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02.10.2014

The Tech Giants Shaping Our World: Introduction

Human history has been governed by centuries of technological advances since the dawn of time. The ancient Sumerians gave us the wheel. The Babylonians gave us the abacus, and the Chinese gave us the compass. From the instant a rock was formed into the first sharp-edged tool to the conception of the International Space Station, technology has consistently shaped our lives on planet Earth.

We are living in what is referred to as the Information Age. An era whereby our economy has shifted from traditional industrialisation to an information-intensive industry on which its foundations are built ‘online’. Like a modern day Library of Alexandria, the internet is one of the largest and most significant libraries on earth. It holds an immeasurable expanse of human knowledge that is freely available to every man, woman and child with an internet connection.

However, this is not the first Information Age humanity has lived through. Back in Medieval Europe, the rise of Christianity in the West led to thousands of texts being burned and Europe’s state of literacy was somewhat left to be desired. Fortunately, our Muslim neighbours were more partial to  readingbooks and carefully preserved the knowledge that Europe had discarded. As Islam spread across the West, the influx of classical texts led Europe to realise just how much it had lost. It brought an immediate demand for information so vast that there was simply no way to meet the sudden thirst for knowledge. However, it wasn’t until 1450 when German metallurgist, Johannes Gutenberg, developed a machine based on the typesetting technologies of Ancient China that the solution was found. Gutenberg’s Printing Press was so efficient at spreading literature that it propelled Europe headlong into the original information age – the Renaissance.

It was an age that cultivated some of history’s greatest artists and shifted an economy based on agriculture to one based on craft and trade. It opened markets for every citizen, wealthy or poor, to capitalise on new business. There was a desire to create a better quality of life that left a permanent mark across Europe. In fact, Europe’s most beautiful cities owe their appearance to the prosperity of the 16th century brought on by Gutenberg’s Printing Press. A machine so proficient that it remained largely unchanged until the 19th century, an age otherwise known as the Industrial Revolution.

You could say that this all sounds similar to an invention of our time; arguably the greatest innovation of our time – the World Wide Web. It has reshaped our world in ways unimaginable, and yet more people probably know who invented the Printing Press than they do about the origin of the World Wide Web. Its impact on our global society is similar to that the Printing Press had, but ironically, in this age of information Sir Timothy Berners-Lee is not a household name.

A lot of people don’t realise that the internet and the web are two separate entities. The internet, a global system of interconnected computer networks, predates the web by around thirty years. The advent of the World Wide Web didn’t come around until 1989 when Sir Berners-Lee was working at CERN, home of the Large Hadron Collider in Switzerland. There was a demand to have physicists globally connected to each other. Sir Berners-Lee had already devised the concept of Hypertext nine years prior at CERN, and almost a decade later successfully united it with the Internet. And so, the greatest technological advancement of our time is essentially a by-product of quantum-physics. It is this kind of innovation that has consistently driven humanity’s thirst for knowledge throughout history, but it is the last 100 years where that thirst has seemingly gone unquenched.

The 20th century stands out as a time when humanity made extraordinary leaps in terms of technological achievement. In addition to the internet, we took to the skies with man-powered flight. The arrival of antibiotics extended our lifespan and cured disease. We transmitted our voices over radio waves and images via television. Computers became a staple of our everyday lives and rocketry put a man on the moon. Each one of these innovations drastically changed the world and our lives within it. Today, some of the largest, most innovative corporations in the world who capitalized on Sir Tim Berners-Lee’s invention are looking to continue the trend. Who will find the next big thing? From IBM’s famous Watson super-computer to Google’s secret research lab, through this series we will be looking at some of the tech giants that are continuing to shape our world through technological innovation. With all the advancements we made in the last hundred years, the 21st Century has one heck of an act to follow.

Could we make the 21st century another golden age of innovation? Keep an eye out for the first part of our ‘ Tech Giants’ blog series ‘Part one: Apple’ coming soon.

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