3D printing, E-cigarettes among the most important inventions of the 21st century

inventions of 21st century essay

The human race has always innovated, and in a relatively short time went from building fires and making stone-tipped arrows to creating smartphone apps and autonomous robots. Today, technological progress will undoubtedly continue to change the way we work, live, and survive in the coming decades.

Since the beginning of the new millennium, the world has witnessed the emergence of social media, smartphones, self-driving cars, and autonomous flying vehicles. There have also been huge leaps in energy storage, artificial intelligence, and medical science. Men and women have mapped the human genome and are grappling with the ramifications of biotechnology and gene editing. 

We are facing immense challenges in global warming and food security, among many other issues. While human innovation has contributed to many of the problems we are facing, it is also human innovation and ingenuity that can help humanity deal with these issues. These are 21 strategies that could avert climate disaster . 

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24/7 Wall St. examined media reports and other sources on the latest far-reaching innovations to find some of the most important 21st-century inventions. In some cases, though there were some precursor research and ancillary technologies before 2001, the innovation did not become available to the public until this century. This list focuses on innovations (such as touch screen glass) that support products rather than the specific products themselves (like the iPhone). 

It remains to be seen if all the technology on this list will continue to have an impact throughout the century. Legislation in the United States may limit the longevity of e-cigarettes, for example. But some of the inventions of the last 20 years will likely have staying power for the foreseeable future. Here are some inventions that are hundreds of years old but are still widely used today .

1. 3D printing

Most inventions come as a result of previous ideas and concepts, and 3D printing is no different. The earliest application of the layering method used by today's 3D printers took place in the manufacture of topographical maps in the late 19th century, and 3D printing as we know it began in 1980.

The convergence of cheaper manufacturing methods and open-source software, however, has led to a revolution of 3D printing in recent years. Today, the technology is being used in the production of everything from lower-cost car parts to bridges to less painful ballet slippers and it is even considered for artificial organs.

2. E-cigarettes

While components of the technology have existed for decades, the first modern e-cigarette was introduced in 2006. Since then, the devices have become wildly popular as an alternative to traditional cigarettes, and new trends, such as the use of flavored juice, have contributed to the success of companies like Juul.

Recent studies have shown that there remains a great deal of uncertainty and risk surrounding the devices, with an increasing number of deaths and injuries linked to vaping. In early 2020, the FDA issued a widespread ban on many flavors of cartridge-based e-cigarettes, in part because those flavors are especially popular with children and younger adults.

3. Augmented reality

Augmented reality, in which digital graphics are overlaid onto live footage to convey information in real time, has been around for a while. Only recently, however, following the arrival of more powerful computing hardware and the creation of an open source video tracking software library known as ARToolKit that the technology has really taken off.

Smartphone apps like the Pokémon Go game and Snapchat filters are just two small popular examples of modern augmented reality applications. The technology is being adopted as a tool in manufacturing, health care, travel, fashion, and education.

4. Birth control patch

The early years of the millennia have brought about an innovation in family planning, albeit one that is still focused only on women and does nothing to protect against sexually transmitted infections. Still, the birth control patch was first released in the United States in 2002 and has made it much easier for women to prevent unintended pregnancies. The plastic patch contains the same estrogen and progesterone hormones found in birth control pills and delivers them in the same manner as nicotine patches do to help people quit tobacco products.

5. Blockchain

You've likely heard about it even if you don't fully understand it. The simplest explanation of blockchain is that it is an incorruptible way to record transactions between parties – a shared digital ledger that parties can only add to and that is transparent to all members of a peer-to-peer network where the blockchain is logged and stored.

The technology was first deployed in 2008 to create Bitcoin, the first decentralized cryptocurrency, but it has since been adopted by the financial sector and other industries for myriad uses, including money transfers, supply chain monitoring, and food safety.

6. Capsule endoscopy

Advancements in light emitting electrodes, image sensors, and optical design in the '90s led to the emergence of capsule endoscopy, first used in patients in 2001. The technology uses a tiny wireless camera the size of a vitamin pill that the patient swallows.

As the capsule traverses the digestive system, doctors can examine the gastrointestinal system in a far less intrusive manner. Capsule endoscopy can be used to identify the source of internal bleeding, inflammations of the bowel ulcers, and cancerous tumors.

7. Modern artificial pancreas

More formally known as closed-loop insulin delivery system, the artificial pancreas has been around since the late '70s, but the first versions were the size of a filing cabinet. In recent years, the artificial pancreas, used primarily to treat type 1 diabetes, became portable. The first artificial pancreas (the modern, portable kind) was approved for use in the United States in 2016.

The system continuously monitors blood glucose levels, calculates the amount of insulin required, and automatically delivers it through a small pump. British studies have shown that patients using these devices spent more time in their ideal glucose-level range. In December 2019, the FDA approved an even more advanced version of the artificial pancreas, called Control-IQ, developed by UVA.

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8. E-readers

Sony was the first company to release an e-reader using a so-called microencapsulated electrophoretic display, commonly referred to as e-ink. E-ink technology, which mimics ink on paper that is easy on the eyes and consumes less power, had been around since the '70s (and improved in the '90s), but the innovation of e-readers had to wait until after the broader demand for e-books emerged. Sony was quickly overtaken by Amazon's Kindle after its 2007 debut. The popularity of e-readers has declined with the emergence of tablets and smartphones, but they still command loyalty from bookworms worldwide.

9. Gene editing

Researchers from the University of California, Berkeley and a separate team from Harvard and the Broad Institute independently discovered in 2012 that a bacterial immune system known as CRISPR (an acronym for clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats) could be used as a powerful gene-editing tool to make detailed changes to any organism's DNA. This discovery heralded a new era in biotechnology.

The discovery has the potential to eradicate diseases by altering the genes in mice and mosquitoes to combat the spread of Lyme disease and malaria but is also raising ethical questions, especially with regards to human gene editing such as for reproductive purposes.

10. High-density battery packs

Tesla electric cars have received so much attention largely because of their batteries. The batteries, located underneath the passenger cabin, consist of thousands of high-density lithium ion cells, each barely larger than a standard AA battery, nestled into a large, heavy battery pack that also offers Tesla electric cars a road-gripping low center of gravity and structural support.

The brainchild of Tesla co-founder J.B. Straubel, these battery modules pack more of a punch than standard (and cheaper) electric car batteries. These packs are also being used in residential, commercial, and grid-scale energy storage devices.

11. Digital assistants

One of the biggest technology trends in recent years has been smart home technology, which can now be found in everyday consumer devices like door locks, light bulbs, and kitchen appliances. The key piece of technology that has helped make all this possible is the digital assistant. Apple was the first major tech company to introduce a virtual assistant called Siri, in 2011, for iOS.

Other digital assistants, such as Microsoft's Cortana and Amazon's Alexa, have since entered the market. The assistants gained another level of popularity when tech companies introduced smart speakers. Notably, Google Home and Amazon's Echo can now be found in millions of homes, with an ever-growing range of applications.

12. Robot heart

Artificial hearts have been around for some time. They are mechanical devices connected to the actual heart or implanted in the chest to assist or substitute a heart that is failing. Abiomed, a Danvers, Massachusetts-based company, developed a robot heart called AbioCor, a self-contained apparatus made of plastic and titanium.

AbioCor is a self-contained unit with the exception of a wireless battery pack that is attached to the wrist. Robert Tools, a technical librarian with congestive heart failure, received the first one on July 2, 2001.

13. Retinal implant

When he was a medical student, Dr. Mark Humayun watched his grandmother gradually lose her vision. The ophthalmologist and bioengineer focused on finding a solution to what causes blindness. He collaborated with Dr. James Weiland, a colleague at the USC Gayle and Edward Roski Eye Institute, and other experts to create the Argus II.

The Argus II is a retinal prosthesis device that is considered to be a breakthrough for those suffering from retinitis pigmentosa, an inherited retinal degenerative condition that can lead to blindness. The condition afflicts 1.5 million people worldwide. The device was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in 2013.

14. Mobile operating systems

Mobile operating systems for smartphones and other portable gadgets have enabled the proliferation of smartphones and other mobile gadgets thanks to their intuitive user interfaces and seemingly endless app options. Mobile operating systems have become the most consumer-facing of computer operating systems. When Google first purchased Android Inc. in 2005, the operating system was just two years old, and the first iPhone (with its iOS) was still two years from its commercial debut.

15. Multi-use rockets

Billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk may not necessarily be remembered for his contributions to electric cars innovations, but rather for his contributions to space exploration. Musk's private space exploration company, SpaceX, has developed rockets that can be recovered and reused in other launches – a more efficient and cheaper alternative to the method of using the rockets only once and letting them fall into the ocean.

On March 30, 2017, SpaceX became the first to deploy one of these used rockets, the Falcon 9. Blue Origin, a space-transport company founded by Amazon.com's Jeff Bezos, has launched its own reusable rocket.

16. Online streaming

Online streaming would not be possible without the convergence of widespread broadband internet access and cloud computing data centers used to store content and direct web traffic. While internet-based live streaming has been around almost since the internet was broadly adopted in the '90s, it was not until the mid-2000s that the internet could handle the delivery of streaming media to large audiences. Online streaming is posing an existential threat to existing models of delivering media entertainment, such as cable television and movie theaters.

17. Robotic exoskeletons

Ever since researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, created in 2003 a robotic device that attaches to the lower back to augment strength in humans, the demand for robotic exoskeletons for physical rehabilitation has increased, and manufacturing has taken off.

Wearable exoskeletons are increasingly helping people with mobility issues (particularly lower body paralysis), and are being used in factories. Ford Motor Company, for example, has used an exoskeleton vest that helps auto assemblers with repetitive tasks in order to lessen the wear and tear on shoulders and arms.

18. Small satellites

As modern electronics devices have gotten smaller, so, too, have orbital satellites, which companies, governments, and organizations use to gather scientific data, collect images of Earth, and for telecommunications and intelligence purposes. These tiny, low-cost orbital devices fall into different categories by weight, but one of the most common is the shoebox-sized CubeSat. As of October 2019, over 2,400 satellites weighing between 1 kg (2.2 lbs) and 40 kgs (88 lbs) have been launched, according to Nanosats Database.

19. Solid-state lidar

Lidar is an acronym that stands for light detection and ranging, and is also a portmanteau of the words "light" and "radar." The technology today is most often used in self-driving cars. Like radars, which use radio waves to bounce off objects and determine their distance, lidar uses a laser pulse to do the same.

