When humans observe their current surroundings, it becomes overtly clear that our civilization has evolved to the highest degree. Where humans once held a stone tablet and a chisel, they now grasp a keyboard, instead of burning scrap piles of wood, they use microwave radiation for heat, and the automobile has substituted most, if not all, primitive forms of transportation. All of these life altering and advancing inventions mentioned only hint at the marvels of the modern world. These affluent creations that help construct a tranquil, comfortable and often longer life for human beings are habitually taken for granted. Rebecca Einarson, a woman who at the time of her interview was 102 years old and lived in 3 different centuries claims that “…technology is moving so fast it’s making my head spin1.” Amidst all of this chaos and “head spinning” the appreciation of technology becomes an arduous task.
Society today seems to view technology in an optimistic way and a pessimistic way, both at the same time. People quickly jump to negative conclusions about the harms of technology, instead of extolling its creation. Society tends to directly blame technology and not its users, hence its creators or founders. Even when technology is celebrated, it is the humans who created the specific technology that are celebrated. Therefore, this essay will attempt to celebrate technology itself and the impacts it has made on society. What better way to do this, than to ask: “What is the most important technology of the last century?” In order to answer this query one must look at the past, present, and future of a certain technology, its impacts and contributions to society along with its dominating presence in society.
Although the 20th century has been filled with an immense amount of technology, one particular development seems to be at the pinnacle of the technological world. A recent survey conducted by BBC, places one achievement far beyond all the rest. The survey states that 63% of the test population that was surveyed concur that the modern computer is the greatest invention of the last century2. The word computer means: A device that computes, especially a programmable electronic machine that performs high-speed mathematical or logical operations or that assembles, stores, correlates, or otherwise processes information.3 Given this definition, a calculator can be classified as a computer. That is why specific reference is made to the modern computer and herein all references made to the computer are assumed to mean the modern computer unless otherwise specified.
Now, to reinforce this conclusion, one must begin by exploring the creation of the computer. This journey into the past of computers is difficult, since the computer was not a technological invention as much as it was a technological emergence. The first computers began as simple ideas, “supposing there were a machine, so constructed as to think, feel and have perception4” Later on, these ideas transpired into bulky, room sized machines composed of large vacuum tubes. Following the discovery of transistors, silicon semi-conductors and a countless number of other discoveries, the computer eventually arose. The computer is a masterpiece comprised of several components in an awe inspiring formation. Given its incredible past it would seem that the computer has achieved all that is possible. On the contrary, with the current studies of quantum computing and artificial intelligence, it seems that the future of computers is almost limitless. These new quantum computing studies will make it possible for computers to function at speeds that were previously thought to be unattainable5. Plus, the research into artificial intelligence may bequeath computers with the power to mimic human thinking and accomplish the task of self-awareness6. On the negative side, all of this makes a Matrix like world seem not too fictitious. These ideas are so profound that they may one day redefine the meaning of life itself.
In addition, small glimpses into the world of computers, makes it quickly apparent that they have significantly influenced numerous societies. In its most predominant roles a computer is responsible for making a heart beat, cloning a human, adding numbers, guiding planes, predicting weather, performing surgeries, record keeping and a truly remarkable deal more7. In fact, there are so many instances where the computer is present either as a chief participant or an aid that naming them all would be an unmanageable task. Computers spread over a broad range of uses; from the tiniest task to the most complex calculations. Another astonishing fact about computers is their role in the advancement of other areas of science. Computers are used in electron microscope image enhancements to aid in almost all drug discovery procedures. This image enhancement enables doctors and scientists to view organisms that would have previously been impossible8. Computers allow engineers to work out numbers that would take humans several hours, days or in some cases even months of calculations, in just a few minutes. Most of all, the computer is widely employed for its ability to store vast amounts of data. It is one of the few technological advances that helps improve most other areas of the scientific and business world.
Computers can be found almost everywhere in the Western, European, Asian, and Australian parts of the world while rapidly spreading to more remote locations. Often, people do not realize how substantial a computers presence is in their everyday lives. Computers have intertwined so much with the everyday life of a citizen, that its existence becomes almost trivial. When people start their cars, they use a computer, when they use their cellular phones, they use a computer, when they activate a sensor to flush a toilet, they are using a computer. It is precisely this complete dependence and reliance on the abilities of a computer that make it an integral part of society.
Yet another detail that is quite often overlooked is the fact that the internet is comprised of a network of computers. People often declare the internet as one of the most important technological discovery of the last century2. However, this conjecture is somewhat flawed. In essence, the relationship between a computer and the internet is fundamentally the same as the relationship between the single wheel and four wheels coupled together with an axel and a rod. The internet is merely a network of several computers attached by cables. Ergo, the two technologies are not just similar but mutually in a symbiotic relationship. The computer (through the internet) is capable of so much more than anyone ever expected. Together, they allow humans to communicate in a manner never thought possible. It allows: relationships to form between two strangers, a single message to be sent out to the mass media, communication to exceed all previous boundaries, and a great deal more.
This addition of the two, unquestionably presents the computer as the most vital, influential and notable technological advancement of the last century. Although credit must be given to the individual parts that create the computer, it is the harmony and co-existence of these parts to form a whole that is truly phenomenal. Lest not forget the fact that some people consider the word computer to mean the same thing as the word technology10. Examining all of this evidence presented, it becomes overwhelmingly obvious that the computer, with all of its involvement and ability to improve the world makes it the single most important technological advancement of the last century.
3) The new shorter Oxford English Dictionary. 1993. New York: Oxford University Press.
4) Leibniz’s ‘New System’ and Associated Contemporary Texts (Hardcover). 1997. New York: Oxford University Press.
5) Quantum Computing May Seem Too Far Out, But Don’t Count on It. By: Gomes, Lee. Wall Street Journal – Eastern Edition, 4/25/2005, Vol. 245 Issue 80, pB1
5b) A simple algorithm for the group theoretical classification of quantum states II. The case of molecular electronic states. By: Yï¿½pez, E.; Soto, J.R.; Castro, J.J.; Calles, A.. Applied Mathematics & Computation, May2005, Vol. 164 Issue 3, p719
6) Artificial intelligence. By: Elliott, Monica. Industrial Engineer: IE, Jul2005, Vol. 37 Issue 7, p6
9) my.ryerson.ca -SOC880 Course webpage