What is technology? When man applies his know-how to everyday practical uses, tangible – like tools, machines and automobiles – or intangible – like software, the internet – technology is born.
Historically, technology has been the catalyst for human progress. Stone tools, the control of fire, the wheel, the printing press, and the telephone, were all technologies that changed the way humans lived. Industrial revolutions propelled us from an agrarian society through railroads, telegraph networks, electricity, transistors, integrated circuit chips, and cellular phones to IoT, AI, automation and autonomous production. The 4th Industrial Revolution is underway, a game-changer in many ways. At this juncture, let us applaud a bunch of five greatest technologies of all time, technologies that accelerated human development and were tipping points in evolution.
A technology that transcends time, the steam engine sparked the industrial revolution and changed the way we move, work, and think.
Invented in the 18th century, it powered pumps, textile machinery, factories, boats, and ships. Railway locomotives, and farm and road vehicles operated on it. It redefined transportation. Steam turbines were used to generate electricity – and still do! Our planet owes most of its power to this incredibly simple and robust technology.
Chugging away on heritage lines, steam locomotives continue to enthrall tourists. Among the world’s most iconic, is The Flying Scotsman. First to cross 100 mph, and the first to circumnavigate the globe, it has been in service since 1928. Centuries after it was invented, excited kids still look at a steam train and think – ‘When I grow up, I will be a steam engine driver!’
As the engine driver would say – Full Steam Ahead!
Long-distance radio communication started in the mid-1890s and changed the way we communicated. Radio waves are electromagnetic waves – some with wavelengths larger than our planet – generated by transmitters and received by radio receivers.
Radio is deeply woven into our daily lives. It is real-time news and entertainment. Radio and television broadcasting and GPS navigation systems operate on radio waves. Remote control and remote sensing devices like drones, garage door openers, and keyless entry are radio control systems. RADAR – short for Radio Detection And Ranging – is radiolocation that tracks and guides ships, aircraft, spacecraft, and motor vehicles. It is also used for surveillance of weather and terrain. Radio telescopes are our ears to the extraterrestrial! They listen, detect, observe, and record radio waves from outer space. Planets, stars, distant galaxies, black holes, or UFOs – we can see the unseeable, thanks to Radio!
High-frequency radio waves, terrestrial and satellite microwaves are an inextricable part of our lives.
We know them as invisible rays that cause water and fat molecules to vibrate, making matter hot, hence cooking our food. The internet you are using to read this article depends on satellites running on microwave transmission. The mobile phone in your hand transmits and receives microwave radiation. Spacecraft communicate via microwave radio.
Wi-Fi, RADAR, GPS, and medical and military equipment depend on it. It is key to cancer treatment, vision correction, and vein therapy. Essential to most industrial and commercial applications, microwaves are inseparable from Homo Sapiens!
DNA or Deoxyribonucleic Acid is the hereditary information molecule that stores instructions inside each cell via smaller segments i.e. our genes. Our DNA defines our fundamental character, growth, and reproduction.
DNA Sequencing understands the exact sequence of the building blocks that make up DNA. Driving a radical movement towards precision medicine, it helps prescribe therapies for patients with HIV, cancer, heart ailments, Alzheimer’s, and rare genetic disorders. It helps study the demographic history of populations and migration patterns. It is pivotal in detecting pathogens that pollute air, water, soil, and food.
Applied in forensic biology, virology, biotechnology, early medical diagnosis, microbiology, DNA Sequencing is shaping medicine, pharmacology, and healthcare. It is integral to our existence, and could be considered one of the five greatest technologies of all time.
A network that connects computers across the world, the internet carries data. It uses standardized internet protocols like TCP/IP and HTTP. People share information and communicate via the internet. The worldwide web, telephony, electronic mail, and file sharing are services we access through the internet. E-commerce, e-learning, music, video, messaging, and social platforms run on it.
As of January 2023, 5.16 billion people or a whopping 64% of the global population used the internet. Central to our lives, it drives communication, business enterprise, and human collaboration.
The famous science fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke once said -“Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”
Technologists and magicians, we await your next conjuring trick!
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