Technology and Human Enhancement

Jude E. Njoku


  1. Introduction
  2. The concept of technology
  3. Technological Development in the Twenty-First Century
  4. The aims of technology
  5. Technology And Human Enhancement
  6. Conclusion
  7. References

In most academic circles, the past century or more can easily be described as an era of technology. Modern and improved technology has had very tremendous influence on the course, pattern and standard of human existence. There have been so much technical changes within the past century that in most advanced societies man can be literally said to have conquered or rather transformed his environment beyond reasonable expectations. The Buchanan (1965) notes that it is the technological achievement of harnessing new sources of power and of using them to drive novel machines and o perform ingenious processes that have made possible the enormous increase in the productivity of industry and thereby enabled the industrial society to maintain an ever-growing population at a rising standard of living.

Technology has made itself felt in various spheres of human endeavour. We know, however, that the benefits of technology are not evenly spread in a world-wide sense. While some nations have progressed significantly within the context of modern technology, others have retrogressed, or at best remained virtually static. What must be the contributory factors? What are the most spectacular technological developments that have taken place within the past century or more? To what extent have such technological developments enhanced the welfare of society generally? What can be done to ensure that the positive impacts of improved technology are more greatly enhanced beyond the present situation? These are relevant questions begging for answers. But before we do so, we need to remind ourselves of what the whole concept of technology is about.

The Concept of Technology
The term ‘technology’ is derived from two Greek words – techne (art, craft) and logos (word, speech). This means a discussion of arts both fine and applied. The meanings attached to the term ‘technology’ have tended to change over time and from place to place. In the early parts of the 20th century, it was used to refer to the means and processes of getting things done, including tools and machines. However by mid-twentieth century the term had come to be defined as the means or activity by which man attempts to change or manipulate his environment. According to Dickon (1988), technology is the sum total of what society knows how to do and is in this case placed within the context of the cultural environment. In this sense, technology refers to a way or method of doing things (Obah, 1996).

In a more functional form, technology is regarded as all the skills, knowledge and procedures for making, using and doing things (Stewart, 1982). It is made up of a series of techniques which are known about and could also be acquired. However new methods or techniques may be known but may still not be available to a country because it does not have the capacity to produce the needed inputs for applying the technology. This situation may constitute a limitation on a country’s choice of technology.

There is a close relationship between science and technology. However, while technology refers to a systematic study of methods, of doing things, science is merely a systematic attempt to understand and interpret the world. Thus, while in technology we may be interested in the fabrication and use of artifacts, science is concerned with understanding the environment.

Technology is older than science and in fact is as old as mankind itself. Man’s technological innovations began with his earliest history when he made fire, stones, metal and pots to serve his immediate needs. The development of science came much later because a certain level of literacy was required by man in order to put science into use. These differences, in dates of origin do not, however, detract from the close and important relationship between them. Science may simply be regarded as the theoretical basis for the practical applications of technology. For this reason, Buchanan (1965) regards technology as applied science.

Despite the fact that science and technology are as old as man’s physical existence, it is only in the last two centuries that their prime importance has been recognized in the developed and industrialized countries of the world. In the developing countries, this importance is yet to be fully appreciated, going by current efforts at technological development. This is hardly surprising when the history of science and technology kin the older and more advanced western civilization is considered. It currently appears that the developing countries are not in urgent need for technological development, going by current attitudes and government investments in technology-related infrastructure.

Human evolution and stages in technological development have gone hand in hand. Thus, it was considered expedient to classify man’s civilization according to the level of technological development attained at any given point in time. As a result, we have the Stone Age, Iron Age, Jet Age, Space Age and the Information Age of human civilization. Within these periods, man had developed several tools, machines and artifacts to improve his living conditions and ensure his survival and comfort as well as moderate his living environment. It was, however, during the 20th century that man’s quest for higher technological development received its greatest impetus.

By the 19th century, the foundations for major technological break-through had been strongly laid. But it was during the 20th century that these seeds of technological development came to full fruition and maturity. It is generally agreed that the two Major World Wars – 1914 – 1918 and 1939 – 1945 that took place within this century gave the greatest impetus to the technological achievement of our time. The technological achievement recorded by man over this period alone far surpassed any such achievements ever made by him in recorded history.