By sending enough lasers in rotation, it can create a constantly updated high-resolution image map of the surrounding environment. The next steps in the technology would include smaller and cheaper lidar sensors, and especially solid state ones – no spinning tops on the cars.

20. Tokenization

If you have ever used the chip embedded in a credit or debit card to make a payment by tapping rather than swiping, then you have benefited from the heightened security of tokenization. This data security technology replaces sensitive data with an equivalent randomized number †known as a token †that is used only once per transaction and has no value to would-be hackers and identity thieves attempting to intercept transaction data as it travels from sender to recipient. Social media site classmates.com was reportedly the first to use tokenization in 2001 to protect its subscribers' sensitive data. Tokenization is also being touted as a way to prevent hackers from interfering with driverless cars.

21. Touchscreen glass

Super-thin, chemically strengthened glass is a key component of the touchscreen world. This sturdy, transparent material is what helps keep your iPad or Samsung smartphone from shattering into pieces at the slightest drop. Even if these screens crack, in most cases the damage is cosmetic and the gadget still works.

Corning Inc., already a leader in the production of treated glass used in automobiles, was asked by Apple to develop 1.3-mm treated glass for its iPhone, which debuted in 2007. Corning's Gorilla Glass is still the most well known, though other brands exist in the marketplace.

24/7 Wall Street is a USA TODAY content partner offering financial news and commentary. Its content is produced independently of USA TODAY.

The Most Important Inventions of the 21st Century

Advances in Technology that Changed the World

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There's no question that the technological breakthroughs of the first two decades of the 21st century have drastically revolutionized people's day-to-day lives. Television, radio, paperback novels, movie theaters, landline telephones, and letter writing have been replaced by connected devices, digital books, Netflix, and communicating via addictive apps such as Twitter, Facebook, Snapchat, and Instagram. For these innovations, we have the following four key 21st-century inventions to thank.

Social Media: From Friendster to Facebook

Believe it or not, social networking did exist before the turn of the 21 st century. While Facebook has made having an online profile and identity an integral part of our everyday life, its predecessors—basic and rudimentary as they now seem—paved the way for what became the world’s most ubiquitous social platform.

In 2002, Friendster launched, quickly amassing three million users within its first three months. With seamless integration of nifty, intuitive user-friendly features such as status updates, messaging, photo albums, friend lists, and more, Friendster’s network served as one of the earliest successful templates for engaging the masses under one network but its supremacy was short lived.

In 2003, when MySpace burst on the scene, it quickly outpaced Friendster to become the world’s largest social network, boasting over a billion registered users at its peak. By 2006, MySpace would go on to surpass search giant Google as the most visited website in the United States. The company was acquired by News Corporation in 2005 for $580 million.

But as with Friendster, MySpace’s reign at the top didn’t last long. In 2003, Harvard student and computer programmer Mark Zuckerberg designed and developed a website called Facemash that was similar to a popular photo rating website, Hot or Not. In 2004, Zuckerberg and his fellow schoolmates went live with a social platform called thefacebook , an online student directory based on the physical "Face Books" that were used on many college campuses throughout the United States at the time.

Initially, registration on the website was restricted to Harvard students. Within a few months, however, invitations were extended to other top colleges including Columbia, Stanford, Yale, and MIT. A year later, membership was expanded to employee networks at major companies Apple and Microsoft. By 2006, the website, which had changed its name and domain to Facebook, was open to anyone over 13 years of age with a valid email address.

With robust features and interactivity that included a live update feed, friend tagging, and the signature “like” button, Facebook’s network of users grew exponentially. In 2008, Facebook surpassed MySpace in the number of worldwide unique visitors and has since established itself as the premier online destination for more than two billion users. The company, with Zuckerberg as CEO, is one of the richest in the world, with a net worth of over $500 billion.       

Other popular social media platforms include Twitter, with an emphasis on short form (140- or 180-character "Tweets") and link sharing; Instagram, whose users share images and short videos; Snapchat, which bills itself a camera company, whose users share photos, videos, and messages that are available for only a short time before expiring; YouTube, a video-based sharing platform; and Tumblr, a micro-blogging/networking site.

E-readers: Dynabook to Kindle

Andrius Aleksandravicius / EyeEm/Getty Images

Looking back, the 21 st century may be remembered as the turning point in which digital technology started to make print materials such as photographs and paper obsolete. If so, the fairly recent introduction of electronic books or e-books will have played a large role in paving that transition.

While sleek, light e-readers are a fairly recent technological arrival, clunky and less sophisticated variations have been around for decades. In 1949, for instance, a Spanish teacher named Ángela Ruiz Robles was awarded a patent for a “mechanical encyclopedia” comprised of audio recordings along with text and images on reels.

Besides a few notable early designs such as the Dynabook and the Sony Data Discman, the concept of a mass-market portable electronic reading device didn’t really catch on until e-book formats were standardized, which coincided with the development of electronic paper displays.

The first commercial product taking advantage of this technology was the Rocket eBook, introduced in late 1998. Six years later, the Sony Librie became the first e-reader to use electronic ink. Unfortunately, didn't catch on, and both were expensive commercial flops. Sony returned with the revamped Sony Reader in 2006, only to find themselves quickly up against competitor Amazon’s formidable Kindle.  

When it was released in 2007, the original Amazon Kindle was hailed as a game changer. It packed a 6-inch grayscale E Ink display, keyboard, free 3G Internet connectivity, 250 MB of internal storage (enough for 200 book titles), a speaker and headphone jack for audio files, as well as access to the purchase of countless e-books at Amazon’s Kindle store.

Despite retailing for $399, the Amazon Kindle sold out in roughly five and a half hours. High demand kept the product out of stock for as long as five months. Barnes & Noble and Pandigital soon entered the market with their own competitive devices, and by 2010, sales for e-readers had reached nearly 13 million, with Amazon’s Kindl owning almost half the share of the market.

More competition arrived later in the form of tablet computers like the iPad and color screen devices running on Android’s operating system. Amazon also debuted its own Fire tablet computer designed to run on a modified Android system called FireOS.

While Sony, Barnes & Noble and other leading manufacturers have stopped selling e-readers, Amazon has expanded its offerings with models that include higher resolution displays, LED backlighting, touchscreens, and other features.

Streaming Media: From Realplayer to Netflix

The ability to stream video has been around at least as long as the Internet—but it was only after the turn of the 21 st century that data transfer speeds and buffering technology made quality real-time streaming a truly seamless experience.

So what was media streaming like in the days before YouTube, Hulu, and Netflix? Well, in a nutshell, quite frustrating. The first attempt to stream live video took place just three years after Internet pioneer Sir Tim Berners Lee created the first web server, browser, and web page in 1990. The event was a concert performance by the rock band Severe Tire Damage. At the time, the live broadcast was screened as a 152 x 76-pixel video and the sound quality was comparable to what you might hear with a bad telephone connection.  

In 1995, RealNetworks became an early media streaming pioneer when it introduced a freeware program called Realplayer, a popular media player capable of streaming content. That same year, the company live streamed a Major League baseball game between the Seattle Mariners and New York Yankees. Soon enough, other major industry players such as Microsoft and Apple got into the game with the release of their own media players (Windows Media Player and Quicktime, respectively) which featured streaming capability.

While consumer interest grew, streaming content was often beset with disruptive glitches, skips, and pauses. Much of inefficiency, though, had to do with broader technological limitations such as lack of CPU (central processing unit) power and bus bandwidth. To compensate, users generally found it more practical to simply download and save entire media files in order to play them directly from their computers.  

All that changed in 2002 with the widespread adoption of Adobe Flash, a plug-in technology that enabled the smooth streaming experience we know today. In 2005, three veterans of the PayPal startup launched YouTube , the first popular video streaming website powered by Adobe Flash technology. The platform, which allowed users to upload their own video clips as well as view, rate, share, and comment on videos uploaded by others, was acquired by Google the following year. By that time, the website had an impressive community of users, racking up 100 million views a day.  

In 2010, YouTube began making the transition from Flash to HTML, which allowed for high quality streaming with less drain on a computer’s resources. Later advancements in bandwidth and transfer rates opened the door to successful subscriber-based streaming services such as Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime.       


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Smartphones, tablets, and even Smartwatches, and wearables are all game changers, however, there's one underlying technological advance without which these devices could not have succeeded. Their ease of use and popularity is largely due to advances in touchscreen technology achieved in the 21 st century.

Scientists and researchers have dabbled in touchscreen-based interfaces since the 1960s, developing systems for flight-crew navigation and high-end cars. Work on multi-touch technology began in the 1980s, but it wasn't until the 2000s that attempts to integrate touchscreens into commercial systems finally began taking off.  

Microsoft was one of the first out of the gate with a consumer touchscreen product designed for potential mass appeal. In 2002, then Microsoft CEO Bill Gates introduced the Windows XP Tablet PC Edition, one of the first tablet devices to feature a mature operating system with touchscreen functionality. While it’s hard to say why the product never caught on, the tablet was fairly clunky and a stylus was required to access the touchscreen functions.

In 2005 Apple acquired FingerWorks, a little-known company that had developed some of the first gesture-based multi-touch devices on the market. This technology would eventually be used to develop the iPhone . With its intuitive and remarkably responsive gesture-based touch technology, Apple’s innovative handheld computer is often credited for ushering in the era of smartphones, as well as a whole host of touchscreen capable products such as tablets, laptops, LCD displays, terminals, dashboards, and appliances.

A Connected, Data-driven Century

Breakthroughs in modern technology have enabled people around the globe to interact with one another instantaneously in unprecedented ways. While it's difficult to imagine what will come next, one thing is sure: technology will continue to thrill, captivate, and enthrall us, and have a far-reaching impact on almost every facet of our lives.

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10 Breakthrough Technologies 2021

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  • the Editors

This list marks 20 years since we began compiling an annual selection of the year’s most important technologies. Some, such as mRNA vaccines, are already changing our lives, while others are still a few years off. Below, you’ll find a brief description along with a link to a feature article that probes each technology in detail. We hope you’ll enjoy and explore—taken together, we believe this list represents a glimpse into our collective future .

gene vaccine illo

Messenger RNA vaccines

We got very lucky. The two most effective vaccines against the coronavirus are based on messenger RNA, a technology that has been in the works for 20 years. When the covid-19 pandemic began last January, scientists at several biotech companies were quick to turn to mRNA as a way to create potential vaccines; in late December 2020, at a time when more than 1.5 million had died from covid-19 worldwide, the vaccines were approved in the US, marking the beginning of the end of the pandemic.

