Ever since humanity spread from Africa, the cradle of civilization, to all corners of the world; humans have looked for ways to make their lives simpler & comfortable. From chasing dears with spears to GM-modified crops, we certainly have come a long way. Be it the discovery of fire or that of iron or discovery of electricity by Nikola Tesla. Many innovations were discovered accidentally and changed the course of human life like that of penicillin by Alexander Fleming which prolonged the lifespan of human beings. The discovery of vaccines was also such an innovation .Every seemingly innocuous innovation in our history has set off a chain reaction leading to a spurt in our progress. Human beings continue to push the boundaries of what is possible. Our desire to improve has sometimes pushed us on a collision course with nature, as well as deepened our curiosity about it. As we hurtle towards artificial intelligence and cybernetic humans, let’s delve into the past survey the present for the innovations which have had the most far reaching impact on human life. At the same time they give us a window into the future.
10. Gun Powder
Gun powder was first discovered in China, and complete changed the landscape of the world. While it was first used as explosive, the first documented use in a gun was in in the Battle of Mohi in 1241A.D. Gunpowder is a blend of saltpetre, sulphur & charcoal.
Besides humans themselves, communicable diseases were the most spectacular killers of human beings. With the discovery of disinfectants, and penicillin by Nobel laureate Alexander Fleming in 1928, humanity was for the first time able to take the fight to these invisible killers. The compound microscope was also one discovery which helped in this endeavour. Antibiotics greatly prolonged the life times of human beings and made them more productive by getting them back to their jobs in no time. Gone were the days when you had to be swatted around by a shaman’s broom and hope to get well. With just popping of a pill, you’d be up and running in no time.
Back in the day when man was still hunting wild boar for dinner, when prey was scarce, those were dire times. Even if you killed an animal somehow, there was only so much you and your pals could eat. You couldn’t keep much of it in your home, unless your mate found the stink of rotting flesh romantic. Salt was used as the first preservative and it was discovered that by immersing the meat in salt, it didn’t upset your stomach even after eating it after a months, and most importantly, didn’t raise a funk. This ensured that your caveman forefathers didn’t starve to death during the winter it is also believed that this was the time when the seeds of laziness were sown in man as after the big kill, you didn’t have to hunt for a week!
7. Solar energy
Clean energy is a really big word right now since you don’t want to tick off global warning unless snowfall in the Sahara is your thing. Why does it make the list? Because besides having the potential to power the human race for millions of years without the need for unfashionable gas masks, it is already making awesome things like space travel possible. Solar energy is the tech that made communication and navigation satellites possible. Remember using google maps to locate the nearest fast food joint in your neighbourhood that too is made possible by solar energy.
6. Sea worthy ships
Remember how Columbus sailed into the Caribbean and proclaiming to the folks back home he had discovered West Indies, he did that because he didn’t want to be the butt of all jokes at the village inn. On a serious note, seas worthy ships were the best things since ginger ale because they really gave a leg up to the European economy. They put within reach the European consumer access to goods such as indigo, coffee and opium. It is widely believed that a combination of these three were the precipitants of the first world war, maybe a shortage of the three perhaps. Historically speaking, sea worthy ships was the first agents of globalisation on a massive scale. Ship after ship laden with exotic spices and goods in the harbours of European nations and brought new technologies to eastern countries. It had a long term impact on the prosperity of European nations.
5. Printing press
Imagine having to write about fifty copies of 1000 paged books, and you’re on a mission to spread knowledge to the world. You’d be pretty antsy to say the least. Johannes Gutenberg in 1439 came up with the idea of the idea of the printing press & made the first printing press in history in A.D.1450.It was principally used to print bibles. Though its early adoption was slow, the printing press by 1500 A.D. had spread over Western Europe.
4. Coal Mining
Coal powered the industrial revolution in Europe, marking the advent of the machine age. With the mining of coal on an industrial scale, there was enough coal to power steam engines across countries, to carry out uninterrupted production in factories and of course keep you warm. The earliest reference to coal was made in by the Greek scientist Theophrastus around 350BC. Coal mining was fuel of choice during the industrial revolution.
3. First Computer
Charles Babbage’s difference engine was the first computing device conceived in mankind’s history. Although, he never completed it, it was ancestor of today’s iPhones and nexuses. It was a mechanical device, which was worked by cranking a lever to supply power to it. It could perform simple calculations like calculating trigonometric ratios, logarithms, and arithmetic and came with a printer as well! Charles was commissioned by the British government to build it. Incidentally, he collaborated with Ada Byron a mathematician, and also the famous poet lord Byron’s daughter. This innovation gave Babbage the idea to build a more general “analytic engine” which could perform simple logical computations. This ingenious machine made use of punch cards as the programming language and even gave output in the form of punch cards. Several hundred punch cards existed innovation performed calculations more accuracy and surpassed humans in terms of speed. This was a landmark innovation which marked the advent of the digital age. It was the precursor to the days of Internet, Facebook and Gmail. Imagine cranking your laptop, PC or tablet just to check your email.
2. Iron smelting
The use of iron was first discovered in 2000BC in Asia Minor (present day Turkey). This innovation allowed humans to develop sophisticated tools for agriculture. The advantage of iron was that unlike in the Bronze Age, iron occurred in a form that could be used without much effort unlike copper which required smelting with tin for everyday use. The use of iron had spread to most of the world by 100BC. The discovery of iron allowed human civilization to move from nomadic hunter-gatherers to the first settled agriculturists. During they iron age; alchemists discovered heating it with carbon produced an alloy with 100 times the tensile strength of Bronze. This alloy, known as steel continues to be used in modern times.
Man had from pre historic times been fascinated by lightning. That awesome mystical force was worshipped as a deity in many cultures across the world. When Benjamin Franklin flew a kite into the storm in 1752, he would have not thought about how the discovery he was going to make would change the course of humanity for ever. From Faraday to Tesla, people kept discovering more about this over the ages. Defined as the flow of charges across a conductor, it is a form of energy that can be converted to any form. The existence of the digital age would be unthinkable without electricity. Telecommunications, heavy industries, navigation or be it any aspect of daily life, it is difficult to think of any aspect which has not been changed by electricity. It was electricity that allowed the discovery of sub-atomic states of matter by Rutherford in 1909 or X-rays by Wilhelm Röntgen in 1895 Or MRI by Hermann Carr in 1952. Electricity is so deeply entwined with our lives that most activities of daily life are inconceivable without it. Out of the unlikely fields where electricity is active is our human body itself. The small currents transmitted across neurotic synapses keep us alive, and make us sentient. Across biology, the electric eel uses electricity as a self defense mechanism. The discovery of electricity can rightly be called the greatest innovation of the 20th century.