000.  Communicating statistical information.  Science, 290: 2261-4.

Lester, M. 2000.  Communicate risk effectively.  Chemical Engineering Progress, June: 79-83.

Longstaff, T. A., Chittister, C., Pethia, R.  Are we forgetting the risk of information technology?  IEEE Computer, 33(12): 43-51.

Morgan, M. G. 1993.  Risk analysis and management.  Scientific American, July: 32-41.

Neumann, P. G. 1995.  Computer-related Risks.  New York: ACM Press.

Perrow, C. 1984.  Normal Accidents: Living with High Risk Technologies.  New York: Basic Book.

Stix, G. 1998.  A calculus of risk.  Scientific American, May: 92-7.

Tenner, Edward. 1997.  Why Things Bite Back: Technology and the Revenge of Unintended Consequences.  New York: Knopf.

Wilson, R. and Crouch, E. A. C. 2001.  Risk-Benefit Analysis, 2nd ed.  Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

Perception of risks

Flynn, J. Slovic, P. and Kunreuther, H. eds. 2001.  Risk, Media, and Stigma: Understanding Public Challenges to Modern Science and Technology.  London: Earthscan.

Slovic, P. 1987.  Risk perception.  Science, 236: 280-5.


References on the general history of technology

A large literature on specific technologies exist, many of which are included under various branches of engineering.  See and  Most recent works in technology studies concentrate on culture and ideology, dominated by gender, race, and class.  The following are some general histories that do not ignore science, engineering, and economics.  More are listed in the bibliography.

Bauer, Martin, ed. 1995.  Resistance to New Technology.  New York: Cambridge University Press.

Bernal, J. D. 1971.  Science in History, 4 volumes.  Cambridge, MIT Press.  (Emphasizes application of science).

Buchanan, R. A. 1985. The rise of scientific engineering in Britain.  British Journal for the History of Science, 18: 218-33

Cardwell, D. 1995.  The Norton History of Technology.  New York: Norton.

Helpman, Elhanan, ed. 1998.  General Purpose Technologies.  Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Landes, D. S. 1969.  The Unbound Prometheus.  New York: Cambridge University Press.

Landes, Davis S. 1998.  The Wealth and Poverty of Nations: Why Some are So Rich and Some So Poor.  New York: Norton.

Mokyr, J. 1990.  The Lever of Riches: Technological Creativity and Economic Progress.  New York: Oxford University Press.

Mokyr, Joel. 2002.  The Gifts of Athena: Historical Origins of the Knowledge Economy.  Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Musson, A. E. and Robinson, E. 1969.  Science and Technology in the Industrial Revolution. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

Nye, D. E. 1997.  American Technological Sublime.  Cambridge: MIT Press.

Pacey, A. 1990.  Technology in World Civilization.  Cambridge: MIT Press.

Singer, C., Holy, E. J., and Holmyard, E. J., and Hall, A. R., eds. 1954.  A History of Technology.  Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Williams, T. I. 1982.  A Short History of Twentieth Century Technology, 1900-1950.  Oxford: Oxford University Press.