headerA look behind Inventions by Arnold Pacey




Fine Technology:

a refined component, or lynchpin of adaptive, inventive engineering.

What is it?

Where did it take us?






The attempt to mimic the movement of the celestial sphere of the heavens had enormous consequences for machinery that was a trigger for automation.

canalTwo rotary gears mesh at right angles; such a perpendicular arrangement of gears transfers motion from one direction to a different orientation and is an example of fine technology.

"When looking in detail at the the institutions which influenced technological development, one should note the patronage sometimes extended by the wealthy or the powerful to individual craft workers, and one should take account of the role of observatories, such as the ones at Baghdad or Kaifeng (China), in providing scientific and technical advice to governments."


p. 33.

gearsTechnology was always to some extent involved in the dreams and fantasies of a society or its rulers."

Other kinds of inspired thoughts with a technical outcome:


Fine technology is a term of historian Donald Hill that "denotes small but relatively sophisticated mechanisms of which we may note two kinds, one connected with gardens and the other with astronomy."

p. 34.

These were technologies that allow for some predictive change or a capacity to predict changes more accurately.

      1. fountains in India and Islam
      2. water wheels
      3. clocks in China and Islam

These adaptive mechanisms led eventually to water raising wheels and turbines and weight driven clocks and watches.

Current threads in existing tool webs:

By analogy and application of Hill's ideas about "fine technology," we can look at 19th century developments in dynamos or radios and 20th century developments and suggest that thermostats, diodes, transistors, cyclotrons, and lasers, are examples of the refinements essential for technical innovation. All are examples of fine technology and the role of components in developing new applications.

Can you discover more examples of fine technology in the Kaku book and, also, in the last chapters of Pursell or Pacey? Make a list of these refinements that you find and their page numbers:

Bring your lists to class to compare.

Arnold Pacey, Technology in World Civilization, (Cambridge, Mass.:MIT Press, 1990).

Artificial Intelligence | Robots | mechanization