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Karl Marx was perhaps the earliest—and certainly the most well-known—advocate of the idea that the state of technology in any given society will, in some way, determine the character of that society. “The hand-mill,” as he famously remarked in The Power of Philosophy (1847), “gives you society with the feudal lord; the steam-mill, society with the industrial capitalist.” On the most basic level, the correspondence between certain forms of technology and society is obvious: The transition from manual power to steam power certainly opened up the possibility of social transformation, but whether such technical transformations led inevitably to determinate social outcomes remains in doubt. Indeed, it is difficult to find any major thinkers at any point in history—Marx included—who subscribed to such a crude ...

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