Technological revolution

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Axe made of iron, dating from Swedish Iron Age, found at Gotland, Sweden: the iron—as a new material—initiated a dramatic revolution in technology, economy, society, warfare and politics.

A technological revolution is a period in which one or more technologies is replaced by another novel technology in a short amount of time. It is an era of accelerated technological progress characterized by new innovations whose rapid application and diffusion typically cause an abrupt change in society.


The Spinning Jenny and Spinning Mule (shown) greatly increased the productivity of thread manufacturing compared to the spinning wheel.
A Watt steam engine—the steam engine, fuelled primarily by coal, propelled the Industrial Revolution in Great Britain and the world.
IBM Personal Computer XT in 1988—the PC was an invention that dramatically changed not only professional life, but personal life as well.

A technological revolution generally increases productivity and efficiency. It may involve material or ideological changes caused by the introduction of a device or system. Some examples of its potential impact are business management, education, social interactions, finance and research methodology; it is not limited strictly to technical aspects. A technological revolution significantly changes the material conditions of human existence and can reshape culture. It can play a role as a trigger of a chain of various and unpredictable changes.[1]

What distinguishes a technological revolution from a random collection of technology systems and justifies conceptualizing it as a revolution are two basic features:

1. The strong interconnectedness and interdependence of the participating systems in their technologies and markets.

2. The capacity to transform profoundly the rest of the economy (and eventually society).[2]

The consequences of a technological revolution are not necessarily positive. For example, innovations, such as the use of coal as an energy source, can have negative environmental impact and cause technological unemployment. Joseph Schumpeter described this contradictory nature of technological revolution, creative destruction.[3] The concept of technological revolution is based on the idea that technological progress is not linear but undulatory. Technological revolution can be

The concept of universal technological revolutions is a key factor in the Neo-Schumpeterian theory of long economic waves/cycles[4] (Carlota Perez, Tessaleno Devezas, Daniel Šmihula and others).


The most well-known examples of a technological revolutions were the Industrial Revolution in the 19th century, the scientific-technical revolution about 1950–1960, the Neolithic Revolution, and the Digital Revolution. It is not easy to define which technological revolutions have been crucial and influenced not only one segment of human activity, but had a universal impact. One universal technological revolution may be composed of several sectoral technological revolutions (in science, industry, transport and the like).

There are several universal technological revolutions which occurred during the modern era in Western culture:[5]

  1. Financial-agricultural revolution (1600–1740)
  2. Industrial Revolution (1780–1840)
  3. Technical revolution or Second Industrial Revolution (1870–1920)
  4. Scientific-technical revolution (1940–1970)
  5. Information and telecommunications revolution, also known as the Digital Revolution or Third Industrial Revolution (1975–2021)

Attempts to find comparable periods of well defined technological revolutions in the pre-modern era are highly speculative.[6] Probably one of the most systematic attempts to suggest a timeline of technological revolutions in pre-modern Europe was done by Daniel Šmihula:[7]

  1. Indo-European technological revolution (1900–1100 BC)
  2. Celtic and Greek technological revolution (700–200 BC)
  3. Germano-Slavic technological revolution (300–700 AD)
  4. Medieval technological revolution (930–1200 AD)
  5. Renaissance technological revolution (1340–1470 AD)

Structure of technological revolution[edit]

Each revolution comprises the following engines for growth:

  • New cheap inputs
  • New products
  • New processes

Every revolution utilizes something that is cheap. For instance, the Industrial Revolution had cheap coal for iron steam engines which led to production of Iron railways. The same applied in the technological revolution where there was cheap microelectronics for computers which thus progressed the internet. A combination of low-cost input and new infrastructures are at the core of each revolution to achieve their all pervasive impact.[8]

Potential future technological revolutions[edit]

After 2000, a popular idea arose, that a sequence of technological revolutions is not over and in the forthcoming future the world will witness the dawn of a new universal technological revolution. The main innovations should develop in the fields of nanotechnologies, alternative fuel and energy systems, biotechnologies, genetic engineering, new materials technologies and so on .[9]

The Second Machine Age is the term adopted in a 2014 book by Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee. The industrial development plan of Germany began promoting the term Industry 4.0. In 2019, at the World Economic Forum meeting in Davos, Japan promoted another round of advancements called Society 5.0.[10][11]