The new covid vaccines are based on a technology never before used in therapeutics, and it could transform medicine, leading to vaccines against various infectious diseases, including malaria. And if this coronavirus keeps mutating, mRNA vaccines can be easily and quickly modified. Messenger RNA also holds great promise as the basis for cheap gene fixes to sickle-cell disease and HIV. Also in the works: using mRNA to help the body fight off cancers. Antonio Regalado explains the history and medical potential of the exciting new science of messenger RNA .

Large natural-language computer models that learn to write and speak are a big step toward AI that can better understand and interact with the world. GPT-3 is by far the largest—and most literate—to date. Trained on the text of thousands of books and most of the internet, GPT-3 can mimic human-written text with uncanny—and at times bizarre—realism, making it the most impressive language model yet produced using machine learning.

conceptual photograph of unicorns

But GPT-3 doesn’t understand what it’s writing , so sometimes the results are garbled and nonsensical. It takes an enormous amount of computation power, data, and money to train, creating a large carbon footprint and restricting the development of similar models to those labs with extraordinary resources. And since it is trained on text from the internet, which is filled with misinformation and prejudice, it often produces similarly biased passages. Will Douglas Heaven shows off a sample of GPT-3’s clever writing and explains why some are ambivalent about its achievements.

conceptual photography of a person holding a phone

TikTok recommendation algorithms

Since its launch in China in 2016, TikTok has become one of the world’s fastest-growing social networks. It’s been downloaded billions of times and attracted hundreds of millions of users. Why? Because the algorithms that power TikTok’s “For You” feed have changed the way people become famous online .

While other platforms are geared more toward highlighting content with mass appeal, TikTok’s algorithms seem just as likely to pluck a new creator out of obscurity as they are to feature a known star. And they’re particularly adept at feeding relevant content to niche communities of users who share a particular interest or identity.

The ability of new creators to get a lot of views very quickly—and the ease with which users can discover so many kinds of content—have contributed to the app’s stunning growth. Other social media companies are now scrambling to reproduce these features on their own apps. Abby Ohlheiser profiles a TikTok creator who was surprised by her own success on the platform.   

solid state lithium battery

Lithium-metal batteries

Electric vehicles come with a tough sales pitch; they’re relatively expensive, and you can drive them only a few hundred miles before they need to recharge—which takes far longer than stopping for gas. All these drawbacks have to do with the limitations of lithium-ion batteries. A well-funded Silicon Valley startup now says it has a battery that will make electric vehicles far more palatable for the mass consumer.

It’s called a lithium-metal battery and is being developed by QuantumScape. According to early test results, the battery could boost the range of an EV by 80% and can be rapidly recharged. The startup has a deal with VW, which says it will be selling EVs with the new type of battery by 2025.

The battery is still just a prototype that’s much smaller than one needed for a car. But if QuantumScape and others working on lithium-metal batteries succeed, it could finally make EVs attractive to millions of consumers. James Temple describes how a lithium-metal battery works , and why scientists are so excited by recent results.

conceptual illustration

Data trusts

Technology companies have proven to be poor stewards of our personal data. Our information has been leaked, hacked, and sold and resold more times than most of us can count. Maybe the problem isn’t with us, but with the model of privacy to which we’ve long adhered—one in which we, as individuals, are primarily responsible for managing and protecting our own privacy.

Data trusts offer one alternative approach that some governments are starting to explore. A data trust is a legal entity that collects and manages people’s personal data on their behalf. Though the structure and function of these trusts are still being defined, and many questions remain, data trusts are notable for offering a potential solution to long-standing problems in privacy and security. Anouk Ruhaak describes the powerful potential of this model and a few early examples that show its promise.

Green hydrogen

Hydrogen has always been an intriguing possible replacement for fossil fuels. It burns cleanly, emitting no carbon dioxide; it’s energy dense, so it’s a good way to store power from on-and-off renewable sources; and you can make liquid synthetic fuels that are drop-in replacements for gasoline or diesel. But most hydrogen up to now has been made from natural gas; the process is dirty and energy intensive.

The rapidly dropping cost of solar and wind power means green hydrogen is now cheap enough to be practical. Simply zap water with electricity, and presto, you’ve got hydrogen. Europe is leading the way, beginning to build the needed infrastructure. Peter Fairley argues that such projects are just a first step to an envisioned global network of electrolysis plants that run on solar and wind power, churning out clean hydrogen .

contact tracing illo

Digital contact tracing

As the coronavirus began to spread around the world, it felt at first as if digital contact tracing might help us . Smartphone apps could use GPS or Bluetooth to create a log of people who had recently crossed paths. If one of them later tested positive for covid, that person could enter the result into the app, and it would alert others who might have been exposed.

But digital contact tracing largely failed to make much impact on the virus’s spread. Apple and Google quickly pushed out features like exposure notifications to many smartphones, but public health officials struggled to persuade residents to use them. The lessons we learn from this pandemic could not only help us prepare for the next pandemic but also carry over to other areas of health care. Lindsay Muscato explores why digital contact tracing failed to slow covid-19 and offers ways we can do better next time.

inventions of 21st century essay

Hyper-accurate positioning

We all use GPS every day; it has transformed our lives and many of our businesses. But while today’s GPS is accurate to within 5 to 10 meters, new hyper-accurate positioning technologies have accuracies within a few centimeters or millimeters. That’s opening up new possibilities, from landslide warnings to delivery robots and self-driving cars that can safely navigate streets.

China’s BeiDou (Big Dipper) global navigation system was completed in June 2020 and is part of what’s making all this possible. It provides positioning accuracy of 1.5 to two meters to anyone in the world. Using ground-based augmentation, it can get down to millimeter-level accuracy. Meanwhile, GPS, which has been around since the early 1990s, is getting an upgrade: four new satellites for GPS III launched in November and more are expected in orbit by 2023. Ling Xin reports on how the greatly increased accuracy of these systems is already proving useful.

conceptual photograph of remote work

Remote everything

The covid pandemic forced the world to go remote. Getting that shift right has been especially critical in health care and education. Some places around the world have done a particularly good job at getting remote services in these two areas to work well for people.

Snapask, an online tutoring company, has more than 3.5 million users in nine Asian countries, and Byju’s, a learning app based in India, has seen the number of its users soar to nearly 70 million. Unfortunately, students in many other countries are still floundering with their online classes.

Meanwhile, telehealth efforts in Uganda and several other African countries have extended health care to millions during the pandemic. In a part of the world with a chronic lack of doctors, remote health care has been a life saver. Sandy Ong reports on the remarkable success of online learning in Asia and the spread of telemedicine in Africa.


Multi-skilled AI

Despite the immense progress in artificial intelligence in recent years, AI and robots are still dumb in many ways, especially when it comes to solving new problems or navigating unfamiliar environments. They lack the human ability, found even in young children, to learn how the world works and apply that general knowledge to new situations.

One promising approach to improving the skills of AI is to expand its senses; currently AI with computer vision or audio recognition can sense things but cannot “talk” about what it sees and hears using natural-language algorithms. But what if you combined these abilities in a single AI system? Might these systems begin to gain human-like intelligence ? Might a robot that can see, feel, hear, and communicate be a more productive human assistant? Karen Hao explains how AIs with multiple senses will gain a greater understanding of the world around them, achieving a much more flexible intelligence.

For a look at what technologies made our 10 Breakthrough Technologies lists in previous years, check out this page , which starts with 2020's list.

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How has technology changed - and changed us - in the past 20 years?

An internet surfer views the Google home page at a cafe in London, August 13, 2004.

Remember this? Image:  REUTERS/Stephen Hird

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  • Since the dotcom bubble burst back in 2000, technology has radically transformed our societies and our daily lives.
  • From smartphones to social media and healthcare, here's a brief history of the 21st century's technological revolution.

Just over 20 years ago, the dotcom bubble burst , causing the stocks of many tech firms to tumble. Some companies, like Amazon, quickly recovered their value – but many others were left in ruins. In the two decades since this crash, technology has advanced in many ways.

Many more people are online today than they were at the start of the millennium. Looking at broadband access, in 2000, just half of Americans had broadband access at home. Today, that number sits at more than 90% .

More than half the world's population has internet access today

This broadband expansion was certainly not just an American phenomenon. Similar growth can be seen on a global scale; while less than 7% of the world was online in 2000, today over half the global population has access to the internet.

Similar trends can be seen in cellphone use. At the start of the 2000s, there were 740 million cell phone subscriptions worldwide. Two decades later, that number has surpassed 8 billion, meaning there are now more cellphones in the world than people

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At the same time, technology was also becoming more personal and portable. Apple sold its first iPod in 2001, and six years later it introduced the iPhone, which ushered in a new era of personal technology. These changes led to a world in which technology touches nearly everything we do.

Technology has changed major sectors over the past 20 years, including media, climate action and healthcare. The World Economic Forum’s Technology Pioneers , which just celebrated its 20th anniversary, gives us insight how emerging tech leaders have influenced and responded to these changes.

Media and media consumption

The past 20 years have greatly shaped how and where we consume media. In the early 2000s, many tech firms were still focused on expanding communication for work through advanced bandwidth for video streaming and other media consumption that is common today.

Others followed the path of expanding media options beyond traditional outlets. Early Tech Pioneers such as PlanetOut did this by providing an outlet and alternative media source for LGBTQIA communities as more people got online.

Following on from these first new media options, new communities and alternative media came the massive growth of social media. In 2004 , fewer than 1 million people were on Myspace; Facebook had not even launched. By 2018, Facebook had more 2.26 billion users with other sites also growing to hundreds of millions of users.

The precipitous rise of social media over the past 15 years

While these new online communities and communication channels have offered great spaces for alternative voices, their increased use has also brought issues of increased disinformation and polarization.

Today, many tech start-ups are focused on preserving these online media spaces while also mitigating the disinformation which can come with them. Recently, some Tech Pioneers have also approached this issue, including TruePic – which focuses on photo identification – and Two Hat , which is developing AI-powered content moderation for social media.

Climate change and green tech

Many scientists today are looking to technology to lead us towards a carbon-neutral world. Though renewed attention is being given to climate change today, these efforts to find a solution through technology is not new. In 2001, green tech offered a new investment opportunity for tech investors after the crash, leading to a boom of investing in renewable energy start-ups including Bloom Energy , a Technology Pioneer in 2010.

