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Top 30 Innovations of the last 30 years

In this fascinating article, a roundup of the most important innovations of the last 30 years is presented.  I was struck by the article’s opening premise – that if one were sitting around in 1979 and thinking about what innovations would change our lives, we would not have been able to anticipate many that were on the list (compiled by the Wharton School in conjunction with National Public Radio).  It is truly remarkable how many of the innovations that we take completely for granted today simply didn’t exist – and it’s hard to imagine a world without them.  Here’s their list:

1.Internet, broadband, WWW (browser and html)
2.PC/laptop computers
3.Mobile phones
5.DNA testing and sequencing/Human genome mapping
6.Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI)
8.Fiber optics
9.Office software (spreadsheets, word processors)
10.Non-invasive laser/robotic surgery (laparoscopy)
11.Open source software and services (e.g., Linux, Wikipedia)
12.Light emitting diodes
13.Liquid crystal display (LCD)
14.GPS systems
15.Online shopping/ecommerce/auctions (e.g., eBay)
16.Media file compression (jpeg, mpeg, mp3)
18.Photovoltaic Solar Energy
19.Large scale wind turbines
20.Social networking via the Internet
21.Graphic user interface (GUI)
22.Digital photography/videography
23.RFID and applications (e.g., EZ Pass)
24.Genetically modified plants
25.Bio fuels
26.Bar codes and scanners
29.SRAM flash memory
30.Anti retroviral treatment for AIDS

A few things strike me about the list.  Firstly, that companies at the leading edge of some of these innovations became huge drivers of growth and economic development (think Intel or Microsoft or Google), while companies that are displaced in value by these innovations disappeared (think IBM Selectric Typewriters or Polaroid).  Not that that is such an unusual observation – what is harder to grasp is just how unpredictable these innovations are.  Even Intel didn’t grasp the significance of its microprocessor innovation and had to repurchase the license for it from the company it invented it for.

A second and perhaps more interesting observation is that huge swaths of people do not live in the same technological world that those benefitting from these innovations do.  Take the many elderly people who can’t relate to a mobile phone, let alone a personal computer.  It’s as if they have been cut off from the evolutionary flow of things.  Or consider people without a lot of resources—when you are worrying about getting food on the table, messing about with Twitter is probably not a priority.  Should this concern us? 


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