Our lives today are very different from those of our ancestors who lived even a few generations ago. Humanity continues to make great strides in terms of health, living conditions, job opportunities, and equality across the world, with more than a million people lifted out of poverty in just the last 25 years.
Every generation stands on the shoulders of those that came before and the technologies they invented, but for the modern world the most important technologies we use today were arguably all created within the last 150 years. Here are four of the most influential.
Internal combustion engine
Electric vehicles are the future, with brands like Tesla already billion dollar companies, but the engine that drives today’s economy is the internal combustion engine. From cars and lorries, to trains, ships, and aeroplanes the combustion engine is what makes modern international, national, and local trade possible.
Back in 1872, when American George Brayton invented the first commercial liquid-fuelled internal combustion engine, few could have imagined how revolutionary the technology would be. By 1892 this invention had evolved into Rudolf Diesel’s compressed charge, compression ignition engine, a type still found in modern cars, and by 1926 Robert Goddard had launched the first liquid-fueled rocket. The internal combustion engine was behind it all.
Liquid crystal displays
Many of us remember the days of cathode-ray television sets that were a foot thick and stood out in every room, but over the last few decades this older technology has been replaced by something known as a liquid crystal display or LCD.
LCD technology is what has enabled us to have 50″ flat-screen TVs as well as the laptops and smartphones that that keep us entertained 24/7 via social media and the hundreds of different slot games from Copped The Lot to Diamond Stars. If a device has a display, whether that is a billboard, ATM, or microwave, then the chances are that the display is some version of an LCD.
More recently, OLED (organic light-emitting diode) displays are starting to replace LCDs in high-end smartphones, but the technology remains significantly more expensive than the well trusted LCD. However, as OLED displays can be controlled on a pixel-by-pixel basis and the displays can be thinner than LCDs, it is likely that over the next decade OLEDs may start to become the new standard.
Antibiotics and Vaccines
Over the years, doctors have used all kinds of weird, whacky, and even downright wicked treatments to try and cure their patients’ ailments. This has included things like drilling holes in a person’s head, using leeches to drain blood, and potent-smelling concoctions to ward off infections.
However, the development of medical science and the discovery of vaccines and antibiotics have arguably had the largest impact on people’s lives of any technologies in history. Together, these two medical advancements have driven up life expectancy around the world, significantly reduced infant mortality, and made it less likely that we might die from something as simple as a shaving cut.
In the last year we have seen the impact of medical advancements in the realm of vaccines, with MRNA vaccines finally becoming a real-world technology and one that has already saved millions of lives.
The internet has made the world a much smaller place. It’s easier than ever to communicate and trade with people from different countries and continents, created entirely new industries, helped lift millions out of poverty, and significantly reduced the barriers to starting new businesses.
Almost everything we do today requires a connection to the internet. More people than ever watch TV through online streaming services instead of a traditional cable, satellite, or aerial service. Similarly, most modern phone systems use the internet, navigating with an app like Google Maps usually involves the internet, as does gaming, or listening to music. We also shop online, book our holidays online, and search for new homes online.
But it’s not just these obvious uses either. The internet is utilised by many things running behind the scenes, such as your traffic lights, power grid, street lights, or even the train networks. There would be no modern digital world without the web.