In the past two decades, tech start-ups have only expanded their climate focus. Many today are focuses on initiatives far beyond clean energy to slow the impact of climate change.

Different start-ups, including Carbon Engineering and Climeworks from this year’s Technology Pioneers, have started to roll out carbon capture technology. These technologies remove CO2 from the air directly, enabling scientists to alleviate some of the damage from fossil fuels which have already been burned.

Another expanding area for young tech firms today is food systems innovation. Many firms, like Aleph Farms and Air Protein, are creating innovative meat and dairy alternatives that are much greener than their traditional counterparts.

Biotech and healthcare

The early 2000s also saw the culmination of a biotech boom that had started in the mid-1990s. Many firms focused on advancing biotechnologies through enhanced tech research.

An early Technology Pioneer, Actelion Pharmaceuticals was one of these companies. Actelion’s tech researched the single layer of cells separating every blood vessel from the blood stream. Like many other biotech firms at the time, their focus was on precise disease and treatment research.

While many tech firms today still focus on disease and treatment research, many others have been focusing on healthcare delivery. Telehealth has been on the rise in recent years , with many young tech expanding virtual healthcare options. New technologies such as virtual visits, chatbots are being used to delivery healthcare to individuals, especially during Covid-19.

Many companies are also focusing their healthcare tech on patients, rather than doctors. For example Ada, a symptom checker app, used to be designed for doctor’s use but has now shifted its language and interface to prioritize giving patients information on their symptoms. Other companies, like 7 cups, are focused are offering mental healthcare support directly to their users without through their app instead of going through existing offices.

The past two decades have seen healthcare tech get much more personal and use tech for care delivery, not just advancing medical research.

The World Economic Forum was the first to draw the world’s attention to the Fourth Industrial Revolution, the current period of unprecedented change driven by rapid technological advances. Policies, norms and regulations have not been able to keep up with the pace of innovation, creating a growing need to fill this gap.

The Forum established the Centre for the Fourth Industrial Revolution Network in 2017 to ensure that new and emerging technologies will help—not harm—humanity in the future. Headquartered in San Francisco, the network launched centres in China, India and Japan in 2018 and is rapidly establishing locally-run Affiliate Centres in many countries around the world.

The global network is working closely with partners from government, business, academia and civil society to co-design and pilot agile frameworks for governing new and emerging technologies, including artificial intelligence (AI) , autonomous vehicles , blockchain , data policy , digital trade , drones , internet of things (IoT) , precision medicine and environmental innovations .

Learn more about the groundbreaking work that the Centre for the Fourth Industrial Revolution Network is doing to prepare us for the future.

Want to help us shape the Fourth Industrial Revolution? Contact us to find out how you can become a member or partner.

In the early 2000s, many companies were at the start of their recovery from the bursting dotcom bubble. Since then, we’ve seen a large expansion in the way tech innovators approach areas such as new media, climate change, healthcare delivery and more.

At the same time, we have also seen tech companies rise to the occasion of trying to combat issues which arose from the first group such as internet content moderation, expanding climate change solutions.

The Technology Pioneers' 2020 cohort marks the 20th anniversary of this community - and looking at the latest awardees can give us a snapshot of where the next two decades of tech may be heading.

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License and Republishing

World Economic Forum articles may be republished in accordance with the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International Public License, and in accordance with our Terms of Use.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and not the World Economic Forum.

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The Upcoming

The most important inventions of the 21st century

inventions of 21st century essay

The ability to create inventions is what distinguishes us from animals. Throughout eras of human history we have made it to every corner of the globe. With technological advances, we have managed to survive and to become the most successful species on the planet. Inventions that made life easier like wheels, the steam machine and pesticides also secured food sources for us and reduced the need for human labour, allowing specialisation rather than survival. 

The 21 st century has also brought many inventions that might be similarly viewed in the future than how we view the telephone today. During the past 20 years, there have been groundbreaking changes in communication, medicine, finance, transportation, entertainment and more. This article will mention some of the most important inventions of this century. Jordan Carry, an iGaming expert you can read more about here , has helped compile the list.

People have been obsessed with immersing themselves in an imaginary world for a long time. Finally, computer processors are good enough to create this world for individuals with the help of virtual reality goggles. Major electronics manufacturers are all producing VR headsets and slowly they are becoming more affordable for people. 

Augmented reality is used even more often. Thinking of just two examples, Pokemon Go and Snapchat where virtual layers are added to real-life objects have been really big hits in the past ten years. Both systems are being used in education, health care, travel and entertainment. If you are looking for a risky game check out polskie casino .


Combining a phone and a computer was a dream for years. There had been previous attempts to accomplish the feat, but it was really only the iPhone that managed to do it seamlessly. The first iPhone came out in 2007. The idea took off very quickly after that and companies like Blackberry, Samsung and Huawei soon followed. 

Smartphones have changed so much for individuals in terms of how we communicate, bank, order food and so on. By now there are 55.5 million smartphone users in the UK and over 91% of British adults own a smartphone. 


The idea of a decentralised virtual currency came out after the economic crisis hit the world in 2008. People stopped trusting banks and the idea of an immutable and unhackable online ledger system seemed to be the solution. Bitcoin was invented in 2009 and it has been becoming the preferred payment option in so many industries in the past few years. Now there are thousands of different cryptocurrencies, some more popular than others.

Capsule endoscopy 

Capsule endoscopy was first used to treat patients in 2001. This non-invasive monitoring system requires the patient to swallow a small pill-sized camera that will go through their digestive system. The camera traverses the gastrointestinal system and doctors can monitor its track identifying internal bleeding, cancer, ulcers and other pathologies. 

E-readers have been a great invention that bookworms love worldwide. While the first one was Sony’s invention, Kindle became the most popular e-reader of all time. The readers use a technology called an e-ink or digital ink which uses so little energy that users can read a Kindle for weeks with a single charge. 

With the invention of smartphones and tablets, the sales of e-readers have plummeted. However, avid readers stick to these devices as they have their advantages over smart devices. For instance, they have no glare in plain sunshine, are waterproof and their batteries last much longer. 

Electric, driverless cars

Tesla has brought self-driving cars and now other manufactures like Volvo are following suit. Electric engines are of the future and already new houses are being built with a charging station built in the garage. Recent breakthroughs in battery technology suggest that charging time will be reduced to just a few minutes and cars will be able to cover a larger range with a single charge. 

Technology is changing our lives every day. Important inventions like the ones mentioned above can make everyone’s lives safer, more comfortable and can provide solutions for environmental issues as well. Entertainment is more immersive and communication has become easier than ever before. 

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25 Most Important Inventions of the 21st Century

Published on september 25, 2023 at 4:41 pm by afifa mushtaque in industries , lists , news.

In this article, we will look at the 25 most important inventions of the 21st century. If you want to skip our detailed analysis of innovation in the 21st century, head straight to the 10 Most Important Inventions of the 21st Century . 

The 21st century ushered in an era of rapid change and unprecedented connectivity. It is a period in which the traditional boundaries of time and space have been rendered virtually obsolete, thanks to breakthroughs in technology. At the heart of this transformation lies a relentless drive to create solutions that make our lives more convenient, sustainable, and interconnected. However, it must also be highlighted that the top 3 most important inventions to date are believed to be the printing press, telephone, and electric light, which may not be considered the most technologically competent with the inventions of today.

Key Innovations of the 21st Century

Firstly, the pervasive influence of digital technology cannot be overstated. The digital revolution has touched nearly every aspect of our lives, from the way we consume information and entertainment to how we conduct business. This trend has opened up new avenues for growth and efficiency for almost all industries as it has streamlined most of the technical and nontechnical procedures. This also explains why the digital revolution is also known as the third industrial revolution. 

One of the most important digitalization innovations of the 21st century is arguably the widespread adoption of cloud computing. This technology has transformed how businesses and individuals access, store, and process data and thus, has enabled flexibility and cost-efficiency like never before. Cloud computing has democratized access to powerful computing resources which has given birth to innovation across industries, from AI and IoT to e-commerce and healthcare. 

It is worth noting that Amazon Web Services (AWS), a subsidiary of Amazon.com, Inc (NASDAQ: AMZN ), pioneered cloud computing by launching in 2006. It revolutionized technology with its innovative features like scalable storage through Amazon S3, cost-effective cold data storage with Amazon Glacier, and block-level storage with Amazon Elastic Block Store.

Moreover, Amazon EC2 provided virtual servers, while services like AWS Identity and Access Management ensured security. Today, AWS continues to lead in cloud innovation with features like Amazon SNS for messaging and different services for AI and IoT. To read more about IoT, check our article on biggest internet of things companies in the world . 

Speaking of Amazon.com, Inc (NASDAQ:AMZN), their competitive management and utilization of artificial intelligence alongside cloud computing has boosted its financial growth as well. Diamond Hill Large Cap Strategy made the following comment about Amazon.com, Inc. (NASDAQ:AMZN) in its Q2 2023 investor letter:

“Among our top contributors were insurance company American International Group (AIG), auto retailer CarMax and global online retailer Amazon.com, Inc. (NASDAQ:AMZN). Amazon’s management team has been working to improve retail profitability, and Q1 results showed progress. In the case of Amazon’s web services (AWS), the market has shifted its focus from where growth will bottom in the near term to how AI can help accelerate the adoption of public cloud services in the future. We believe Amazon’s competitive advantages will continue to grow and that the business has the potential to grow faster than the overall economy in the coming years.”

On the other hand, the 21st century has also been marked by an urgent need to address environmental challenges. Innovations in sustainable technology have hence gained prominence as businesses and consumers alike recognize the importance of protecting the planet. Be it any profession, any industry, or any business, there has been an increasing focus on incorporating sustainability practices and promoting sustainability initiatives as an integral part of the collective and global mission to combat climate change. 

We believe that the most significant sustainable technology innovation of the 21st century is the widespread deployment of solar photovoltaic (PV) panels. Solar power has emerged as a game-changer in the transition to clean energy, largely reducing greenhouse gas emissions and our reliance on fossil fuels. It offers a scalable and renewable energy source that can enable homes, businesses, and even entire cities to generate clean electricity.

This innovation has not only mitigated climate change but has also created jobs, lowered electricity costs, and increased energy independence. Owing to the rising popularity of solar panel technology , solar photovoltaic panel installers are one of the most in demand jobs for the future with a growth rate of 27%. To read more about sustainable and green technology, do check out our article on the biggest green tech companies in the world . 