It is on this account that analysts divide the history of world technological development during the 20th century into two periods, namely, the period between 1900 and 1945 and that between 1946 and 1999 the world has been preoccupied by efforts aimed at preventing another major world war. The two world wars were major catalysts to rapid technological development in the world. This period saw the rapid invention and modernization of aeroplanes, military tanks and the atomic bomb.
Apart from the development of equipment and instruments of war, the world wars led to creating the institutional frame work for supporting technological development through the combined efforts of both state and private sector. The exigencies of war created the necessity for countries to support large research teams sponsored by government and corporations to work together on the development and application of new technology.

These changes had very profound effect on technological development during the past century and has given technology pride of place in the development plans and policies of many nations. But the benefits of improved technology are not evenly spread throughout the world. The developed and industrialized nations are certainly far more advanced than the developing ones in modern technological development irrespective of whatever sector of the economy that is considered. The main concern about technological development at the moment is with the developing countries and their technological backwardness. There are a number of issues to be addressed.

What technological goals should the developing countries pursue? Should they strive at improving on existing indigenous technologies or aim at catching up with the modern, complex and improved technologies of the developed industrial societies? Should the focus be on technology adaptation or adoption? Do the developing countries have the social need resources and individual talent needed to embark effectively on the task of modern technological development?

These are, for the moment, some of the pertinent questions of interest on the issue of technological development for the developing countries. More questions need to and will be asked. In the meantime, we focus on the present status of world technological development in order to lay the foundations for assessing its capabilities in enhancing human welfare or otherwise. We shall thereafter examine what may be considered the material and theoretical aims of technology.

Technological Development in the Twenty-First Century
We are already in the 21st century, but by far, the greatest technological achievements of our time were made during the just-concluded 20th century. Britain was at the fore-front off these developments but was later overtaken by the United States of America. However, the fruits of their endeavours have spread all over the world in varying degrees. Below are the main technological developments of the moment which have affected the well-being of the vast majority of humanity.

a) Transportation
Effective transportation is an important factor in accelerating modern development since it permits the mobility of men and goods and so stimulates trade and development. One of the most important technological developments in the transport sector during the 20th century is the replacement of the steam engine of the 19th century with the internal combustion engine and electricity in road, rail and water transportation. There was far reaching modernization of the rail transport system from coal-driven to diesel-driven engines and electric traction.

There was also a major revolution in the automobile industry following the invention of engine-driven omnibuses that replaced horse-driven coaches in 1895 – barely five years to the beginning of the 20th century. While this revolution was initiated by Kari Ben, it was Henry Ford who popularized it by his mass production of over 2 million ford cars in 1923. Rolls and Royce championed such revolution in Britain in 1904. Subsequent, considerable improvements in designs and models have seen the continued development of automobiles with different degrees of sophistication. This has been accompanied by improvements in road construction and development that reflect the sophistry of modern automobile development.

Although investigations into the development of airplanes started in the 19th century, it was in 1903 that the first successful aeroplane flight took place. It was the Wright brothers – Wilbur and Orville Wright – who made this possible through their flyer I at Kill Devil Hills in North Carolina, United States of America.

It was during the First World War that the greatest impetus was given to this outstanding technological development. The manufacture of airplanes which hitherto existed in small scattered units transformed into a major industry in all the belligerent nations and the airplane was also transformed into a strong, compact robust machine from its fragile and woody nature. Further and more impressive progress was made in air transport development during the Second World War when airplanes with all-metal construction, stressed skin wing flaps and slots, retractable landing gear and other facilities were developed and put into use. The peak of aircraft development was with the introduction of the jet-powered airliner in the 1950s by 1975, supersonic flight, once the exclusive preserve of the military, came into civil use, while the British and French Governments came up with the Concorde Supersonic Transport.

b) Communications
The development of communications is essential to the efficient functioning of any government. Communications include all the services by which information is acquired, passed on, exchanged, and stored.

The great advances in transportation technology during the 20th century have been accompanied by similar advances in communication technology. The technology of printing witnessed a great deal of changes and improvement during the 20th century. The typewriter and high speed power-driven rotary press which were invented in the 19th century underwent very significant transformation in the 20th century into the electrical and electronic models.

