Top 10 Greatest Technologies of the last 40 years

Today, for no apparent reason whatsoever, I’m going to list what I consider the top technologies of the last 40 years. Just out of the blue. No reason. Last 40 years. What were the top technologies to be developed or exploited? Let’s begin… in no particular order:

The Microwave Oven. Just sneaking in at 40 years ago, the first commercially available microwave oven went on sale. By the 1970’s, their price had dropped where everyday homeowners could afford them. Arthur C. Clarke, stated that “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” The microwave oven is just such a technology. Place a glass of water in a box and in a few scant minutes, it is boiling. Magic. This technology has freed, yes primarily woman, us from the drudgery of cooking. Quick prepared meals are possible in minutes. Yes, this had also a detrimental effect on the nutrition of the world. Magic nonetheless.

Opportunity and Spirit. As in the NASA spacecraft, not as in “the American dream”. I was originally going to choose the NASA space shuttle but I had second thoughts. Yes, the space shuttle is the most complex machine developed to date and extremely impressive. But the Mars rovers, is not only a success beyond their designers wildest dreams, but also shows our path to the future. The current U.S. Administration, and other leaders from other nations (China) think that sending humans to where there is no air and water, and no facilities to provide such basic (BASIC!) necessities is a really cool idea. Hogwash! Have they gone insane?!? Robots are the future. They can go where we can’t. Bottom line. Opportunity and Spirit (and other unmanned craft) is a big neon sign pointing the way to the future.

Light Emitting Diode. Yes, it was created in 1962, but it is in recent developments that forced me to choose this technology. LEDs illuminate everything from alarm clocks to scrolling billboards at Walgreens. Okay, perhaps that’s not a good example. With the development of different colored LEDs (white, blue, green, etc.) we can finally put the incandescent bulb behind us. The future isn’t Compact Florescent Bulbs (which are cool too!) but in LED lighting. Talk about the potential to give us greater energy independence! We can save billions in energy expenditures. This technology is here today (traffic lights, car tail lights) and the potential is huge with home lighting. Gimme! Gimme!

The Internet. This one is obvious. Yes, the Internet was born in the 1950s and 1960s, but it grew up, bought a car, and got a job, and moved out on its own, in 1990 when the NSF opened the door to the world. The world has never been the same, and that’s a good thing. I think. The Internet is just like a road (not a series of tubes) in that you can stand in front of the Louvre Meuseum or you can stand in front of a porn shop. It is up to you where you choose to stand. Bad analogies done. The Internet leads to freedom though. The Internet provides for free flowing information. As I write this Hugo Chavez has taken over Venezuelan television stations to control the flow of information and bend it more to his liking. It will be harder to stop the Internet however. Same for China. Same for Iran. Here’s hoping that the Internet is the greatest peace making tool of all time. Yes, there is hate on the Internet as well, but (to paraphrase Frank Zappa) words are just words! I listen to words and then decide how much weight to give them. The Internet carries photos, video, and words. I hope this brings us, and the people of the world, greater freedoms.

The Browser. Short one here. The Internet wouldn’t be the Internet without a way to display those video, pictures, and words. Enough said.

The Hard Drive. As I write this, I can purchase an external USB hard drive with 2TB of space for $715. Holy mackerel! That’s crazy space. And the other thing is that I can fill it up! If I just start recording every episode of every Star Trek franchise, that’d go quick. And that’s with the pitiful standard resolution we get broadcast in the U.S.!

GPS. I am constantly getting lost. People don’t know this, but Georgia is really made up of just one road. “One road to rule them all, one road to find them, one road to bring them all, and in the darkness bind them.” (Sorry Tolkien!) This one road just winds back onto itself and changes names every two miles. Seriously, most Georgia roads started out as cattle paths. Sad. Most roads are not marked with signs or the signs are only 2” high so you can’t read them. Yes, mapping software, and mapping web sites are cool, but GPS devices take it that last mile. HA!!! Cheaper and cheaper too. You can get GPS systems for under $200 now. I’ve used a GPS system but I don’t own one … yet. Think of what this has meant for UPS, Fedex, and the rental car companies! Safer, cheaper, and on time. I can’t wait to hear those golden words coming from my co-pilot GPS system of “Approaching left hand turn”. I love her and I haven’t even met her.

FOSS. Free Open Source Software is changing things. Some software is becoming a commodity from the influences of FOSS. Choice. Openness. Freedom. Not all software should be FOSS, but we’re seeing the influence of FOSS in all corners of the technological world. Heck, people are even hacking their cars, and rightly so.

Fuel Injection. Speaking of cars, I lived in Wisconsin in the days where if your car broke down, you could die. Starting your car was an adventure, and not a good one. It is a marvelous thing to turn the key, hear the engine start, and have the computer adjust things to that you can start driving immediately. I currently own a motorcycle (2004 Suzuki Volusia 800) and the only thing that I don’t like about it is that it has a carborator and it isn’t fuel injected. Again, magic. So much so that we don’t even think of it.

Cell Phones. For better or worse, they’re changing how we live. Again, when I was young, if you got stuck in the middle of winter in Wisconsin, in the middle of nowhere, you could die. A cell phone negates all that. The ability to communicate. It’s a good thing. Now put hang up, put down the cell phone and drive! You don’t need to communicate that much!

Other rejected technologies or “Close but no cigar”:

  1. Wireless networks.
  2. Hardiplank (cement) siding
  3. Common lasers
  4. LCD Monitors
  5. Air bags
  6. Video Games

Where did I go wrong? What did I miss? Something obvious, I’m sure. Drop me a line and let me know. Here’s to the next 40 years!

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