Saturday, 5 June 2010

Top 10 innovations of the last 50 years

This is a list in rough order of what I consider the top innovations over the last few decades. It is hard to rate these, and people value various technologies differently. I am considering the potential number of people that could use the technology and the significance of its effect on our lifestyle.

It is difficult to identify specific items as many of the innovations are dependant on many smaller ones that compose the larger one. The transistor (1950s) is undoubtedly a major innovation, but predominantly in making other useful gadgets. Likewise light emitting diodes (LED) (1960s), and fibre optic cables (1920s–1960s). Some otherwise notable innovations such as incandescent light bulbs (1880s), aeroplanes (1910s), and satellites (1950s) are older than 50 years. High yield grain varieties (1950s onward), a culmination of several breeding improvements, would be in the top 3 of the last hundred years.

Top 10 innovations of the last 50 years
  1. Personal computer (1970s)
  2. Laser (1960s)
  3. Internet (1970s–1990)
  4. Retail electronic funds transfer (1980s)
  5. Cell phones (1980s)
  6. Optical memory storage (1980s)
  7. Polymerase chain reaction (1980s)
  8. DNA sequencing (late 1970s onwards)
  9. Global positioning system (1970s–1990s)
  10. Magnetic resonance imaging (1970s)
Other contenders include
  1. Flash memory storage (1980s)
  2. Digital cameras (1990s)
  3. Computer assisted tomography (CT scans) (1970s)
Most of these are electronic devices. This is not surprising given that we live in the electronic age. Or rather the information age; 9 of the 10 concern information access—laser excepted. Many major breakthroughs in physics and chemistry are decades, if not centuries old. And most of the major advances in medicine, while occurring in the 20th century, were more than 50 years ago.

What would you include or exclude in your list?

2 comments:

  1. I just discovered your blog, and I appreciate it. However, being a computer scientist myself, I feel the urge to note a minor error on your list. The laser IS closely related to information access, in that CD, DVD, and Blu-Ray all use lasers to read the disc. Just being way too picky. ;-)

    ReplyDelete
  2. That is true Jeremy, but the others are all intriniscally information storage/ access/ transfer.

    I isolated the laser because it is not that intrinsically, though it can be used for information access in the ways you mention, and fibre optic cable.

    ReplyDelete

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