Speaking of green tech, in Q2 of 2023, Tesla Inc (NASDAQ: TSLA )’s green technology prowess also translated into its exceptional financial performance. Its revenue grew by 47% YoY to nearly $25 billion, with a net income at $3.1 billion. Tesla Inc. (NASDAQ:TSLA) experienced the biggest boom in its solar and battery storage business, which grew 74% YoY in Q2.

Investors are benefiting from Tesla Inc (NASDAQ:TSLA)’s strong performance. This performance is underpinned by their ongoing cost reduction efforts, impressive production ramp-ups in Berlin and Texas, and solid performance in its Energy and Services & other businesses. Owing to the exceptional financial and professional standing of the company, Tesla Inc (NASDAQ:TSLA) is one of the best companies to work for in 2023 .

25 Most Important Inventions of the 21st Century

Photo by NeONBRAND on Unsplash

Our methodology

Given the nature of dominant innovations in the 21st century, most of our inventions are essentially technologies. To select the most important inventions of the 21st century , we have identified inventions on the basis of their impact. The ranking of these inventions is done based on the following indicators: social impact, economic impact, and environmental impact. 

Each indicator was assigned a score from 0 to 20. The total score, out of 60,  was determined by adding up the scores for all indicators. Hence, higher scores indicate higher rankings. The score for each indicator has been derived from extensive research on the internet and thus, in essence, is calculated based on consensus. The list is presented in ascending order. 

Note: Some of the technology we have discussed is older (in terms of proof of concept) than the 21st century itself. However, such technologies like Hydrogen Fuel Cells only became commercially viable in the 21st century, which is why we have them in the list.

Here is a list of the most important inventions of the 21st century . 

10. 3D Printing

Impact Score: 34 3D printing has enabled the creation of physical objects from digital designs and has forever changed the landscape of manufacturing. From aerospace to medical implants and fashion, 3D printing is reshaping industries and empowering individuals to innovate and produce with greater efficiency and creativity.

24. Birth Control Patch

Impact Score: 35

The birth control patch has introduced a revolutionary approach to contraception. Its convenience lies in offering women an effective, discreet alternative to daily pills or invasive procedures that has simplified birth control management and has also improved access. It is one of the most important social inventions of the 21st century . 

23. Humanoid Robots

Impact Score: 37

Humanoid robots are making a profound impact across different industries. In healthcare, companies like SoftBank Robotics, a subsidiary of SoftBank Group Corp (OTC: SFTBY ) have developed robots like Pepper to assist in patient care and therapy. Pepper is capable of reading human emotions. It is one of the latest inventions of the 21st century . 

22. Capsule Endoscopy 

Impact Score: 38

Capsule endoscopy is transforming the medical field, particularly in gastroenterology. Small, ingestible capsules equipped with cameras capture images of the digestive tract and help in diagnosing conditions like Crohn’s disease and gastrointestinal bleeding. Medtronic Plc (NYSE: MDT ) manufactures the PillCam capsule endoscopy system. This technology is minimally invasive, patient-friendly, and reduces the need for traditional endoscopic procedures. 

21. Blockchain Technology

Impact Score: 39

Blockchain technology employs a highly decentralized, tamper-resistant ledger that records transactions across a network of computers. This ensures transparency and security and thus, reduces the risk of fraud and manipulation. Beyond cryptocurrency applications, blockchain can transform industries through applications in supply chain management by ensuring the authenticity and traceability of products.

20.  Subscription Video on Demand (SVOD) Services

Impact Score: 40

Subscription Video-on-demand (SVOD) services, like Netflix Inc (NASDAQ: NFLX ) offer on-demand access to vast content. They have completely revolutionized how people watch movies and series. SVOD has indeed disrupted traditional television and cinema and has also enabled global audiences to enjoy personalized, ad-free entertainment anytime and anywhere.

19. Smart Home Services

Impact Score: 41

By enhancing convenience, security, and energy efficiency, devices like the Amazon Echo and Google Home enable voice-controlled automation have been completely game changing for the modern lifestyle. It is one the most important modern inventions in the world . 

18. Artificial Organs

Impact Score: 42

Artificial organs save lives and improve the quality of life for patients with organ failure. With innovations like artificial hearts and kidneys that provide temporary or permanent solutions, time for transplant waiting lists has been significantly reduced. It is one of the inventions that have changed the world. 

17. Smart Grids

Impact Score: 43

Smart grids revolutionize energy management by improving efficiency and reliability. They integrate renewable energy sources, reduce power outages, and enable demand-response systems. Mainly, companies like General Electric Co (NYSE: GE ) are involved in the development of smart grid technologies. It is one of the best inventions in the last 20 years . 

16. Quantum Computing

Impact Score: 45

Quantum computing is a highly impactful invention owing to its ability to tackle complex problems exponentially faster than classical computers. International Business Machines Corp (NYSE: IBM ) is at the forefront of this technology. It is one of the greatest inventions of the 21st century. 

Quantum computing, not yet a full-blown invention, faces formidable challenges associated with the environmental effects on quantum superpositions of qubits. Nevertheless, there is a strong consensus among different experts who suggest that the associated problems will have been solved by the end of this century and if so, its impact will be far-reaching. 

15. 5G Technologies

Impact Score: 46

5G technology offers faster data speeds that enables innovations in healthcare, manufacturing, and autonomous vehicles, and the Internet of Things (IoT). One example is of its use is in the telecommunications sector, where companies like Verizon Communications Inc (NYSE: VZ ) deploy 5G networks. It is one of the most important inventions of the 21st century . 

14. Hydrogen Fuel Cells

Impact Score: 47

Hydrogen Fuel Cells produce electricity with only water vapor as a byproduct, reducing greenhouse gas emissions and dependence on fossil fuels. It is one of the most important inventions of the 21st century in the world.

Impact Score: 48

From being used in agriculture, aerial photography, surveillance and logistics to increasing efficiency, reducing costs, and transforming industries from farming to filmmaking, drones have been proven to be one of the most impactful inventions of all time . 

12. Autonomous Vehicles

Impact Score: 49

Autonomous vehicles, or self-driving cars have the potential to improve safety by reducing traffic congestion and improving mobility. Tesla Inc (NASDAQ:TSLA) is at the forefront of developing autonomous driving technology, with applications across the automotive industry. 

11. Human Genome Mapping

Impact Score: 50

Human genome mapping is the detailed study of all the genes in our DNA. It’s a highly crucial invention because it helps us understand our genetic makeup, which influences our traits and health. This knowledge is vital for personalization in medicine, where treatments can be tailored to an individual’s unique genetic profile. It also aids in finding the causes of inherited diseases and drives progress in fields like biotechnology and pharmaceuticals. It is among the most useful inventions of the 21st century . 

Click here to see the 10 Most Important Inventions of the 21st Century . 

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Disclosure: None. 25 Most Important Inventions of the 21st Century is originally published on Insider Monkey.

Drones Smart grids 3D printing NASDAQ:TSLA NASDAQ:AMZN Yahoo Finance 5G technologies Humanoid Robots Daily Newsletter Quantum Computing Artificial Organs Capsule Endoscopy smart home services Hydrogen Fuel Cells Birth Control Patch Autonomous Vehicles Human Genome Mapping blockchain technology Tesla Inc. (NASDAQ:TSLA) Amazon.com Inc. (NASDAQ:AMZN) most impactful inventions of all time 12 Most Advanced Countries in Science 15 Most Advanced Countries in Medicine top 3 most important inventions till date most useful inventions of the 21st century rising popularity of solar panels technology Subscription Video on Demand (SVOD) Services most important modern inventions in the world 25 most important inventions of the 21st century 15 Most Innovative Medical Discoveries in the World most important inventions of the 21st century in the world most important digitalization innovations of the 21st century most significant sustainable technology innovation of the 21st century Show more... Show less

inventions of 21st century essay

AI Fire Sale: Insider Monkey’s #1 AI Stock Pick Is On A Steep Discount

Published on march 27, 2024 at by inan dogan, phd.

Artificial intelligence is the greatest investment opportunity of our lifetime. The time to invest in groundbreaking AI is now, and this stock is a steal!

The whispers are turning into roars.

Artificial intelligence isn’t science fiction anymore.

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Here’s why this is the prime moment to jump on the AI bandwagon:

Exponential Growth on the Horizon: Forget linear growth – AI is poised for a hockey stick trajectory.

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English essay on “modern inventions” complete essay, paragraph, speech for 7, 8, 9, 10, 12 students., modern inventions.

This is the 21st century. This is the age of science and technology. Our lives have been drastically changed during these few years because of science and technology. Now we can live in a warm place in a cold season, in the same way, we can cool the hot rooms and live in a temperature of our need.

People in Kathmandu are consuming the things produced in Moscow, Beijing, or any other places of the world. We can even eat a readymade item made in foreign countries as fresh as we have just made. We can talk to people living in any place of the world in a few seconds with the scene as if we are talking face to face. If any event happens in any corner of the world, it spreads all over the world with sound and pictures in a second.

These are all because of the revolution in science and technology. The inventions made in the transport sector brought a great change in our lives. They added comforts and made people dream of other new things. The next great invention is electricity which added unexpected facilities to the people. After this, the invention of computers brought furthermore wonders to us. Sometimes it seems magic to see the effects of these inventions.

It’s true we have got so much change in human life. But we have been dependent on the inventions. We cannot do even very easy things ourselves. Students use calculator machines to add 5 and 3. Our food may not be prepared if the electric power supply is cut. If we have to go o a local market, we need a bike or at least a bicycle, we can hear the news every day. No news is heard where there is no accident, plane crash, murder, etc. Anyway, we have to live in the world using these all inventions.

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Essay on Scientific Discoveries

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  • Feb 7, 2024

Essay on Scientific discoveries

Writing and speaking skills are the most important skills in the world. It shows how well a student will convey his or her ideas, experiences and thoughts. Essays are one of the most popular forms of writing to ascertain an applicant’s general knowledge, experiences, writing style and language skills. It is used in many entrance exams like SAT, IELTS, TOEFL and in college applications as well. From a very early age, school curriculums have been encouraging students to write essays and give speeches. Sometimes the topics provided to students can be complicated. So, today we have come up to help the students with an essay on Scientific Discoveries.