By far the greatest technological developments in communications during this century was in electronics. First, telephone made its appearance when the first wireless message was transmitted across the Atlantic ocean in 1901 such that later it was possible to transmit and receive coded message. The radio as a means of communication was developed in 1906. By 1920, the mechanical scanner was developed in Britain but this was to be quickly replaced by the more versatile electronic scanning machine developed in the United States. This equipment produced more satisfactory image and marked the beginning of the development of the television.

Within this period, there were a lot of very important and far-reaching inventions in the area of communications. Such inventions include the transistor, space, satellites that have greatly changed television and telephone facilities, and magnetic tapes for recording sound and vision.
In addition, printing technology has become greatly advanced. There is the invention of phototypesetting, xerographic and new optical equipment which have enhanced the capabilities of cameras. Other developments in communications also include the use of electro-magnetic waves other than light to explore the universe by means of radio telescope and the X-ray telescope.
Perhaps, the most recent and dramatic invention in the field of communications is the internet or what is also popularly called the information superhighway. By this device, anyone who has a computer, a telephone and a modem and is linked to the highway can send and receive information across the world at relatively low cost. This has led to the development of the electronic mail which also makes use of the internet.

c) Food And Agriculture
During the past two centuries, there have been very great advances in improving the quantity, quality and variety of food available for human consumption. These have been made possible by advanced improvements in the technology for food production, processing and preservation.
The use of farm machinery, inorganic fertilizer, herbicides and insecticides are some of the new technologies that have been instrumental to the new agricultural revolution.
Agriculture has also gone through a lot of transformation in the animal area. New breeding, controlled feeding and mechanized handling techniques have been introduced in addition to new improved organizational and management methods. New food production techniques including aqua-culture and hydronics for farming on the seas and sea beds are being explored. Now people talk about, though without reservation, genetically modified foods.

d) Fuel And Power
One of the most significant developments in this area during the 20th century is the replacement of the steam engine with the internal combustion engine for use in motor vehicles and airplanes. This high compression engine that burns heavy oil was later adapted to vehicles for heavy haulage duties and agricultural tractors. The steam engine was also converted into gas turbine suitable for air planes. These changes encouraged the prosecution of the Second World War as the high-power weight ration of this type engine made it very suitable for aircraft propulsion. As a result, in either pure jet or turboprop forms, it was adopted for large aircraft for both civil and military purposes.

e) Petroleum
The present widespread use of petroleum products is a product of the 20th century. The technology for the refining of petroleum has undergone profound changes during this period. From simple batch processing in which crude oil was heated to allow for vaporization and distillation of the various fractions, petroleum refining has now reached the advanced stage of thermal cracking which increased the output of petrol or gasoline. It is now possible to fashion the products of crude oil to suit particular markets. This forms the basis of the petro-chemical industry. There is not what is known as catalytic cracking in the processing of petroleum.

f) Electricity
The use of electricity has revolutionized many production processes throughout the world. Although the principles of electricity generation were already established by the 19th century, it was only in the 20th century that these principles witnessed widespread application and expansion particularly in the area of generation and distribution. Electricity was also applied in large scale production units and this greatly enhanced the efficiency of operation of these units. Most modem technological applications are entirely dependent on the use of electrical power.

g) Medicine
Medical technology witnessed vast array of improvements during the 20th century. Through the instrumentality of chemical technology, several new drugs were discovered that could cure hitherto incurable diseases such as tuberculosis. Other branches of medical technology also witnessed rapid advancement. The use of anesthetics and antiseptics opened the way to complex surgery which hitherto were difficult to perform. The techniques of X-ray examinations, radio-therapy and orthopedic surgery are among those that benefited immensely from recent developments in medical technology.

h) Computer Technology
In the early 1940’s the international Business Machine (IBM) in the United States introduced the first generation of main frame computers. Since then, the acquisition and widespread use of computers have become main feature of the developed countries. This has transformed many operations in the engineering industry through increased automatic and computerization of all techniques. The introduction of the digital computer is a major technological advance in computer technology. It uses an electronic binary system using only two symbols as opposed to the use of punched cards. With the latest advances in computer technology, production processes in industries have been automated. Computers and robots are depended on to execute production processes, while men only direct the computers and repair them when necessary.

