How technologies evolve from craft to science: my writing

All technologies tend to evolve over time from crafts to operational sciences. Craft means among other things that they are based on tacit knowledge from experts, and they must be learned by doing or by apprenticeship. Perfect oOperational science means that they are fully understood and can be completely automated, without needing human intervention. No technology ever reaches truly complete operational science, but some, such as controlling the engine in your car, get close.

This page lists a few of my key writings on this topic. Depending on your taste for academic writing a detail, and what industries you are interested in, take your choice among them. Naturally, the older material is somewhat more primitive, and does not fully fit my current understanding.  A lot of the early work was done with my friend, the late Ramchandran Jaikumar.

Aviation: Flying airplanes from 1915 to today

The first pilots taught themselves to fly, and had correspondingly short life expectancies. Today, flying is heavily automated, and executed as a not-quite-perfect operational science. Another page in this blog gives a little more detail.

  • A good starting point is a very short article I wrote for IEEE, “How flying got smarter.” For now, it’s only available through IEEE here  or from me directly. Start here for a short introduction. 
  • My book on the subject is tentatively titled DAREDEVILS TO SYSOPS: HOW THE ART OF FLYING BECAME (MOSTLY) A SCIENCE. Chapter 1 is available here. Several other chapter drafts are available on request. Start here for a colorful introduction, with aviation “war stories.”   

Not your grandfather’s crop duster!


Early aviators died often young, but were famous while they lasted:

Manufacturing: Firearms and other machining.

  • From Filing and Fitting to Flexible Manufacturing. This paper, by R. Jaikumar and edited by me, describes a series of revolutions in manufacturing, starting with the English System of manufacturing around 1800, and ending with Computer Aided Manufacturing c. 1980. Over these two centuries, manufacturing changed from an art to a science. Many of the examples are taken from a single 500-year old firearms company, Beretta.
  • From Art to Science in Manufacturing: The Evolution of Technological Knowledge Analyzes  how the technology changes described in  required parallel changes in knowledge. Each new manufacturing paradigm, for example, required developing a new branch of applied mathematics. Download from eScholarship.  These two papers are combined in a monograph, available from Amazon.

General technologies: Professional sports, cooking, romance, law, etc.

All economically important technologies tend to evolve from craft toward science. That includes many things that are not generally perceived as technologies, like professional sports. I wrote about this in the article: “Measuring and Managing Technological Knowledge,” which was reprinted in several languages and for many years was the most popular reprint of the Sloan Management Review. (Fall 1994)

I have written various related material (see my Google Scholar page), and of course, there are many excellent articles  on similar themes by other authors.