Thursday, October 04, 2007

Just 50 years...

It was 50 years ago today that Sputnik was placed into orbit.  Only 50 years ago were the bits put into place that make much of what we take for granted possible.  10 years after Sputnik - there were enough satellites out there to allow for the first worldwide satellite TV program (the Beatles performing "All You Need is Love" on June 25th, 1967).

I've relied on satellite technology for my internet connection.  I listen pretty much exclusively to music broadcast over satellite - be it at home or in the car.  Our telecommunications, weather forecasting, so many things rely on that.

And 50 years plus a day ago, none of it existed.  It still boggles my mind how fast technology is advancing.  I think my car has more computing horsepower today than existed in total back when that satellite was launched.  My phone (treo 700p) is more powerful than my first computer was (a tandy 1000ex) - and it provides me with an EVDO broadband connection pretty much anywhere in North America.

And just a short 105 years ago - a technology that perhaps changed more things day to day than anything else - the air conditioner.  So - question to you all - what do you think is the most revolutionary invention in the last hundred or so years (and why).  I vote for the air conditioner - at least in the US, without it - summer would be very different.



Blogger Giovanni said....

I vote for cell phones.
My job would be totally different without my cell.

Thu Oct 04, 09:50:00 AM EDT  

Blogger DomBrooks said....

Without the air conditioner, the world might not have needed quite as many air conditioners as it does today ... if you see what I mean.

Thu Oct 04, 10:07:00 AM EDT  

Anonymous Anonymous said....

If we could stretch things a little bit to include the 1870's, I'd suggest the incandescent light bulb, as perfected by Thomas Edison. That is what made our modern, frenetic, 24x7 lifestyle possible, for better or for worse. That was probably the "killer app" driving the extension of the electric power grid into the countryside.

Imagine: before light bulbs and electricity, we needed candles, torches, oil lamps and kerosene lanterns, with all the fire hazards those caused. People went to bed early on those long, winter nights.

And now? How many of us average even six hours of sleep a night? Especially if we have a mission-critical database or two to manage ....

Bob Shepard

Thu Oct 04, 10:39:00 AM EDT  

Anonymous John Scott said....

I guess if I take the question as "Which invention would have the greatest effect on your life now, had it *never* been invented", then it would probably be the transistor.

There is so much that I take for-granted (or at least if I don't take it for-granted I certainly don't sit open-jawed wondering how it works) that relies on that invention of the transistor and the possibilities that it brought.


Thu Oct 04, 10:54:00 AM EDT  

Blogger Jim said....

the convergence of cell phones, pdas, tv, and other media onto one device by high speed netweorks. You won't wait until Thursday night at 9:00 PM EST to watch your prime time show. You will watch it when you want on your pda, or home media/computing center.

Thu Oct 04, 12:09:00 PM EDT  

Anonymous Arian said....

I'd go for the radio.
It was the first widely available broadcasting system. And it is still going strong in almost original form.
It also paved the way for television and later wireless networking.


Thu Oct 04, 12:29:00 PM EDT  

Blogger Bryan said....

Definitely the radio. It made many of the later things that have become necessities of life possible.


Thu Oct 04, 01:31:00 PM EDT  

Anonymous Anonymous said....

Hmm as the light bulb was already mentioned, personally I'm not sure if I should vote for the nuclear bomb or the internet.
But as the ancestor of the today internet was developed because of the nuclear threat, I tend to vote for the nuclear bomb (no one said it has to be a "good" invention) as one of the most important inventions of the last 100 years.

Thu Oct 04, 02:34:00 PM EDT  

Blogger Jayasankar Peethambaran said....

As suggested above and stretching things a bit further back. Something which changed all aspects of life would be electricity and it's first killer app, the bulb.

This book is on the accelaration of 'everything.' Looks interesting.

Thu Oct 04, 03:46:00 PM EDT  

Anonymous Stew said....

Penicillin, or more generally medical progress in the 20th century. Who among us would give that up for cell phones or cool air?

Thu Oct 04, 04:36:00 PM EDT  

Blogger Joe said....

It's not the invention, but the widespread adoption of the invention that has an impact on our lives. Sometimes this takes place quite a few years after the item is invented.

Inline rollerskates were invented in the fifties, to cite a trivial example.

In recent order, I'd say that the commercialization of electricity (which was driven by the lightbulb but required for things like refrigeration, laundry, entertainment, etc.) has had a huge impact on how people spend their spare time.

Advances in medicine (antibiotics were huge, and spawned the modern pharmaceutical industry) have had a large impact on how long we live to spend their spare time.

Advances in communications (telephone to raido to television to cellphones and the internet) have had a huge impact on our relationships with others, to say nothing of our written literacy. :)

Advances in transportation (cars & trains to airlines) have changed our recreational habits. Without them, Disney World would not be feasible. Whether that is a good thing is left as an exercise for the reader.

