The world’s most significant tech invention is one you can’t see


When the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) rolls around each year, we’re faced with an array of exciting technologies that could change the world we live in. Think self-flying drones and rollable HD displays; electric supercars and powerful VR headsets; personal robot helpers and home automation gadgets we didn’t know we needed.

Read: CES 2016: The newest, thinnest, fastest and weirdest tech in the world

But the world’s most significant tech invention is arguably one you can’t see. One you can’t put in a box (although boxes are involved). Without it, many of the technologies you’ll read about today, and in the future, just wouldn’t be possible.

It’s not the Internet. Let’s get that out of the way right at the start. You might not agree (and if you don’t, let us know in the comments below). But first, hear me out…

Yes, the Internet has revolutionised how we work, talk, shop, read, travel and play. Go online and billions of websites are a search query away — a world of information at our fingertips. We can dig up the answer to (almost) any question; video chat to someone on the other side of the planet (for free); do our shopping without leaving the sofa; get our favourite movies, TV and music on demand to watch on any device.

Microsoft's Skype Translator already allows you to hold conversations in several European languages.
Microsoft’s Skype Translator already allows you to hold conversations in several European languages.

The Internet has created unique companies and millions of jobs. It has made and lost vast fortunes. It has taught us, entertained us and kept us sociable. We know that it is both the best way to save time and the best way to waste it, an invention that has literally changed the world.

But I’d argue there’s something more significant.

It’s not the microprocessor. You might expect that to be the case, considering where you’re reading these words. Without the continual technological leaps defined by Moore’s Law, we wouldn’t have small and powerful CPUs like the 6th generation Intel Core processor or the Curie module. And without these small and powerful CPUs, we wouldn’t have the smartphones and tablets, 2 in 1s and ultra-thin laptops we rely on.

Here’s a sobering thought: without the microprocessor, we wouldn’t have the Internet.

intel curie
The Intel Curie module shrinks down computing and wireless networking technology into a button-sized device.

Battery power might also be a contender for the world’s most significant tech invention. From early Ni-Cad systems to today’s Lithium Ion and Li-Polymer cells, batteries have allowed tech to go ‘mobile’, giving us laptops, music players, PDAs, Game Boys, cameras, camcorders, tablets and smartphones.

Large-screened devices like the iPhone 6S and the LG G4 are the pinnacle of computing mobility, just waiting for a battery chemistry breakthrough to make them last even longer between charges.

But no. Battery power isn’t it either.

The world’s most significant tech invention? It’s wireless communications. Not just Bluetooth, Wi-Fi and that new-fangled Li-Fi you might have heard about. But old IrDA and new RFID technologies, HaLow, Zigbee and Z-Wave. Not to mention mobile telephony tech from GPRS to HSDPA and LTE. Without wireless communications, we’d have no mobile Internet; no do-it-all iPhones; no TV or radio; no radar or GPS; no wonderful Internet of Things.

And who’d want to live in a world like that? — Dean Evans (@evansdp)

Do you agree that wireless communications is the world’s most significant tech invention? If not, let us know what you think in the comments below.

Main Image, copyright: Shutterstock/Peshkova

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