Technological revolution


A technological revolution 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. Technological revolution rewrites the material conditions of human existence and can reshape culture. It can play a role of 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. 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[3] (Carlota Perez, Tessaleno Devezas, Daniel Šmihula and others).


The most known example of technological revolution was the Industrial Revolution in the 19th century, the scientific-technical revolution about 1950–1960, the Neolithic revolution, the Digital Revolution and so on. The notion of "technological revolution" is frequently overused, therefore it is not easy to define which technological revolutions having occurred during world history were really crucial and influenced not only one segment of human activity, but had a universal impact. One universal technological revolution should be composed from several sectoral technological revolutions (in science, industry, transport and the like).

We can identify several universal technological revolutions which occurred during the modern era in Western culture:[4]

  • 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–present)

Attempts to find comparable periods of well defined technological revolutions in the pre-modern era are highly speculative.[5] Probably one of the most systematic attempts to suggest a timeline of technological revolutions in pre-modern Europe was done by Daniel Šmihula:[6]

  • A. Indo-European technological revolution (1900–1100 BC)
  • B. Celtic and Greek technological revolution (700–200 BC)
  • C. Germano-Slavic technological revolution (300–700 AD)
  • D. Medieval technological revolution (930–1200 AD)
  • E. Renaissance technological revolution (1340–1470 AD)

Potential future technological revolutions

After 2000 there became popular the idea that a sequence of technological revolutions is not over and in the forthcoming future we 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 .[7]

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.[8][9]

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,[10] "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.[11] This was also subject and title of Schwab's 2016 book.[12] Schwab includes in this fourth era technologies that combine hardware, software, and biology (cyber-physical systems),[13] 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.[14]

Jeremy Rifkin includes technologies like 5G, autonomous vehicles, Internet of Things, and renewable energy in the Third Industrial Revolution.[15]

Relation to "technological revolution" and "technical revolution"

Sometimes the notion of "technological revolution" is used for the Second Industrial Revolution in the period about 1900, but in this case the designation "technical revolution" would be more proper. When the notion of technical revolution is used in more general meaning it is almost identical with technological revolution, but technological revolution requires material changes in used tools, machines, energy sources, production processes. Technical revolution can be restricted to changes in management, organisation and so called non-material technologies (e.g. a progress in mathematics or accounting).

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


See also


  1. Klein, Maury(2008): The Technological Revolution, in The Newsletter of Foreign Policy Research Institute, Vol.13, No. 18.
  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)
  3. 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)
  4. based on: Šmihula, Daniel (2011): Long waves of technological innovations, Studia politica Slovaca, 2/2011, Bratislava, ISSN 1337-8163, pp. 50-69.
  5. for example: Drucker, Peter F. (1965):The First Technological Revolution and Its Lessons.
  6. Šmihula, Daniel (2011): Long waves of technological innovations, Studia politica Slovaca, 2/2011, Bratislava, ISSN 1337-8163, pp. 50-69
  7. 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
  8. Realizing Society 5.0 (promotional paper for Japan)
  9. Modern society has reached its limits. Society 5.0 will liberate us (promotional article for Japan)
  10. Schwab, Klaus (2015-12-12). "The Fourth Industrial Revolution". Retrieved 2019-01-15.
  11. "New Forum Center to Advance Global Cooperation on Fourth Industrial Revolution". October 10, 2016. Retrieved October 15, 2018.
  12. Schwab, Klaus (2017) [2016]. The Fourth Industrial Revolution. New York: Crown Publishing Group. 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.
  13. "The Fourth Industrial Revolution: what it means and how to respond". World Economic Forum. Retrieved 2018-03-20.
  14. 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.
  15. Jeremy Rifkin (2011). The Third Industrial Revolution: How Lateral Power is Transforming Energy, the Economy, and the World.
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