Check out our 200+ Essay Topics for School Students in English

Five Qualities of A Good Essay

Before we provide you with an essay on scientific discoveries. Let’s learn about essay writing. Writing an essay is a difficult thing. The writing should be rich in content plus should not bore its readers. Here are the five qualities a perfect essay should have:-

  • Focus: All of your writing should come under one single topic. No matter how vast your essay is, it should always revolve around the topic of the essay. Avoid unnecessary details.
  • Development: Every paragraph of your essay should centre the topic of your essay. Try to use examples, details and descriptions.
  • Free composition: Always follow a basic structure. Before finalising your essay, jot down the points you would like to mention and then make a series. Do not surprise the reader with complicated words, try to keep it as simple as possible. 
  • Correctness: Make sure your essay is free from any grammatical errors, spelling mistakes, mismatched sentences, etc. Always use standard English and complete sentences.
  • Introduction and Conclusion: The introduction and the conclusion of the writing are the most important parts of the essay. The first impression is always the last, and so is the introduction of your writing. After reading the first two or three lines, if the reader gets bored, he may not read your whole essay. So make sure your essay contains a crispy beginning. Alternatively, make the conclusion so strong and effective that the reader never forgets your essay. Don’t feel afraid to use quotes, catchy lines, slogans and all. They are the cherry on the cake for your essay.

Also Read: Importance of Technology in Education

Also Read: Essay on Athletics in 100, 200 and 300 Words

Sample Essay on Scientific Discoveries

Here is an example of an essay on scientific discoveries to help them out in their school assignments.

Everything around us is a great discovery. Be it a necessity, comfort, or luxury, they all came from different scientific discoveries that took place over some time. Starting from a small pin to a big ship, everything is just a mere invention to make the lives of humans easier. Scientistic discoveries take place in every arena of thought so before we talk about these inventions. Let’s examine what is science. What is science? Science is a system for acquiring knowledge. We use observations, and experimentation to come to a conclusion and explain any natural phenomenon. In simple language, science is the systematic field of study or knowledge gained from experimentations, observations and some accepted facts. And so scientific discoveries have done miracles in human lives.  Scientific discoveries and inventions have made our lives easier and more comfortable than we could have ever imagined. Scientific equipment accomplishes lengthy tasks in just minutes. Be it in the health sector, education, transportation, and more. All the inventions are just the gifts of science. Nowadays we are in a situation where without science, we cannot imagine our survival. In the absence of Science, no country, and no single person would have made progress. Scientific discoveries and inventions are machines that accomplish any task of humans either fully or partially. According to the business dictionary, the word ‘invention’ is “a new scientific or technical idea and the means of its embodiment or accomplishment. To be patentable, an invention must be novel, have utility, and be non-obvious. To be called an invention, an idea only needs to be proven as workable. But to be called an innovation, it must also be replicable at an economical cost and must satisfy a specific need. That’s why only a few inventions lead to innovations because not all of them are economically feasible.” Wikipedia further says, “An invention is a unique or novel device, method, composition or process. It may be an improvement upon a machine or product or a new process for creating an object or a result. An invention that achieves a unique function or result may be a radical breakthrough. Such works are novel and not obvious to others skilled in the same field.” These definitions made us clear about how important scientific discovery is for us. Due to science, we can get all kinds of things we desire for. Electricity is a miracle that gives us light even in the dark. It further helps us to run industries conserve the environment and control pollution .  A cricket match is going on in America and we can watch it. Why? Inventions! Nowadays medical science is doing its best all over the world. Let us not forget computers, which is the greatest invention of mankind.  However, it is rightly said that every coin has two sides. Scientific discoveries and inventions have given us a lot and at the same time created a lot of disadvantages too. Nowadays people have become so dependent on technology that even walking has become difficult. Inventions made people so lazy, especially the young generation. All they could think about now is sitting at their home, with their computers and tablets on.

Gone are the days when people used to go out, play and have actual fun in life. Also, scientific inventions have made people jobless. Employers are substituting their employees with heavy machines. And this is the sad reality everywhere. Along with a luxurious life, technology has made our lives more complicated. People nowadays catch the disease early due to no exercise and sitting in front of their computer the whole day.  The biggest and most disastrous inventions are weapons, guns and bombs. What’s worse than taking the life of people? It has ruined unity, peace and harmony all over the world.  Scientific discoveries and inventions have contributed so much that my essay would never be enough to explain it. Ultimately, I would like to say that do not take up the monstrous side. Try the blessing of discoveries and make your life better in every aspect.

Also Read: Essay on Information Technology in 400 Words

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89 Invention Essay Topics & Examples

Looking for a topic about invention that changed the world? You’re in the right place! Find the best invention essay examples and title ideas below.

🏆 Top Invention Essay Examples

📱 interesting invention speech topics, 👍 good essay topics on invention, ❓ invention research questions.

An invention is an innovative method, device, or process. Whether it is a small improvement or a radical breakthrough, an invention is something that changes production processes and the everyday life of people. Both the wheel and a super-modern smartphone are examples of inventions.

In your invention essay, you might want to discuss the importance of inventing in our life. Another option is to talk about a famous or your favorite invention. Want to get more ideas? In this article, we’ve gathered the best invention essay examples, speech topics, and titles. Go on reading to learn more.