i) Military Technology
It has already been said that the two world wars ever experienced by man played major roles in shaping the history, pattern and quantum of technological development the world over. There is no other area where this is as evident as in the development of military technology. The major actors in those wars, namely, America, Russian, Britain and Germany let the way. Rockets were developed with capability of delivering war heads thousands of kilometers away from take-off point. This is the basis for the development of missiles, including intercontinental ballistic missiles that have now dominated modern warfare. There is also the development of nuclear bomb which is more or less a post world war military technological development.

j) Space Technology
Man appears to have conquered space during the 20th century through space exploration activities. The rocket which is part of military technology has been very instrumental to this achievement. The former Soviet Union and the United States were leaders in this direction. In 1961, Gagarin of the USSR first landed in space. The original objective of space exploration was to use satellites in communication, military information gathering, topographical mapping and weather observation. Beyond this space exploration has ventured into surveys of other planets ostensibly to determine the possibilities of life in those planets.

k) Biotechnology
Man has also ventured into unraveling the mysteries of his own biological make-up through biotechnology. Through a combination of biotechnology and genetic engineering, the technology of cloning has been developed. The advancement of this technology, particularly as it concerns application to man has remained controversial in its spiritual, ethical and philosophical context.

There are basically no limits to the extent to which science and technology have gone in attempting to re-shape the face of the earth and positively or negative affect the well-being of society. We have merely attempted to highlight some of the areas in which the impact of technology has been most obvious. By this is meant essentially modern and improved technology in contrast with indigenous technology.

The Aims of Technology

Perhaps this is the first issue that should have been raised in this paper. But it is never too late. What is being discussed are what the material and theoretical aims of technology should be. There are no simplistic and clear-cut answers to what the aims of technology are, whether material or theoretical, but let us explore this issue together.

In explaining the concept of material, Webster’s New Encyclopaedia Dictionary describes it as relating to or concerned with physical rather that spiritual or intellectual things. In like manner, it defines materialism as a doctrine which holds that the only or the highest values lie k in material well-being and material progress. Similarly, theory is conceived as the abstract or general principles of a body of fact, a science, or an art.

These views suggest that in discussing the material and theoretical aims of technology, we are concerned with the actual, physical and tangible contributions of technology as contrasted with the abstract and expected contributions which technology can make to life generally. It is a matter of the actual versus expected gains from technology.

Much of what has earlier been discussed about technological developments during the 20th century relates to what theoretically technology should have done for man, but the real issue is whether or not the fruits of technological development have filtered down to a large majority of the human race.
Let me borrow from an article by one Okechukwu Chukwulozie on “Insurance as a Catalyst for Techno-Economic development” in the Champion Newspaper of February 29, 2000, and it states:

The new material technology is a very important growth point for Nigeria, a knowledge – acquisition which we cannot afford to ignore. As a result of intensive and extensive knowledge in the management of physical and chemical properties of matter —their micro-structure and its control – it is now possible to select, develop and engineer better performing materials or material matrix in place of conventional raw materials. This brings to mind the possibility of the engineer – drive train which may be replaced with the electric motors and a small source of energy from fuel cell that can make vehicles travel long distances, of say, 129km – 150km per gallon.

Although these statements relate essentially to the insurance industry, they demonstrate the versatility and wider applicability of modern technology. It is doubtful, however, if this can be rightly applied to Nigeria and most of the developing countries. At the moment we do not have adequate knowledge of those raw materials which we have in abundance and which can form the basis of our new material technologies. After more than two decades of very capital intensive investments in our steel rolling mills at Ajaokuta and other places kin Nigeria, these mills are not yet fully functional. Yet this should constitute very solid bases for Nigeria’s full technological take-off in modern times.

Indeed, there are very severe obstacles to full technological take-off and development in Nigeria and other developing countries. A nation, intent on modern technological development must have the right attitudes to life generally.

--the right attitude to work, patriotism, discipline, hard work, fear of God, respect for human dignity, respect for constituted authority and respect for the rule of law and order.

What we have witnessed in Nigeria during the last four decades since it attained political independence have been all the conditions for technological backwardness. Nigeria’s experience is, of course, typical of most black African countries and a host of the developing world. Starting with civil strife, the developing countries have witnessed the highest degree of political instability compared with the rest of the countries of the world. Most of them have not known democracy as they have been under military dictatorship for more than three quarters of their existence as independent nations. Political instability has been characterized by coupes and counter coups, some of which have resulted in civil wars, massive suffering, pestilence and dehumanization of the citizenry.

