What’s the best strategy for technological innovation? That depends. Because the story of modern technology is ever changing, and constantly unfolding… with twists, turns and unexpected clues that lead to new discoveries, new capabilities and new horizons.
In fact, it’s kind of like The NeverEnding Story… only without that big, flying, floppy-eared dog thing.
So how do we envision what’s next in tech? Well, to see where you’re going, sometimes the best strategy is to look back and see where you’ve been.
Here are eight decade-defining technological innovations that got us to where we are today, and will take us into tomorrow. It all starts in the 1940’s…
Vacuum tubes are used to create the first electronic circuitry
No, these vacuum tubes don’t clean stuff. They transmit electrical signals. And, if you put a few hundred of ‘em together, and turn them on and off in different sequences… you’ve got a crude computational processor. Call it a macroprocessor.
1941 – The German Z3 computer performs the world’s first programmable functions
1946 – The U.S. Government’s ENIAC does the same thing, but better and faster
Transistors bring electronic devices to the masses
Smaller and cheaper than vacuum tubes, transistors integrate computational power into smaller spaces, allowing for exponentially more complex operations. The result? Rock ‘n Roll… whenever and wherever your parents couldn’t hear it.
1954 – The Regency TR-1 is the world’s first practical transistor radio
1955 – The Mopar 914HR is the world’s first car-mounted transistor radio
LCD technology allows electronic devices to show you stuff
Just when you thought modern electronics were all about hokey doo-wop quartets and football-field-length printouts of binary code… there suddenly were things with actual digits on them… like clocks, calculators and watches.
1964 – George Heilmeier works on electrically manipulating liquid crystals at RCA
1968 – RCA announces it has perfected LCD tech for use in consumer products
Data processing goes “micro”
What began with vacuum tubes and transistors matured into modern microprocessor technology—silicon slivers with thousands of tiny integrated circuits, allowing for millions of simultaneous calculations per second. And Pac-Man.
1971 – The 4-bit Intel 4004 is the world’s first commercially viable microchip
1976 – Zilog introduces the Z80 8-bit chip, later used in Pac-Man… and missile targeting systems
Cellular technology lets us talk into bricks
What happens when you combine halfway decent processing power, mediocre display technology and 200-foot-tall radio antennas with triangles on top? You can talk into a brick… and reach anyone, anywhere, anytime.
1983 – AMPS (Advanced Mobile Phone System) becomes first cellular network—aka “1G”
1984 – Motorola introduces the $3,995 DynaTAC 8000X—aka “the brick”
Broadband data connectivity creates a unified digital reality
Even as early as the 1950s, phone and cable lines were already capable of carrying huge amounts of data. But what about huge amounts of data from millions of people, all at once? Managing that digital mess required the processing power of Asymmetric Digital Subscriber Line (ADSL)/cable modems.
1991 – Al Gore backs the “High Performance Computing Act,” commercializing the internet
1997 – More than 450,000 high-data-rate ADSL connections in service worldwide
“Code Division Multiple Access” brings that digital reality to our palms
Back in the ‘90s, someone figured how to use those big cell towers to simultaneously transmit multiple signals over one discrete channel—CDMA. Within a few years, CDMA exponentially expanded the bandwidth of cell networks… most of which is now used for selfies and cat pics.
2002 – CDMA2000 introduces high data transfer rates to cell networks—“3G” is born
2007 – iPhone is released—billions of selfies shared
2010s and beyond
Millimeter wave (MMW) wireless technology will supercharge the mobile internet
Shorter waves transmit more data, faster. But they can’t really go through stuff. Like trees. And giant balls of twine. Luckily, there’s a cell tower in pretty much everyone’s backyard now, so it’s less of an issue. So get ready… for more internet, more places, in more ways, all the freakin’ time.
2010 – Samsung researchers file a patent for a millimeter wave broadband communication system
2013 – Samsung announces the world’s first MMW “5G” transceiver array
As a member of Seed’s copywriting team, Matt Donahue marries his love for creative writing with a keen interest in product innovation, technology and science. He’s a graduate of Seton Hill University’s “Popular Fiction” master’s program and writes whenever he can.