All posts on November 7th, 2015

Game Changing Great Inventions

Game changing inventions are those which propel society forward.  They can be of an industrial scale, or quite domestic; they change our way of life.  There are some clear opportunities for game changers over the next 50 years. But before we move onto them… in order to look into the future, it is essential to have an understanding and appreciation of the past.

If you think back to the greatest inventions or discoveries over the last few centuries (as I often do) you might come up with some heavy contenders which make it narrowing down to one per century, a tough call. Scientific American has a nice article here, on the topic and I share my thoughts below.

Game Changing Inventions from the last two centuries

In the 1800’s: I believe Harnessing Electricity and the Electric Motor takes the winner’s podium.  The electric motor laid the foundation for key societal developments which in my opinion shaped the 20th century.  electricClose runners up for the 19th century would include the continuous assembly process (assembly line – from 1803) Periodic Table (1869); the motor car (1886 onward).  We may also see more appreciation for liquid air (1883) as we move into the space-age.



1900 – 1950: Household refrigeration (1911: gas – 1927: electric, onward). This did more to enhance health and our domestic day-to-day activities than anything else.

An early Westinghouse

An early Westinghouse

The impact to diet (in particular meat and dairy), shopping, cooking and availability of products to the everyday person cannot be under-estimated.  Of course we also have the development of Television (1920’s onward); The Washing Machine (electric, 1910) and Automatic Washing Machine (1937, onward), which in their own profound ways, could arguably have made as significant a change to day-to-day life.







1950 – 2000: The Internet (arguably 1969 onward), which will continue to shape man-kind’s sharing of knowledge and perhaps ultimately shape our consciousness.  Why-do-we-call-internet-network-of-networksThe huge range of intentions and discoveries in these 50 years also include the Integrated Circuit, which can be traced back to a patent by Werner Jacobi in 1949, however the first working prototype was by Jack Kilby in 1958.


What’s Next

In each case above there are incremental discoveries or steps that have lead to a leap forward.   The net result of which is magical in it’s results and impact.  So what could come next?  Here are a few of my thoughts.


Psychological Improvement (2020 onward)

For all the talk of human augmentation, there’s ample room for human beings to develop without introduced technology.  Psychology has been a lot about treatment of ailments and we’re ready to see a move toward focussing on improvement of our mental faculties.  This has taken small steps to the point where it is in the public consciousness (Lumosity & Brainmetrix), however the science of the brain is still in it’s formative years.  We have a long way to go.  As a society we should see more emphasis on refining our mental powers from 2020, hopefully with some significant changes in the way education is operated at a state level.


The deeper understanding of the human organism will outlast almost all other advances and prove to be of the most value at both an individual and societal level.


A screen without physical mass (2025 – 2035)

While many today are obsessed with large format TVs, 3D TVs and the like, these will pale into obscurity when a screen can appear out of thin air.  The process would require a mechanism to re-order the matter that exists in the air around us (dust, dense air molecules) to be able to be configured into a format that will allow light to be beamed onto it and viewed from a variety of angles.  To be able to have a screen hang in the air and dissolve into nothingness is an efficiency saving in terms of space and materials.  What it requires, is of course, energy.

Human’s really like visual information and the medium for transmission is changing. This is one of a few potential hardware-steps.  Implications for the massless screen are improvements in: medical techniques; home layout; advertising; and, reductions in space requirements, including buildings for advertising and walls upon which one traditionally hangs screens.

Something out of nothing.. the definition of magic?  You can see some people getting excited about transparency here… and you can’t even walk through it!


The Repair (2030 – 2060)

Advances in medicine are staggering.  Even in the 2000’s we’ve seen an artificial heart (AbioMed) introduced and countless other advances such as bionics and gene treatments.

Biomedical engineering advances will see a single-ended synthetic biological component introduced to the body that will cure the body of ailments prior to symptoms even becoming evident.  This will not just treat, but reduce the instance of cancers to a rare few.

Improved accuracy of biocircuits which are happening now, will pave the way for this development that will do for cure’s what the smart-phone did for communication; a one-device solution to solve for a number of challenges.  These advances could also revolutionise environmental science, treating the effects of environmental disasters.



Want to know more?  Here’s some good back-ground:

Harnessing Electricity – many great thinkers contributed to man’s understanding of Electricity notable are: William Gilbert (1544 – 1603);  Hans Christian Orsted (1777 – 1851) ; Michael Faraday (1791 – 1867); and,  James Clerk Maxwell (1831 – 1879).   Of these Michael Faraday, a chemist, invented electromagnetic rotary devices (1821) which formed the foundation for electric motor technology.  For a great summary see this info on the development of the electric motor.

Television – the unsung hero (in the west) of television is Kenjiro Takayanagi who first demonstrated the first fully electronic television system on 25th December 1926.  Prior to this time, television capture and transmission had included mechanical devices based on Nipkow’s spinning disk concepts and other mechanical means.

Here’s an interesting piece on automated processes and division of labor.

Moving forward safely – Human enhancement and the future of work by the Academy of Medical Sciences, the British Academy, the Royal Academy of Engineering and the Royal Society.

See also the Raconteur’s article on the greatest inventions of all time and BrightHub‘s view.

Synthetic Bio-Circuits that can monitor the environment

Cyborg myths

Robotic arm in action