National leadership at all levels has been characterized by corruption, nepotism, sectionalism and other forms of human injustice that have produced a highly disenchanted, frustrated and demoralized followership culminating in failure by most citizens to meet their basic needs – basic needs for food, shelter and clothing. A people unable to meet basic needs certainly cannot think plan and work for any meaningful technological development.

The basic-needs’ problem is not confined to the generality of the citizenry alone; it also extends to national institutions, Educational institutions, research institutes, hospitals and other government parastatals lack the basic minimum facilities for effective and efficient operations. This has been mainly due to severe underfunding and failure to provide the needed incentives for staff to perform basic functions. Government policies have not only been unstable, following excessive political instability, but have also been pervasive and thwarted, thereby giving the wrong signals to operatives in the public and private sectors. Under these conditions, the generation and adaptation of modern and improved technologies to aid development is a remote possibility.

Governments of developing countries may be making increased investments in science and technology through establishment and operation of several universities, polytechnics, colleges of education and research institutes. But there is the problem of supply of relevant and adequate manpower. There is great demand for staff with appropriate qualifications. The problem is further worsened by the ability of the developed countries of offer more attractive wages and conditions of service to scientists and technologies from the developing countries. This has resulted in the so called “brain drain” from the developing countries to the western world. Moreover, the quality of available manpower continues to diminish to the detriment of technological development kin the developing countries.

The insecurity that has visited most developing countries does not foster rapid technological development. Apart from wars between countries, there are intra-and inter-ethnic wars, and rampant civil disorders that seriously hinder both national and international interests and investments in technological development. Even more worrisome is the newest trends in religious and sectarian crises that tend to divert attention from real problems of technological development. While the developed countries preoccupy themselves with technological advancement and social progress that bring prosperity to their people, developing countries such as Nigeria are busy fighting over religious supremacy that tears countries apart and make them more technologically under-developed.

Of utmost importance to our quest for technological development is the consideration of adequacy of appropriate infrastructural facilities. In Nigeria and most developing countries, there is near facilities. In Nigeria and most developing countries, there is near absence of the most basic and rudimentary infrastructure on a nation-wide scale. It may not be an overstatement to say that there are basically no good roads, water and electricity. A large segment of the communities have no hospitals or any health facilities. Equipment and facilities in the few existing government hospitals are seriously dilapidated. So also are the facilities in government owned schools and universities that are so much run down that there can hardly be any effective and meaningful teaching and research to foster development.

There can be no talking about technological development without adequate and reliable supply of electricity, for instance. Unhealthy people do not think of inventions. Research and technological developments are almost impossible in ill-equipped and poorly-staffed schools and research laboratories that are manned by poor and hungry people.

All these facts underlie the dilemma of technological development in the developing countries relative to the developed countries. There are litanies of these that cannot be accommodated in this paper. They are so numerous that they can form subjects for textbooks. The real issues of technological development in developed countries are different from those of the developing countries.

In the developing countries, there is need to worry about issues of technology adoption and adaptation. Adoption implies wholesale uptake of a technology while adaptation implies modification. Developing countries have to decide whether to embark on technology adoption or technology adaptation. The problem with adoption is that most technologies from developed countries are made within the context of those countries’ environment and may not fit into the physical and cultural environment of the developing countries. Moreover, countries that have developed new technologies may not be very willing to transfer them wholesale for adoption for purely political and economic reasons. It therefore, appears more plausible for developing countries to opt for adaptation of relevant technologies which takes into consideration their peculiar historical, religious and environmental circumstances.

In considering the adoption or adaptation of technology, another important factor to note is the appropriateness or inappropriateness of the technology. Stewart (1982) had defined appropriate technology “as the set of techniques which make optimum use of available resources in a given environment.” For each process or project, it is the technology which maximizes social welfare if factor prices are shadow priced (Morawetz, 1974). On the other hand, inappropriate technology is concerned with one that does not fit into the economic, institutional and technical environment or circumstances of the country receiving the technology.

