Fundamental Depths of Technology

Fundamentals Behind Level I, II and III Technology



Technology and progress go hand in hand. Technological change exhibits the irreversibility that qualifies it as progress. With technological progress, humans are able to exercise more control over the world around us. Technology also gives a pragmatic expression of scientific theories and discoveries. At the core of technological progress, therefore, lies the need for the betterment of human life. Technological progress usually comes with unintended social, cultural and geological consequences. Such consequences are products of people’s choice of new technologies based on what works. This wide reach of technological advancement has necessitated the categorization of technologies into various levels. These are levels I, II and III technology as defined by Scientists Branden Allenby & Daniel Sarewitz. This research describes and distinguishes these levels.

Principles Behind Technology Levels

Human beings usually make decisions with a goal in mind. Individually, most people claim to use technology as a way to enhance volition. Technology helps us accomplish tasks much faster and better than we would otherwise. Since the dawn of civilization, human beings have been making, using and improving on technologies. We create technologies to accomplish specific tasks. Thus, technologies form the bridge between the human need and desired results to achieve reliable work (Allenby & Sarewitz, 2011). This cause-and-effect relationship forms the basis of the first reality of technology – the immediate effectiveness of technology when used to achieve the desired result. This reality represents Level I technology.

FIGURE 1: Integrated System of Technologies working as one unit (Tsagarakis, N. G. & et al, 2012).

While technologies reliably accomplish tasks for which they are made, they are part of larger systems with no direct links to their core functions (Babaie, 2008). These systems often include various subsystems working in collaboration to create characteristics beyond those of the technology. Technologies never work in isolation but are linked with other technologies, cultures, and activities whose interactions lie beyond the domain of a particular entity. This characteristic of interconnection makes it difficult to predict the behavior of any system under the influence of technology. Thus, beyond every tangible and discrete technology lies a less bounded, more complicated socio-technical system. The image above represents a collaboration of many technologies interlinked together to create one unified system called the iCub. Many of the technologies designed and implemented in the iCub could at their core be placed in many other applications, outside of robotics as their micro technological innovation are, alone, disconnected from the holistic system. This system represents Level II technology.

Besides creating an intricate socio-technical system, technologies also bring significant shifts in environmental and resource systems. In these systems, natural, human and artificial elements interact to produce further unpredictable, unmanageable characteristics. At this level, the system behavior is modeled by the values and cultural frameworks that led to the creation of the technology. This system is especially hard to characterize, given the little scholarly and academic attention it receives (Allenby & Sarewitz, 2011). This level also denotes the role of humans and the role of technology in global systems. Earth systems also create a platform for interaction between the socio-technical systems that emerge from diverse technologies. Earth systems form the final tier of the technology taxonomy and are therefore known as Level III technologies.

To understand the distinction between each of these systems, we explore how they emerge within the same area of technological evolution. First, we consider air travel. Airliners were created to help improve long-distance travel by cutting travel time. Airliners achieve this immediate effectiveness by being the fastest and most reliable travel option. This is Level I technology. The air transportation system is, however, a complex society that includes interaction between pricing, bookings, security, trade, and manufacturing. This less-bounded system is level II technology (Babaie, 2008). With the introduction of airlines came significant changes in transport and other less-related activities. Commercialization of flights brought changes in consumer culture, international relations, and energy markets. Thus, Level III technology emerged as a result of progress in air travel.

Vaccination technology has helped humans reap a myriad of benefits including improved health and prolonged life spans. The technology itself is seemingly simple: introduce a foreign organism into the human body, stimulate an immune response that will improve resistance to infections. With such a simple process, humans have been able to eradicate disease, improve life spans and reduced childhood mortality globally. The vaccine, therefore, exemplifies Level I technology. Vaccination has also enhanced the development of health programs that include vast operations and staff. Vaccination programs have even helped struggling countries to boost their health infrastructure (Allenby & Sarewitz, 2011). Vaccination is, therefore, a proper Level II technology. Vaccination is responsible for the extinction of various pathogens, including the smallpox virus. This change in biodiversity is a level III technological activity.


From the above examples, we see how the various levels of technology differ from each other. Level 1 technology focuses mostly on functionality and effectiveness. In this level of the taxonomy, technologies perform the specific task they were made for and nothing more. Level II technology explores the systematic interaction between the technology and the systems they are part of. While Level I technology expresses human dominion over nature, level II technology denotes the steps taken by human beings to control the use and spread of technology. Thus, Level II is more complex and unpredictable compared to a level I technology which is straightforward. Level III technology is the most unstable and unpredictable level in the taxonomy, due to its sheer size and lack of intellectual and academic research.


  • Allenby, B., & Sarewitz, D. (2011). The Techno-Human Condition. The MIT Press Cambridge, 49(02). ISBN-13: 978-0262525251
  • Babaie, H. (2008). The Earth systems and Earth science informatics. Earth Science Informatics, 1(1), 1-2. doi: 10.1007/s12145-008-0009-0
  • Tsagarakis, N. G. & et al (iCub, Open Source Robotics) (2012). iCub: the design and realization of an open humanoid platform for cognitive and neuroscience research. doi: 10.1163/156855307781389419


Peter W. Ross, Ph.D. CUNY
Philosophy of Mind, Cognitive Science

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