The phrase Fourth Industrial Revolution was first introduced by Klaus Schwab, the executive chairman of the World Economic Forum, in a 2015 article in Foreign Affairs,[12] "Mastering the Fourth Industrial Revolution" was the theme of the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting 2016 in Davos-Klosters, Switzerland. On October 10, 2016, the Forum announced the opening of its Centre for the Fourth Industrial Revolution in San Francisco.[13] This was also subject and title of Schwab's 2016 book.[14] Schwab includes in this fourth era technologies that combine hardware, software, and biology (cyber-physical systems),[15] and emphasizes advances in communication and connectivity. Schwab expects this era to be marked by breakthroughs in emerging technologies in fields such as robotics, artificial intelligence, nanotechnology, quantum computing, biotechnology, the internet of things, the industrial internet of things (IIoT), decentralized consensus, fifth-generation wireless technologies (5G), 3D printing and fully autonomous vehicles.[16]

Jeremy Rifkin includes technologies like 5G, autonomous vehicles, Internet of Things, and renewable energy in the Third Industrial Revolution.[17]

An emerging group of economists do not think that technological growth will continue to the same degree it has in the past. Robert J. Gordon holds the view that today’s inventions are simply not as radical as electricity and the internal combustion engine were. He believes that modern technology is not as innovative as others claim, and is far from creating a revolution. [18]

List of intellectual, philosophical and technological revolutions (sectoral or universal)[edit]

Technological revolution can cause the production-possibility frontier to shift outward and initiate economic growth.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Klein, Maury(2008): The Technological Revolution, in The Newsletter of Foreign Policy Research Institute, Vol.13, No. 18. [1]
  2. ^ Perez, Carlota (2009): Technological revolutions and techno-economic paradigms., in Working Papers in Technology Governance and Economic Dynamics, Working Paper No. 20, (Norway and Tallinn University of Technology, Tallinn) [2]
  3. ^ Perez, Carlota (2002). Technological Revolutions and Financial Capital. Edward Elgar Publishing. doi:10.4337/9781781005323. ISBN 978-1-78100-532-3.
  4. ^ , for example, Perez, Carlota (2009): Technological revolutions and techno-economic paradigms., in Working Papers in Technology Governance and Economic Dynamics, Working Paper No. 20, (Norway and Tallinn University of Technology, Tallinn) [3]
  5. ^ based on: Šmihula, Daniel (2011): Long waves of technological innovations, Studia politica Slovaca, 2/2011, Bratislava, ISSN 1337-8163, pp. 50-69. [4]
  6. ^ for example: Drucker, Peter F. (1965): The First Technological Revolution and Its Lessons. [5]
  7. ^ Šmihula, Daniel (2011): Long waves of technological innovations, Studia Politica Slovaca, 2/2011, Bratislava, ISSN 1337-8163, pp. 50-69
  8. ^ Perez, C. (2010-01-01). "Technological revolutions and techno-economic paradigms" (PDF). Cambridge Journal of Economics. 34 (1): 185–202. doi:10.1093/cje/bep051. ISSN 0309-166X.
  9. ^ Philip S. Anton, Richard Silberglitt, James Schneider (2001): The Global Technology Revolution - Bio/Nano/Materials Trends and Their Synergies with Information Technology by 2015., RAND, ISBN 0-8330-2949-5
  10. ^ Realizing Society 5.0 (promotional paper for Japan)
  11. ^ Modern society has reached its limits. Society 5.0 will liberate us (promotional article for Japan)
  12. ^ Schwab, Klaus (2015-12-12). "The Fourth Industrial Revolution". Retrieved 2019-01-15.
  13. ^ "New Forum Center to Advance Global Cooperation on Fourth Industrial Revolution". October 10, 2016. Retrieved October 15, 2018.
  14. ^ Schwab, Klaus (2016). The Fourth Industrial Revolution. New York: Crown Publishing Group (published 2017). ISBN 9781524758875. Retrieved 2017-06-29. Digital technologies [...] are not new, but in a break with the third industrial revolution, they are becoming more sophisticated and integrated and are, as a result, transforming societies and the global economy.
  15. ^ "The Fourth Industrial Revolution: what it means and how to respond". World Economic Forum. Retrieved 2018-03-20.
  16. ^ Schwab, Klaus. "The Fourth Industrial Revolution: what it means, how to respond". World Economic Forum. Retrieved 2017-06-29. The possibilities of billions of people connected by mobile devices, with unprecedented processing power, storage capacity, and access to knowledge, are unlimited. And these possibilities will be multiplied by emerging technology breakthroughs in fields such as artificial intelligence, robotics, the Internet of Things, autonomous vehicles, 3-D printing, nanotechnology, biotechnology, materials science, energy storage, and quantum computing.
  17. ^ Jeremy Rifkin (2011). The Third Industrial Revolution: How Lateral Power is Transforming Energy, the Economy, and the World.
  18. ^ Banerjee, Abhijit (2019). Good Economics for Hard Times (PDF). Public Affairs. pp. 161–162.