Technology’s Hierarchy of Needs

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs attempts to distill the psycho-physiological necessities for human beings into five interdependent layers. As one moves up the tiers, each is more laborious to attain than the last with self-actualization at the pinnacle. Moving down, each tier becomes more vital to existence with air, water, and food as the base. These complexities and connections have corollaries in the development of technology that provide the exemplary precursory-tier structure for sculpting into a similar model: The Technological Hierarchy.

Electricity sits at the base of this Technological Hierarchy. The lifeblood of the cyber domain, nothing can happen without a raw power source. Yet, inherently this physical fuel carries no computational capacity. Hardware serves as the second tier in the Technological Hierarchy and the conduit of translation from power into purpose.  Vacuum tubes, resistors, and transistors transformed raw power into a means for calculating and solving computational problems. After machines advanced independently, researchers attempted to multiply processing power through interconnectivity.

In 1969, Beranek and Newman, Inc. won the bid to develop the communications protocol for the U.S. Defense Department’s Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA) Network. This project laid the groundwork for the internet we know and utilize today. Networks act as the third tier in the Technological Hierarchy and the counterpart to Maslow’s understanding of love and belonging. This layer in both of these hierarchies serves as the gateway to influence beyond the individual. For technology these networks allow computers to communicate and share similar data.  

Society soon desired even more technological capacity, necessitating the expansion of computers core capabilities allowing them to meet this demand. Software enabled this diversification. Software fills the fourth tier of this hierarchy providing the dynamic, application-based computing enjoyed today. At this layer, networked machines can communicate specialized and compartmented information using similar hardware all over a sprawling electric grid.

Finally, artificial intelligence (AI) sits at the pinnacle of this hierarchy. Computers that learn, predict, and even interact with the end user. This proactive adaptability empowers technology to change its functionality to suit its environment. Siri and Google Glass exemplify this final tier, yet only scratch the surface. These technologies have the capability to take input from the user and operate in unique ways. In totality, the novel concept of a Technological Hierarchy is constructed as follows from the foundation to the apex: electricity, hardware, networks, software, and finally artificial intelligence.

The Technological Hierarchy provides a new structure to understand how mankind interacts with technology across cultures that differ tremendously in access and adoption.  It provides a simple frame of reference for examining choices and potential trajectories for developing nations and how their adoption of technology might proceed based on knowledge of different metrics.  In a world where technology continues to move forward, but with vast differences in access across the world, understanding the relationships and ordering of the various levels of the hierarchy will assist in working to advance technological access for people around the world.  I would be very interested for feedback and other considerations in my assessment of Technology’s Hierarchy.


6 comments on “Technology’s Hierarchy of Needs”

  1. This is a very nice post for sure, never thought abut technology this way. What calls my attention is that the proposed hierarchy represents very accurately what had happened in the last 30-40 years and potentially what will happen in the next 10 however it might fall short on what the next 50-100 years might present. I was born in 1982 so I had a front row seat to observe how technology exploded exponentially as I was growing with the introduction of the PCs, the internet, the smartphones, cloud, IoT, etc, etc however this hasn’t been linear, it’s been exponential specially if we translate it to the last century.

    Now, is it possible that AI will remain at the top for the next 50 years? sure, however I think the pyramid would be better represented with a big question mark on the top given there is so many things that will come and disrupt our technology roadmap.

  2. This is definitely an interesting way to think about technology. Both in its fundamentalness to tech companies, but also in its availability. Just like Victor said, unlike Maslow’s Pyramid (questionable idea :P) which works with a slowing developing system, humans, technology changes much more quickly. While the fundamental tiers should stay constant. newer layers are sure to come in time.

  3. Zac,
    This is certainly a unique way of looking at the development of technology. This might be rather far fetched, but if the pinnacle of Maslow’s Heirarchy of Needs is “self actualization”, might the pinnacle of AI and thus your pyramid be digital consciousness? I realize this isn’t consistent with Craig Martell’s emphatic lecture about the ridiculousness of such AI but I was interested in your thoughts.

  4. This is a great article and I especially enjoy this quote: “The Technological Hierarchy provides a new structure to understand how mankind interacts with technology across cultures that differ tremendously in access and adoption. “

  5. I would add at the top of the Technology’s Hierarchy of Needs transparently immersive experiences and digital platforms. Augmented reality from the Transparently Immersive Experiences group shows a lot of promise.
    Gartner hype cycle 2017 depicts a better explanation.
    It is not allowing me to insert the images. So I have attached the links below.

  6. I really like this article and I’d like to say that VR is probably a more advanced need for the human. And it makes me think of Sword Art Online, which is Japanese animate depicting how people live in VR world


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