Inappropriateness has arisen because most modern technologies under consideration in developing countries have been developed in the developed countries. The developing countries, therefore, have to make a choice of technologies depending on whether available technologies are appropriate or not. This raises the issue of indigenous technologies. While we worry about “imported” technologies, we must not loose sight of the beauty of some of our indigenous technologies because traditionally we have technologies for almost everything we did. One area that appears pertinent in this regard is our traditional medical practices, I believe that this is an area that requires thorough investigation; in this area one can find technologies superior to what exists in modern medicine. It should form the basis for a meeting point between modern and traditional medical technologies.

Technology And Human Enhancement

Within the context of modern technology, it is a truism that, while it has considerably enhanced human progress, it has also, in some cases, led to human misery. The idea of enhancement which depicts a state of increasing the value, desirability attractions of human life and existence is almost synonymous with the idea of social progress as espoused by Buchanan (1965) which implies moving forwards toward greater achievements. This suggests that technology has made considerable contributions to material standards of living of the world.

With modern and improved technology, the well-being of humanity, generally, as been greatly enhanced in terms of better and greater variety of food, more effective medical, education and welfare facilities, increased social justice, better housing and amenities, and better transportation and communication facilities that are attainable.

A major achievement of modern technology in the 20th century is its ability to raise the level of productivity of society; and in the process, it has led to increase in the amount of wealth available to society. The surplus wealth so generated has been disposed of in various ways, namely by building up armaments and conducting wars, or by extending social services to the citizenry. But in most cases, the results of technology have been used to create higher standards of living for the generality of the people. This means payment of higher wages and salaries, working for shorter hours and having more leisure, having a greater variety of goods, clothing, gadgets and recreational facilities. Unskilled work has been mechanized and some skilled work are now performed automatically. Work has become physically lighter and less exhausting. Higher standard of education has been achieved in order to provide people to operative and maintain the machines of modern technology. There is not doubt that modern technology has made possible a higher standard of living at least in the material sense, for the greater majority of people in the developed countries. It is certain, however, that the benefits of modern technology are not evenly spread. The people of the developing nations cannot be said to have benefited equally with the developed nations from the fruits of technological advancement.

There is of course the other side of the coin. With developments in modern military technology, more sophisticated weapons of war have been developed which have been used severally for human destruction and misery. Developments in modern medical technology which would have been used to save life have also been used to destroy life through abortion, much to the displeasure of Church which has persistently preached against man taking life. Man has no right to take away life.
The use of computer and other facilities for automation in industry and elsewhere have raised the potentials and have, indeed, in most countries created undesirable unemployment. In several countries across the globe, concern has been expressed about the extent to which modern technologies have altered working patterns, affected employment and brought about adverse social changes (ILO, 1982). Developing countries, in adopting or adapting technologies must be conscious of the employment effect of such technologies.


There is as yet not much hope that the benefits of improved technology are going to trickle down soon and fast to the developing countries. So the chances of the huge populations of the developing countries benefiting from the high standards of living prevailing kin the more technologically advanced countries of the world are still remote. This disparity between the rich and advanced nations of the world and the developing countries of African and Asia is likely to persist for a much longer time and is a great threat to world peace. It is in the interest of humanity that the benefits of technology be more evenly spread. Although technology has also been used to adversely affect the world, the gains appear certainly more than the losses. If technology has been misused, it is not its fault, for technology is neither God not the devil. It is a series of skills acquired by man over time that can be used for good or for bad. But man should be able to control its use for the benefit of humanity and this should be the major concern of the world now.


  1. Buchanan, R. A. Technology and Social Progress, Oxford Pergamon Press Limited, 1965.
  2. International Labour Organization, New Technologies: Their Impact on Employment and the Working Environment. Geneva: ILO 1982.
  3. Morawetz, D., “Employment Implications of Industrialization in Developing Countries: A Survey” in Economic Journal, vol. 84, 1974.
  4. Obah, T. Y., “The Gender Question in Technology” in Convocation Lecture 10th Convocation Ceremony, Federal Polytechnic, Nekede, Owerri, November, 1996.
  5. Stewart, Frances, Technology and Underdevelopment 2nd Edition, London and Basingstoke: The Macmillian Press.

Our Motto: "United in Research for Positive Change", summarizes the objectives of this great institution. IRI is an international organization that is registered (RC1621015) under the Laws of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

Contact Info


© 2024 Igwebuike Research Institute