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10 Life-Changing Technologies

By maxwell edison ·
Paul Boutin is a technology writer for Wired magazine and Slate. He has worked as a software engineer and manager at MIT and in Silicon Valley. He wrote the following article, which I found on MSN.COM (to see if it was really down). I hope he (or MSN) has no problem with my cutting and pasting the article. I though many of you would find it quite interesting.

10 Life-Changing Technologies
Where would we be without organ transplants,
space flight, cell phones and PCs?
By Paul Boutin
Special to MSN

So many new technologies have appeared in the past half century that it?s impossible to list them all. But these 10 high-tech breakthroughs stand out over the last 50 years because they?ve revolutionized the way Americans live. We look back at their beginnings, as well as where they?ve taken us today.

10. Organ transplants. In 1954, Dr Joseph Murray removed the kidney from one human patient and implanted it in another. The recipient accepted the kidney as its own rather than rejecting it as a foreign body. It was more than skillful surgery: Murray had chosen a pair of identical twins, Ronald Herrick and his terminally ill brother Richard, in hopes their similar genetic makeup would reduce the likelihood of Richard?s body rejecting Ronald?s liver. Soon afterward, though, other researchers developed drugs that could squelch a transplant recipient?s immune system long enough for the new organ to become incorporated into its new body. Today, some 25,000 Americans a year receive a new heart, kidney, liver, lung, pancreas or intestine ? and a new lease on life.

9. Robots and artificial intelligence. The term "robot" was coined by Czechoslovakian playwright Karel Capek in 1920 ? "robota" being a Czech word for tedious labor ? but the first real industrial robot was built in 1954 by George Devol. Five years later, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology founded its Artificial Intelligence Laboratory in a quest to mechanically mimic human minds as well as hands. Today, robots assemble products better, faster and often cheaper than manual laborers, while more than 8 million U.S. airline flights a year are scheduled, guided and flown with the superhuman assistance of advanced software. Still, some Americans eye such systems with the cynical view of novelist Kurt Vonnegut, whose 1952 story "Player Piano" warned that the machines might leave people without a purpose ? or a job.

8. Electronic funds transfer. The Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco set up a paperless transfer system with the Los Angeles branch in 1972. By the end of the decade, instantaneous transfers of millions of dollars in value between banks, insurance companies and other financial institutions had become common. The real appeal of EFT today is its trickle down to the individual: You get grab cash from your bank account anywhere in the world, and use PayPal to buy and sell stuff on eBay without sending money or checks through the mail.

7. Nuclear power. When the Queen herself threw the switch on the world?s first atomic power plant at Calder Hall outside London in 1956, nuclear reactors were seen as a source of cheap, pollution-free energy. But a partial meltdown in 1979 at the Three Mile Island reactor in Pennsylvania soured Americans on nukes as safe power. Nonetheless, the United States today has about 100 active plants that generate 20 percent of the country?s electricity ? second only to coal as a source of power ? and have been steadily increasing their capacity. Will the next 50 years bring a better alternative?

6. Mobile phones. The idea for cellular phone service dates back at least to 1947, but the first call was made from the sidewalk outside the Manhattan Hilton in 1973 by Martin Cooper, a Motorola researcher who rang up his rival at AT&T Bell Labs to test the new phone. Thirty years later, more than half of all Americans own one and cellular networks are beginning to serve Internet access at broadband speeds through thin air.

5. Space flight. Americans from 50 years ago would be disappointed to learn we never went further than the Moon ? no Mars colony, no 2001 odyssey to Jupiter, no speed-of-light spaceships. Even the Shuttle is in trouble. But the space race against the Russians that dominated the national psyche (and a good chunk of the budget) in the ?60s and ?70s pushed the development of hundreds of enabling technologies, including synthetic fibers and integrated computer circuits, necessary to fly men to the Moon and back. And the astronauts brought back a lesson from space: "We saw the earth the size of a quarter, and we realized then that there is only one earth. We are all brothers."

