Philosophy and Design

pp 61-75

Technological Design as an Evolutionary Process

  • Philip BreyAffiliated withUniversity of Twente

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The evolution of technical artifacts is often seen as radically different from the evolution of biological species. Technical artifacts are normally understood to result from the purposive intelligence of designers whereas biological species and organisms are held to have resulted from evolution by natural selection. But could it be that technology, too, is really the outcome of evolutionary processes rather than intelligent design? Recent decades have seen the emergence of evolutionary theories of technology, which use concepts and principles drawn from evolutionary biology to describe and explain processes of technological innovation and technological change. In this chapter, I will focus on three prominent theories, by George Basalla, Joel Mokyr and Robert Aunger, and I will investigate to what extent these theories present a truly evolutionary account of technological innovation and change. In the end, I aim to analyze how these theories construe technological design: as a blind evolutionary process, a purposive activity of designers, or a mixture of both.