14 Examples of Technology Change
John Spacey, April 29, 2016 updated on July 03, 2021
Technology change is a functional improvement in technology that is widely adopted. Generally speaking, very large improvements in technology are quickly and broadly adopted such that dramatic change can occur very quickly. The following are illustrative examples of technology change.
GunpowderGunpowder was invented in China in the 9th century but was originally used as a medical ingredient. This was soon used for fire arrows and later for fire lances that could fire projectiles. These innovations drew wide interest and spread to the Middle East and Europe by the 13th and 14th centuries respectively. This completely changed military strategy and shifted power in the direction of nations with guns and cannons. It is certainly no coincidence that the age of European imperialism aligns closely to the mastery of gunpowder in the region. For example, the Spanish Empire began in 1402 with the conquest of the Canary Islands.
Steam EngineThe first industrial revolution was sparked by a handful of technology innovations particularly the steam engine, mechanized cotton gin, machine tools and large blast furnaces for iron making. This created leaps forward in economic development that eventually translated to massive improvements in quality of life in industrialized countries.
Internal Combustion EngineThe internal combustion engine was invented as early as 1791. The first commercially successful motorcar based on this engine was launched in 1886 by Karl Benz. This led to the rise of the automobile that is considered a defining feature of 20th century life. For example, massive road infrastructure was built across entire continents and people moved to large suburbs far from the downtown core of cities.
NuclearThe first nuclear weapons were developed by the United States in WWII and were quickly dropped on the Japanese cities Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Nuclear weapons were soon developed by Russia, United Kingdom, France and China. The world plunged into the Cold War -- a tense period of ideological and military stalemate between capitalist and communist societies. This was based on a bleak strategy known as mutually assured destruction whereby both sides were sure to be destroyed in a war.
SemiconductorsComputers based on vacuum tubes emerged in WWII. These were quickly commercialized and really took off around 1960 with the jump from vacuum tubes to semiconductor transistors. These quickly became faster, smaller and cheaper. In fact, the speed of these computers has roughly doubled every two years ever since their introduction. For example, the room sized super computer IBM 7030 ran at 1.2 MIPS in 1960. This can be compared to the more recent Apple A14 that runs at about 11,000,000 MIPS and fits into a smart phone.
InternetThe internet is a network that connects computers on a global basis. This has democratized media and communication leading to profound changes to society, economies and culture.
Cloud ComputingCloud computing is a class of computing platforms that allows services to run seamlessly across many physical computers such that they can be automatically scaled up and down. This has reduced barriers to entry in many industries as it allows anyone to access large scale computing power without upfront investments and to only pay for what they use. For example, a startup streaming media service that doesn't have to build a single data center to access near unlimited computing resources such as storage and network capacity.
System of SystemsSystem of systems is an architectural technique that builds a service from many other services. For example, a mobile app that can access geographic information and maps with a call to another service. This is an powerful type of system architecture that is made possible by the internet and cloud computing.
Artificial IntelligenceA class of software that builds its own statistical models from test data. This can be conceptualized as automation of coding. Artificial intelligence together with the computing power of cloud and system of systems approach to building services is unimaginably powerful. For example, nonprofessionals might soon be able to compete with professionals in any domain using apps powered by artificial intelligence to research, experiment, automate, design, build and operate things without much domain knowledge.
RoboticsRobotics are semi-autonomous machines that can handle things on their own. This is difficult to code but is likely to take off with artificial intelligence.
Immersive ExperienceGame environments that feel real such that they may begin to represent an appealing alternative or complement to reality. For example, companies that are completely run in a game environment whereby employees meet and work in stimulating environments that are impossible in the real world.
Mixed RealityThe process of combining virtual elements with real world elements. For example, appearing at a party in a real club on the other side of the world as a hologram.
Accelerating ChangeTechnology change accelerates as one invention makes the next invention easier. For example, computers and artificial intelligence are powerful design tools that create a faster pace of change.
SingularityIt is clear that technological change accelerates. If this is exponential growth then technological change will become unimaginably fast. This may happen relatively soon. Alternatively, if technology change represents hyperbolic growth a singularity could occur whereby it explodes towards infinity at a point in time.
Technological ChangeThis is the complete list of articles we have written about technological change.
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