4. Personal computers. Before IBM recast the desktop computer from hobbyist?s gadget to office automation tool in 1983 ? followed by Apple?s people-friendly Macintosh a year later ? a "minicomputer" was the size of a washing machine and required a special air-conditioned room. But the trained technicians who operated the old mainframes already knew computers were cool: They could use them to play games, keep diaries, and trade messages with friends across the country, while still looking busy. Today, thanks to the PC, we all look busy.

3. Digital media. "The camera doesn?t lie" went a saying not heard much since the release of Photoshop 1.0 in 1990. Digitized audio, pictures, movies, and text let even an amateur edit reality ? or conjure it from scratch ? with a keyboard and a mouse. A singer?s bad notes, a model?s blemishes, or an overcast sky in a movie scene can be fixed as easily as a spelling error. Just as important, digital media can be copied over and over nearly for free, stored permanently without fading, and sent around the world in seconds. It rightly worries the movie and music industries, but how do you put the genie back in the bottle if there?s no bottle anymore?

2. Genetic engineering. Everyone knows Watson and Crick, who unraveled the secret of DNA in 1953. But have you heard of Boyer and Cohen, who constructed the first organism with combined DNA from different species in 1973? They inserted toad genes into a bacterium that then replicated itself over and over, passing the toad?s genetic code down through generations of bacteria. Thirty years later, an estimated 70 percent of processed foods contain genetically modified ingredients, such as soybeans or corn engineered for higher crop yields. Of course, the much bigger potential ? good and bad ? is in engineering humans. It might prevent birth defects, and diseases later in life. But the side effects could be disastrous and unknown. Is there an ethical way to beta-test human beings?

1. The Internet. This one seems like a no-brainer, but the Net?s unique strength is that no two people will agree on why it?s so important. The world?s largest and most unruly library, it?s also a global news channel, social club, research archive, shopping service, town hall, and multimedia kiosk. Add to that the most affordable mass medium ever, and a curse to anyone with a secret to keep. Three-fifths of Americans now use the Net, but it remains to be seen whether the connections to one another will transform us, or prove that we?ll never change.


Thank you, Paul. That was a great article.

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Question is - what are the next ten

by JimHM In reply to 10 Life-Changing Technolo ...

I say thats great but what are the next ten greatest things -

My List:

10) Highspeed broad-band interface between human brain and machines, for learning and controling.
9) Perfection of wearable computer devices
robots that have human personalities
7) Hyperspeed space planes - for safe reliable reuse to and from the moon.
6) Ability to live at a Lunar base for deep solar system exploration
5) Hydrogent power vehicles
4) Hydrogent power generators for home power
3) Biometric security will be the saving technology to the terrorist problem.
2) Instance access to communication anywhere in the world.
1) Health nanobots - nano machines that can be injected into the body to fight diseases and cure cancers.

Or maybe even 5 - what do others think will be the biggens in the next 50 years.

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Hi-fi music

by DC_GUY In reply to 10 Life-Changing Technolo ...

I wouldn't put space flight on the list because, as you say, it ain't really happening. The spinoffs from the space industry were really spinoffs from the Cold Warriors' dreams (and our nightmares) of being able to shoot at each other from space.

From the standpoint of the average citizen, especially in one of the less developed nations, the PC and the internet are one technology.

Since your cutoff is 1954, I would substitute high-fidelity music reproduction for either of those. It revolutionized the entertainment industry and made music something we can have with us anywhere we go. Being a person who loves music more than almost anything else, and being old enough to remember tinny AM radios, scratchy 78 and 45 rpm records that weren't even made of vinyl, and bands who were limited to making music that could be be listened to -- more or less -- on those media, I'd put this at the top of my list.

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I'd argue some of those

by JamesRL In reply to 10 Life-Changing Technolo ...

Telephones - never mind cell phones - it didnt have the same impact that telephones did a hundred and 30 some years ago. Telephones brought people together - You could connect to someone thousands of miles away in a way that letters couldnt achieve.