  • Electricity Is the Most Important Invention: Essay Example This process began centuries ago, yet its most active stage was launched in the middle of the nineteenth century, and one of the major moving forces of the rapid technological development was the reception and […]
  • The Invention of Internet Several events led to the advancement of the internet in the world today. The level of computer literacy in the world played a leading role in the advancement of internet as teachers and students wanted […]
  • Papyrus: Its Invention and Impact on the World The invention of papyrus paper by the Egyptians changed the scene since papyrus-paper proved to be the ideal writing material of the time.
  • The Gunpowder Invention and Its Impacts on the World In the present times, the production of gunpowder still goes on as a continuation of the works of the ancient alchemists from China.
  • Dynamite Invention Influence on Politics, Society, and Economy The duality of the impact of the invention of dynamite is present in each of the three major civilizational areas mentioned above.
  • Inventions That the World Would Do Without For instance, the invention of communication technology has been of great help to the entire world because of the convenience and reliability it has come with.
  • Ancient Chinese Contributions and Inventions Trying to point to ten most useful inventions and contributions of the Ancient China, it was really difficult to select the most necessary ones as Ancient China is famous for its contribution into the development […]
  • The Inventions of Thomas Edison Many new developments appeared due to Edison’s achievements, who was one of the founders of the practical application of current. The introduction of compressed current energy marked the transition to a new technological era.
  • Invention in Writing It refers to the creation of new ideas in relation to the question given or the use of old ideas to come up with new ideas in writing.
  • Impact of the Invention of the Camera on Art The invention of the camera immensely impacted the arts, especially in terms of painting. On the other hand, the camera’s invention spurred the development of new art directions, namely, Realism and Impressionism.
  • Golden Age of Islam: Inventions and Success in Science The achievements of the Muslim technology and science contributed to the development of the Western society and helped Europe come out of the Dark Ages.
  • Invention of Photography and Its Social Impact Although photography was invented in its full form only in 1835, an understanding of the social impact that was a result of the invention of photography is rightly portrayed by Azoulay in his article “The […]
  • The Invention of Development On being sworn in as the president of the United States, Rist notes, Truman introduced the term, underdevelopment, as a new concept of regarding the impoverished regions of the world.
  • The Flute Advancement and Its Invention The volume of the flute is dependent on the resonator’s size, the size of the air stream or the velocity of the air stream.
  • The Invention of Television According to Street, Paul Nipkow developed the Nipkow disc in 1884, which was capable of transmitting pictures by use of a cable. In the earlier times, it was hard to send a message for its […]
  • Apple Company: Development, Inventions, Expansion This essay provides an insight into the development of the Apple Company and the various personalities that have contributed to its growth.
  • Marcel Duchamp’s Invention of ‘The Readymade’ In his invention of readymade art, Duchamp based his artwork on the belief that creative art was not made from the perspective of the artist but from the point of view of the spectator who […]
  • Computers: The History of Invention and Development It is treated as a reliable machine able to process and store a large amount of data and help out in any situation.”The storage, retrieval, and use of information are more important than ever” since […]
  • Biomimicry: Inventions Inspired by Nature The main idea or aim of biomimicry is that nature is able to provide humanity with brilliant solutions that can and need to be used.
  • Phonograph Invention and Evolution The time period the phonograph was invented and the circumstances that led to the invention. The invention and advancement of the phonograph and its operations has had a part to play on other inventions.
  • Umbrella and Its Invention in Different Cultures An umbrella in ancient China was not only the item of sun protection, but it was also a symbol of a high rank and nobility of its owner.
  • Inventions of the Ancient Romans The Romans built some of the most impressive buildings in the world, including the Pantheon and the Colosseum. Thus, the Romans were ahead of their time, and their legacy continues to shape modern engineering and […]
  • The Invention and the Power of Music This moment was the beginning of a practical study of the benefits of music therapy for the mental and physical condition of a person.
  • Walter Benjamin’s Article: The Invention of Photography In “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction”, Walter Benjamin discusses how the invention of photography and other mechanical reproduction forms has changed how people perceive works of art.
  • Spectrophotometers: Invention and Development Jensen explains that spectrophotometers can be used to make measurements where previous methods were unable to, like measuring the amount of light absorbed by a substance at different wavelengths.
  • The Motion Picture Invention and Inventors John Isaac played a key role in helping Eadweard to develop a technology used to take the first motion picture of a galloping horse.
  • The Lego Company’s Inventions and Reinvention Hasbro and Barbie, the Lego company has the capacity to widen its range of products and diversify. The Lego company realized the importance of its community, and effectively used it in order to improve its […]
  • Testing New Invention: Blender Switch The purpose of the analysis will be to determine if the proportion of returned blenders with new switches were deferent from the proportion of blenders with old switches.
  • Social Needs: Inventions and Innovations The Pony Express was birthed in 1861 in the US with the primary goal of delivering mail and in the same breath, Coleman Sellers invented a Kinematoscope.
  • Invention of Light Bulbs by Davy: Ethical Issues This was a pivotal moment when Humphrey picked up an interest in the field of electrochemistry in the year 1808 because it led to discovery of the most famous invention in his life which was […]
  • Nikola Tesla’s Inventions and Achievements It is interesting to discuss that Tesla’s AC system led to the event in the history of the scientific and commercial world called the war of the currents.
  • Radio Technology Invention and Development In 1906 he broadcasted a Christmas concert, including his voice and violin play with the help of 400-foot towers to the ships of the United Fruit Company, which were equipped with Marconi’s radios. In 1922 […]
  • The Invention of Daguerreotypes Overall, the work on the daguerreotypes began in 1727, when Schulze introduced his important innovations into photography; it continued in the beginning of the 1800s, when the rudimentary camera obscura was created and actively used; […]
  • Ancient Chinese Inventions and Contributions In spite of this stereotype, China is the Motherland of many inventions of the past. Gunpowder is one of the most significant and well-known inventions of ancient China.
  • Discovery Versus Invention: Understanding, Comparison and Principles of the Subject The earlier example of gods invented to explain cosmology is an area where the knowledge was true for its time in the sense that it organized the universe and the world, but was later replaced […]
  • “John Koza Has Built an Invention Machine” by Jonathon Keat In other words, a new scientific solution of a genius can be appropriate only when the society draws to a head with a little bit mere understanding of the scientific flow at a definite epoch […]
  • Photography: Brief History of Invention At that time all images produced were in black and white and eventually all masters of the art came to believe that the only artistic way to record photographic images was in black and white. […]
  • Two Inventions Comarison: Telephone and Internet However, the history of the first inventor of the telephone is shrouded in mystery with the name of Elisha Gray attached with the invention of the first telephone.
  • Blackberry Device: History of Invention The introduction of the blackberry devices has provided a major breakthrough in the communication industry making it cheaper and faster to consumers.
  • Airplnane: Description of the Invention The credit for the invention of the first powered airplane goes to the Wright brothers Orville and Wilbur. The worlds first powered, sustained and controlled flight in a heavier-than-air airplane was achieved by the Wright […]
  • Rome and the Invention of the West In ” The Aeneid,” Virgil tells of the adventures of the hero of the Trojan war, Aeneas, who was destined by the gods to stay alive after the destruction of Troy to come to Italy […]
  • “Invention as a Social Act” Analysis The paper is divided into four parts: social aspects of the invention, invention as a dialectical process, invention as an act, and classical criteria for a social view of the invention.
  • Artificial Light Invention This reflective treatise attempts to explore the invention of artificial light, benefits, and usage in the field of chemistry. To begin with, artificial light is used in most of the experiments in the laboratory to […]
  • Sickle Cell Disease and Scientific Inventions The disease is caused by a gene that is linked to the production of mutant hemoglobin. This is due to advance treatment and management of the disease”.
  • The Enable Talk Gloves: Invention’s Pros & Cons The gloves have special sensors that turn the signs into texts on a smartphone that also turns the texts into speech. This invention will impact the participation of people with speech problems in the activities […]
  • Optical Tools: History of Invention and Consequential Development Nevertheless, as the socio-cultural progress in this part of the world continued to gain a powerful momentum, the idea of using lenses to create optical devices began to appeal to more and more intellectually advanced […]
  • Television, Its Invention and Technical Evolution The history of television involves the contribution of several engineers from different parts of the world. This paper seeks to explore the technical evolution of the television from its invention to the current developments.
  • Visual Communications and Technological Inventions The invention of the printing press altered the history of the world the most notable one being the reduction of the power of the church.
  • The Progressive Era and Its Technological Inventions Moreover, the period marked the shift from the agrarian to the urban society, and many critics referred to it as the age of reforms in American history.
  • Alexander Graham Bell and the Passion for Invention It was a very short notice and since I had counted on working on my telephone project in the spring of 1870, I was at first not ready to move with my parents.
  • The Invention of Cinema at the End of the XIX Century First attempt to introduce the idea of moving pictures traces back to middle of the seventeenth century, when Athanasius Kircher “who projected crude hand-painted images of the Devil…on the wall of a darkened chamber by […]
  • New Product Invention: Australian Tourism This project will be beneficial because the hotels in the region have since been overwhelmed by the current flow of the visitors.
  • Ancient Chinese Inventions History In this article, I highlight some of the inventions and contributions and examine four that I consider to be outstanding. A sample of these inventions and contributions include “silk, tea, porcelain, paper, printing, gunpowder, the […]
  • Collective Invention During Industrial Revolution The major similarity between collective invention and heroic individual invention is that both provided important source of innovations during the early stages of industrialization.
  • Telescope and Microscope Discovery Combo The paper will look into the history of the discoveries and their effects in the development of the human well beings as well as the enhancement of the human understanding of the surrounding nature in […]
  • Thomas Edison’s Kinetoscope As he famously used to say, the Kinetoscope did with the eye the same thing the phonograph did to the ear.
  • Invention Analysis and Claiming: A Patent Lawyer’s Guide In page 5 of the book, the significance of persistent empirical research in technological advancement is demonstrated. Pasteurization is used in the exemplification of these different technological themes and applications.
  • Aviation Industry and Its Prominent Inventions The above are some of the most influential aviation inventions ever made in the history of the industry. Given the failure in the development of manned aircraft by Russia, it is safe to conclude that […]
  • Luc Sante “The Invention of the Blues” and John Jeremiah Sullivan “Unknown Bards” Personally, I have found the article “The Invention of the Blues” by Sante important because it explains in details the origin of the music genre.
  • Modeling, Prototyping and CASE Tools: The Inventions to Support the Computer Engineering Despite the fact that the engineering is constantly being enriched with the new notions and techniques which add the new ways and methods to make the process of engineering quicker and flawless, the science still […]
  • The Period Encompassing the Invention of Cinema Therefore, because of the establishment of the photographic film at that time that required the use of great illumination, the application of the electric spotlight that was introduced in 1904 in theatres became essential in […]
  • US Inventions: Electronic Appliances and Transport Facilities Fortunately, the inventions of recorders, compact disks, and radio led to the spread of the music in other parts of the world.
  • How Did the Invention of Agriculture Allowed Stable?
  • How Did the Invention of the First American Transcontinental Affect the Nation?
  • How Has the Invention and Use of Television Affected Human Life?
  • How Has the Invention of Contact Lenses Affected People’s Sight?
  • How Has the Invention of Social Media Affected Human Life Over Time?
  • How Has the Invention of Vaccines Helped the World?
  • How Remix Culture Fuels Creativity and Invention?
  • How Did Television Change Since Its Invention?
  • How the Bit Was Born: Claude Shannon and the Invention of Information?
  • How Has the Invention and Use of the Computer Changed Lives in the 21st Century?
  • How Venture Capital Works: Invention and Innovation Drive?
  • Was Modern Art Greater Influenced by the Invention of the Camera or Kindergarten?
  • What Are the Invention That Changed the 20th Century?
  • What Brought About the Invention of Response Cards?
  • What Did the Invention of the Bicycle as an Alternative Model?
  • What Can the Invention Be Made for a Healthier?
  • What Inspires Leisure Time Invention?
  • What Invention Would the World Be Better off Without, and Why?
  • Which Invention Has Had the Most Significant Effect on Our Lives in the Last Two Hundred Years?
  • Which Invention Was More Important: The Internet or the Telegraph?
  • Which Invention Has Made the Most Impact on Our Lives?
  • What Was Invented in 2021?
  • Why Is the Internet Most Important Invention?
  • Why the Gatling Gun Is an Invention of Great Importance to the Science of Warfare?
  • Computers: The Greatest Invention of the Century?
  • Does Compulsory Licensing Discourage Invention?
  • The Microscope: Science’s Greatest Invention?
  • Chicago (A-D)
  • Chicago (N-B)

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IvyPanda . "89 Invention Essay Topics & Examples." March 2, 2024. https://ivypanda.com/essays/topic/invention-essay-topics/.

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These 21st century inventions changed the way we live

As we enter the 21st century, our lives have drastically changed.

New inventions accelerated the way we develop technology and  conduct research . 

It’s hard to believe that the first iPhone was released 16 years ago, yet we can’t live without a smartphone today. 

Statistics from Oberlo show that over  6.8 billion people  around the globe own a smartphone. 

With no plans of slowing down, we can expect to see huge leaps of technology in the future that could bring about self-driving cars and aeroplanes and even advancements in the field of medicine. 

While many 21st-century inventions have shaped our world today, these are some of the most important examples.

Smartphones have become an essential part of many people in their everyday lives. Source: Pau Barrena/AFP

Are you surprised that smartphones are at the top of the list of the most popular invention of the 21st century? In 2022, statistics show that  95.8%  of all Internet users owned smartphones. 

Since the first iPhone was released in 2007, smartphones have come a long way. Today we are able to do just about anything on our smartphones. 

This one device allows us to communicate over text or call and take more pictures than we ever could. 

You can also use it to browse the internet, watch your favourite shows and even for banking.

No wonder phones have become our prized possessions. 

GPS Navigation

The GPS navigation system was invented before the 21st century. 

It wasn’t until 2000 that President Bill Clinton  signed a bill  to make it more accessible to the public. 

GPS navigation has become essential for humans. Whether you are looking for a restaurant or going on a road trip, your GPS is there to guide you.

It has become an important part of our lives and helps us locate ourselves anywhere on the planet. 

What’s more, this navigation system isn’t only beneficial for your simple day-to-day use; it also helps in situations of natural disasters like earthquakes to locate and rescue victims. 

3D printing could one day change the field of medicine with the printing of artificial organs. Source: Jean-Francois Monier/AFP

3D printing

While 3D printing isn’t exactly an invention from the 21st century, this device was rapidly developed during this period.

Today, through cheaper manufacturing methods and open-source software, you can easily buy a 3D printer to use at home from your desktop. 

3D printing has changed the face of production in many areas, including consumer and industrial products and automotive and aerospace prototypes. 

It could one day change the face of medicine as it is being considered to  print artificial organs . 

Imagine being able to carry all your favourite books in your hand no matter where you go.

The invention of e-readers has made this dream a reality. The portable library allows you to store all your books in one handheld device.

With this, books are more accessible and printed books are slowly becoming obsolete.

One popular e-reader is the Amazon Kindle, which kickstarted the trend of e-books. 

In fact,  72%  of the e-reader market uses an Amazon Kindle.

Human genome mapping

Another important 21st-century invention that has changed the face of medicine is human genome mapping. 

The Human Genome Project produced a genome sequence in 2003 that accounted for over  90%  of the human genome. 

Thanks to this invention, researchers can efficiently study individual genes. The project will show how a disease transmitted from parent to child is linked to one or more genes. 

Understanding what makes up our genes has resulted in treatments for many diseases, including cancer. 

This is only the beginning of what genome mapping can provide us. 

Who knows what knowledge it will give to help us to live longer, healthier lives?

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What made the last century’s great innovations possible.

Transforming how people live requires more than scientific discovery

historical photo of a 1920s radio broadcast station with men wearing headphones

In the early decades of the 20th century, automobiles, telephone service and radio (broadcast of the 1920 U.S. presidential election results from KDKA station in Pittsburgh is shown) were transforming life.