We can't leave out the advances in warfare (not just nuclear weapons, but ubiquitous fully automatic weapons and anti-vehicle weapons) have changed the face of warfare and global politics.

I was born 50 years ago, and it's been a helluva ride so far. I work at a job, and in an industry, that did not exist when I was born. That's probably going to keep happening for the forseeable future. Hang on tight!

Thu Oct 04, 05:32:00 PM EDT  

Blogger Noons said....

direct impact in my life, it'd have to be the transistor - and the very long string of other inventions made possible by its presence.

indirect? that would have to be the 70s and 80s "containerisation" of good's transport. That made possible globalisation and the efficient and timely movement of goods around the world: something without which we simply would not have the cheap consumer items that are integral part of our daily lifes.

Thu Oct 04, 08:56:00 PM EDT  

Blogger Kevin said....

This invention is not the most amazing technological device ever created, but it did accomplish three things: first, it broke down the last great barrier in human thought, by doing something the 'conventional wisdom' said humans could never do. Second, it forced the development of a bunch of refinements to technologies that people were tinkering with, to make them smaller and more rugged. Finally, it provided the critical technological difference to change the way war was waged in the 20th century.
That invention is the airplane.

Thu Oct 04, 10:42:00 PM EDT  

Blogger Ankur said....

For me an all time favourite technology or invention that changed the world was "electricity" (I would take liberty to go a little beyond 100 years though :)).

I think without it nothing could be possible be it radio or cell phones or computer or airplanes.

Fri Oct 05, 01:19:00 AM EDT  

Blogger Gary Myers said....

I think John Scott and Nuno have it right with the transistor. The effect has been rapid enough to be revolutionary.
But expand Tom's air-conditioning to fridges and freezers and you've got a major impact on the way we transport and purchase food. Large, infrequent shopping trips, larger shops....

Fri Oct 05, 02:21:00 AM EDT  

Anonymous Anonymous said....

To me, it is Oracle :-) on a 40-hour basis

I can live without air-conditioner, radio, electricity, light bulg, airlines,, but cannot think of a life without oracle, Without which, I couldn't even think of paying my bills.

Fri Oct 05, 03:10:00 AM EDT  

Anonymous Anonymous said....

How about indoor plumbing?

I don't think many of people in de western world will want dto do without.

Fri Oct 05, 05:47:00 AM EDT  

Anonymous Sven said....

I would vote for inventor of modern alternating current electric power (AC)

Fri Oct 05, 07:09:00 AM EDT  

Anonymous Anonymous said....

Ethernet. The faster human beings can communicate with each other, the quicker progress happens.

Fri Oct 05, 09:06:00 AM EDT  

Anonymous Anonymous said....


Fri Oct 05, 02:36:00 PM EDT  

Blogger David Kurtz said....

A little while ago the BBC conducted a poll of the most significant technological innovations since 1800 (
The bicycle came top with 59% of the vote. Not simply because it was a significant technological development, but because it has had an immense effect on society throughout the world (see

Sun Oct 07, 04:24:00 PM EDT  

Anonymous Anonymous said....

I vote either the automobile or the personal computer.

Mon Oct 08, 09:53:00 AM EDT  

Anonymous Anonymous said....

Its similar to the air-conditioner, but I think its important enough to get it's own mention: the refrigerator.

Mon Oct 08, 01:05:00 PM EDT  

Anonymous Anonymous said....

If we stretch to a little over a 100 Years,I would vote for Electricity as heads and shoulders above all the Inventions and then the Telephone .

Tue Oct 09, 08:11:00 AM EDT  

Blogger Donat said....

I guess no woman has added anything to this list yet. My wife would be shouting in my ears: "Birth control pills". It is the invention that changed society the most this last century. You may compare this to any other technology, there is really a profound difference in the way men and women live together since it came to be. The feminine revolution was not possible without women being able to decide on when to give birth...

Anyway, ask any women the same question and then suggest this answer if she hadn't. She will most probably change her mind instantly.

It may seem to be the same as the condom entry just above but the condom was created much much much earlier... (see

Donat Callens from Brussels

Thu Oct 11, 04:16:00 AM EDT  

Blogger Steven said....

Clean water. A life without diarrhea.

Fri Oct 12, 02:57:00 PM EDT  

Anonymous Gabe said....

Not an invention per se, but representative of the overall field, and hugely important by implication … the human genome project.

Tue Oct 16, 09:10:00 PM EDT  

Anonymous Colin Whit said....

Water is clean in its natural form so I would go for Sanitation - The science of knowing what to do with clean water.

Thu Oct 18, 11:01:00 AM EDT  

Anonymous Anonymous said....

The magnets. they are the basis for all electronics, cars, motors, radios, etc..... and even electricity.

Thu Oct 25, 05:51:00 PM EDT  

Anonymous Anonymous said....

It is the scientific method.
Without it we would still be witch-burning. With it, all these wonders are inevitable.

Thu Nov 08, 07:17:00 PM EST  


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