How technologies evolve from craft to science

All technologies tend to evolve over time from crafts to operational sciences. Craft means that they are based entirely on tacit knowledge and person expertise. Perfect Operational 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.

Currently, I’m soliciting comments on an excerpt that compares surgical residencies in the 1990s with being a co-pilot in the 1930s. I  compare chapters from two books:

Please write if you’d like to this or other  chapters.


Not your grandfather’s crop duster!

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 is carried 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.  
  • My book on the subject is tentatively titled DAREDEVILS TO SYSOPS: HOW THE ART OF FLYING BECAME (MOSTLY) A SCIENCEChapter 1 is available here. Several other chapter drafts are available on request.


Early aviators often died young, but were famous while they lived.

Manufacturing: Firearms and other machining.

  • From Filing and Fitting to Flexible Manufacturing. This monograph, by Jai 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 manufacturing technology changes required corresponding changes in knowledge. Each new manufacturing paradigm 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.

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