Agnostic, as a term to refer to a particular philosophy with respect to spirituality and mysticism, was coined by Thomas Huxley; Wikipedia gives the date as 1869 while Wiktionary says 1870, but the point is that it's from the the latter half of the nineteenth century.

Wiktionary also gives as a meaning

(computing) A software component (or other entity) that is unaware or noncommittal regarding the specific nature of the components with which it interacts

about which this site already has a couple of questions (Odd use of agnostic, Another word for agnostic when used to suggest independence through a lack of concern).

However, neither this site nor Wiktionary, nor any other source I could find with a Google search, indicate when or by whom this usage was coined. The fact that this use has its origins in computing suggests a certain timeframe, to be sure, but I am curious about the specific origins.

  • According to Cortelazzo-Zolli on the Italian agnosticismo, the meaning "person who doesn't take position on a certain problem" dates back to Gramsci, 1916. A software component is agnostic in that it doesn't know how another software works and doesn't care, i.e. it doesn't tell you "address this problem in this specific way or I'll refuse to talk with your program". So I'm not sure when "agnostic" was first used to mean "interoperable" or similar, but screwdrivers standards were an issue before WWI so I'd look in the range 1910–1930.
    – Nemo
    Commented Nov 18, 2015 at 15:17

1 Answer 1



  • in an information technology (IT) context, refers to something that is generalized so that it is interoperable among various systems. The term can refer not only to software and hardware, but also to business processes or practices.

  • The word agnostic comes from the Greek a-, meaning without and gnōsis, meaning knowledge. *In IT, that translates to the ability of something to function without “knowing” the underlying details of a system that it is working within. As with interoperability, agnosticism is typically enabled by either compliance with widely-used standards or added elements (such as coding) that will enable one system to function in a variety of environments

Some examples of agnosticism in IT:

  • Platform-agnostic software runs on any combination of operating system and underlying processor architecture. Such applications are sometimes referred to as “cross-platform.”

  • Database-agnostic software functions with any vendor’s database management system (DBMS). Typical database-agnostic products include business analytics (BA) and enterprise resource planning (ERP) software.

Ngram shows that the two common expressions in IT agnosticism (shown above) were increasingly used since the 90s probably because of the applications that became popular at that time. From the same graph it appears that the terms were coined in the 70s. I could not find by whom, hope other users may have more on this issue.


  • 1
    Well, the Ngram is interesting and answers half the question, so thank you for that, but it confuses me that it's buried under definitions I (more-or-less) already linked to and the link given as "Source" is not actually the link that gives the information asked for in the question.
    – KRyan
    Commented Aug 8, 2014 at 19:46

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