March 2, 2015

The Story of Now, Told in Tech

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.

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