The combustion engine - where would cars, trucks, planes, etc be without it.

Antibiotics. Few people actually get transplants but Billions of people benefit from antibiotics - and in many cases it saves their life.

Insulin. Diabetes used to be a death sentance. Now its not.

I think the writer, having the perspective of a writer for high tech magazine in this day and age, doesn't consider as highly the more basic technology that touches more people.


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Ten most impacting technologies

by GuruOfDos In reply to I'd argue some of those

1. Electricity...that's only just over 100 years old as far as availability to the masses.

2. Discovery of bacteria and the realisation that bacteria cause illness and infection. Thanks to a Frenchman (Louis Pasteur) and a Brit (Flemming) for that! That is the biggest impact of technology on medicine and healthcare.

3. Polymerisation. Constructing chains of molecules to create new materials. Nylon and Kevlar have both revolutionised society and technology.

4. Flight - powered and unpowered. Contrary to popular belief, the Wright Brothers weren't the first to make a powered was a Brit and a Frenchman in Australia some six years earlier!

5. Uncontrolled nuclear fission, never mind nuclear power. Nuclear weapons have changed the face of the world forever. At least 14 countries now have them, including three of the world's most unstable nations. The US still has a large enough nuclear arsenal to destroy the planet 15 times over. Britain has enough to mess up anyones day. But even one nuke let off anywhere is enough to scare the crap out of anyone. Yes, the Cold War is (officially) over, but nukies STILL exist and can still be used at a moment's notice.

6. Television and Radio. And, the internet is just a logical extension of this. Communication for the masses.

7. The Integrated Circuit. Of course, the original prototypes (created by Bell Labs) were designed for analogue rather than digital electronics and, if my memory serves me correctly, the first circuits were oscillators and amplifiers...obviously Bell were into comms, not computers. MSI and LSI were an extension to and development of IC design, but not until William Schottkey had perfected the double-base bipolar transistor which formed the basis of the first 'single chip' logic gates. Did you realise, that any and every function of a modern digital computer can be reduced down to the simplest circuit which is the TTL NAND gate?!! OK, you need rather a lot of them, but the early digital computers were literally board after board of circuitry with registers, latches and adders all made from discreet DTL or RTL NAND gates!!

8. Radar. It won the Second World War!!

9. The steam engine (or external combustion engine, if you prefer!)...without it there would have been no industrial revolution. Newcomen, Brunel and various other European engineers developed several different engine designs, but the basic principle was perfected and refined by a James Watt.

10. Crop rotation. When it was realised that planting the same crops year after year in the same ground stripped the soil of vital nutrients and that planting different crops with different needs and 'rotating' crops could make production more reliable and reduce the need for constantly adding (expensive) fertiliser, farming and hence food production was revolutionised.

Science for the sake of science is all well and good. Technology is the appliance of science to make our lives easier or better. When people make their 'top ten' technology lists, they often think along the narrow lines of gadgets and gizmos and forget the most basic life sciences, but these have often made more positive contributions to the modern world than any electonic 'hardware'.

The mobile phone is a net 'loss' to the world. I think it has destroyed society. Yes, there are situations (life or death rescues, car breakdowns, critical illnesses etc.) where they have saved lives or made a positive impact and much kudos to the technology for that...but people can no longer be 'out of touch' and privacy intrusions are now the norm instead of the exception. Not only that but it now seems 'acceptable' for kids to spend all their time chatting on the phone or texting their friends...what has happened to 'normal social interaction'? I'm not a Luddite, but in my youth (early 80's!), even using a 'landline' to phone a friend was not an every day occurrence. I'd need to ask my parent's permission. Kids today have phones in their rooms and spend hours chatting to friends, perhaps only 50 yards down the street!! And then, you kick them off the phone because you NEED to make a call....and they swap to the mobile and continue talking or texting!!! get them off the phone, and it's straight into the Net chat rooms.....why don't kids actually get off their obese arses and actually GO OUT anymore....God Forbid!! That involves EXCERCISE....arrrghhhhhh!

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