Hulton Archive/Getty Images

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By Jon Gertner

March 18, 2022 at 7:00 am

In the early decades of the 20th century, a slew of technologies began altering daily life with seemingly unprecedented speed and breadth. Suddenly, consumers could enjoy affordable automobiles. Long-distance telephone service connected New York with San Francisco. Electric power and radio broadcasts came into homes. New methods for making synthetic fertilizer portended a revolution in agriculture. And on the horizon, airplanes promised a radical transformation in travel and commerce.

As the technology historian Thomas P. Hughes noted: “The remarkably prolific inventors of the late nineteenth century, such as [Thomas] Edison, persuaded us that we were involved in a second creation of the world.” By the 1920s, this world — more functional, more sophisticated and increasingly more comfortable — had come into being.

Public figures like Edison or, say, Henry Ford were often described as inventors. But a different word, one that caught on around the 1950s, seemed more apt in describing the technological ideas making way for modern life: innovation . While its origins go back some 500 years (at first it was used to describe a new legal and then religious idea), the word’s popularization was a post–World War II phenomenon.

The elevation of the term likely owes a debt to the Austrian-American economist Joseph Schumpeter, according to the late science historian Benoît Godin. In his academic writings, Schumpeter argued that vibrant economies were driven by innovators whose work replaced existing products or processes. “Innovation is the market introduction of a technical or organizational novelty, not just its invention,” Schumpeter wrote in 1911.

An invention like Fritz Haber’s process for making synthetic fertilizer, developed in 1909, was a dramatic step forward, for example. Yet what changed global agriculture was a broad industrial effort to transform that invention into an innovation — that is, to replace a popular technology with something better and cheaper on a national or global scale.

In the mid-century era, one of the leading champions of America’s innovation capabilities was Vannevar Bush, an MIT academic. In 1945, Bush worked on a landmark report — famously titled “Science, The Endless Frontier” — for President Harry Truman. The report advocated for a large federal role in funding scientific research. Though Bush didn’t actually use the word innovation in the report, his manifesto presented an objective for the U.S. scientific and industrial establishment: Grand innovative vistas lay ahead, especially in electronics, aeronautics and chemistry. And creating this future would depend on developing a feedstock of new scientific insights.

historical photo of Vannevar Bush holding a pencil to some papers

Though innovation depended on a rich trove of discoveries and inventions, the innovative process often differed, both in its nature and complexity, from what occurred within scientific laboratories. An innovation often required larger teams and more interdisciplinary expertise than an invention. Because it was an effort that connected scientific research to market opportunities, it likewise aimed to have both society-wide scale and impact. As the radio, telephone and airplane had proved, the broad adoption of an innovative product ushered in an era of technological and social change.

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Bringing inventions “to scale” in large markets was precisely the aim of big companies such as General Electric or American Telephone & Telegraph, which was then the national telephone monopoly. Indeed, at Bell Laboratories, which served as the research and development arm of AT&T, a talented engineer named Jack Morton began to think of innovation as “not just the discovery of new phenomena, nor the development of a new product or manufacturing technique, nor the creation of a new market. Rather, the process is all these things acting together in an integrated way toward a common industrial goal.”

Morton had a difficult job. The historical record suggests he was the first person in the world asked to figure out how to turn the transistor, discovered in December 1947 , from an invention into a mass-produced innovation. He put tremendous energy into defining his task — a job that in essence focused on moving beyond science’s eureka moments and pushing the century’s technologies into new and unexplored regions.

From invention to innovation

In the 1940s, Vannevar Bush’s model for innovation was what’s now known as “linear.” He saw the wellspring of new scientific ideas, or what he termed “basic science,” as eventually moving in a more practical direction toward what he deemed “applied research.” In time, these applied scientific ideas — inventions, essentially — could move toward engineered products or processes. Ultimately, in finding large markets, they could become innovations.

In recent decades, Bush’s model has come to be seen as simplistic. The educator Donald Stokes, for instance, has pointed out that the line between basic and applied science can be indistinct. Bush’s paradigm can also work in reverse: New knowledge in the sciences can derive from technological tools and innovations, rather than the other way around. This is often the case with powerful new microscopes , for instance, which allow researchers to make observations and discoveries at tinier and tinier scales. More recently, other scholars of innovation have pointed to the powerful effect that end users and crowdsourcing can have on new products, sometimes improving them dramatically — as with software — by adding new ideas for their own use.

Above all, innovations have increasingly proved to be the sum parts of unrelated scientific discoveries and inventions; combining these elements at a propitious moment in time can result in technological alchemy. Economist Mariana Mazzucato, for instance, has pointed to the iPhone as an integrated wonder of myriad breakthroughs, including touch screens, GPS, cellular systems and the Internet, all developed at different times and with different purposes.

At least in the Cold War era, when military requests and large industrial labs drove much of the new technology, the linear model nevertheless succeeded well. Beyond AT&T and General Electric, corporate titans like General Motors, DuPont, Dow and IBM viewed their R&D labs, stocked with some of the country’s best scientists, as foundries where world-changing products of the future would be forged.

These corporate labs were immensely productive in terms of research and were especially good at producing new patents. But not all their scientific work was suitable for driving innovations. At Bell Labs, for instance, which funded a small laboratory in Holmdel, N.J., situated amid several hundred acres of open fields, a small team of researchers studied radio wave transmissions.

Karl Jansky, a young physicist, installed a moveable antenna on the grounds that revealed radio waves emanating from the center of the Milky Way. In doing so, he effectively founded the field of radio astronomy . And yet, he did not create anything useful for his employer, the phone company, which was more focused on improving and expanding telephone service. To Jansky’s disappointment, he was asked to direct his energies elsewhere; there seemed no market for what he was doing.

Above all, corporate managers needed to perceive an overlap between big ideas and big markets before they would dedicate funding and staff toward developing an innovation. Even then, the iterative work of creating a new product or process could be slow and plodding — more so than it may seem in retrospect. Bell Labs’ invention of the point-contact transistor, in December 1947, is a case in point. The first transistor was a startling moment of insight that led to a Nobel Prize . Yet in truth the world changed little from what was produced that year.

The three credited inventors — William Shockley, John Bardeen and William Brattain — had found a way to create a very fast switch or amplifier by running a current through a slightly impure slice of germanium. Their device promised to transform modern appliances, including those used by the phone company, into tiny, power-sipping electronics. And yet the earliest transistors were difficult to manufacture and impractical for many applications. (They were tried in bulky hearing aids, however.) What was required was a subsequent set of transistor-related inventions to transform the breakthrough into an innovation.

historical photo of John Bardeen, William Shockley and Walter Brattain working with technical equipment

The first crucial step was the junction transistor, a tiny “sandwich” of various types of germanium, theorized by Shockley in 1948 and created by engineering colleagues soon after. The design proved manufacturable by the mid-1950s, thanks to efforts at Texas Instruments and other companies to transform it into a dependable product.

A second leap overcame the problems of germanium, which performed poorly under certain temperature and moisture conditions and was relatively rare. In March 1955, Morris Tanenbaum, a young chemist at Bell Labs, hit on a method using a slice of silicon. It was, crucially, not the world’s first silicon transistor — that distinction goes to a device created a year before. But Tanenbaum reflected that his design, unlike the others, was easily “manufacturable,” which defined its innovative potential. Indeed, he realized its value right away. In his lab notebook on the evening of his insight, he wrote: “This looks like the transistor we’ve been waiting for. It should be a cinch to make.”

Finally, several other giant steps were needed. One came in 1959, also at Bell Labs, when Mohamed Atalla and Dawon Kahng created the first silicon metal-oxide-semiconductor-field-effect-transistor — known as a MOSFET — which used a different architecture than either junction or point-contact transistors. Today, almost every transistor manufactured in the world, trillions each second, results from the MOSFET breakthrough . This advance allowed for the design of integrated circuits and chips implanted with billions of tiny devices. It allowed for powerful computers and moonshots. And it allowed for an entire world to be connected.

Getting there

The technological leaps of the 1900s — microelectronics, antibiotics , chemotherapy, liquid-fueled rockets, Earth-observing satellites , lasers , LED lights, disease-resistant seeds and so forth — derived from science. But these technologies also spent years being improved, tweaked, recombined and modified to make them achieve the scale and impact necessary for innovations.

Some scholars — the late Harvard professor Clayton Christensen, for instance, who in the 1990s studied the way new ideas “disrupt” entrenched industries — have pointed to how waves of technological change can follow predictable patterns. First, a potential innovation with a functional advantage finds a market niche; eventually, it expands its appeal to users, drops in cost and step by step pushes aside a well-established product or process. (Over time the transistor, for example, has mostly eliminated the need for vacuum tubes.)

But there has never been a comprehensive theory of innovation that cuts across all disciplines, or that can reliably predict the specific path by which we end up transforming new knowledge into social gains. Surprises happen. Within any field, structural obstacles, technical challenges or a scarcity of funding can stand in the way of development, so that some ideas (a treatment for melanoma, say) move to fruition and broad application faster than others (a treatment for pancreatic cancer).

There can likewise be vast differences in how innovation occurs in different fields. In energy, for example, which involves vast integrated systems and requires durable infrastructure, the environmental scientist and policy historian Vaclav Smil has noted, innovations can take far longer to achieve scale than in others. In software development, new products can be rolled out cheaply, and can reach a huge audience almost instantly.

At the very least, we can say with some certainty that almost all innovations, like most discoveries and inventions, result from hard work and good timing — a moment when the right people get together with the right knowledge to solve the right problem. In one of his essays on the subject, business theorist Peter Drucker pointed to the process by which business managers “convert society’s needs into opportunities” as the definition of innovation. And that may be as good an explanation as any.  

Even innovations that seem fast — for instance, mRNA vaccines for COVID-19 — are often a capstone to many years of research and discovery. Indeed, it’s worth noting that the scientific groundwork preceding the vaccines’ rollout developed the methods that could later be used to solve a problem when the need became most acute . What’s more, the urgency of the situation presented an opportunity for three companies — Moderna and, in collaboration, Pfizer and BioNTech — to utilize a vaccine invention and bring it to scale within a year.

person injecting a COVID-19 vaccine into someone's arm

“The history of cultural progress is, almost without exception, a story of one door leading to another door,” the tech journalist Steven Johnson has written. We usually explore just one room at a time, and only after wandering around do we proceed to the next, he writes. Surely this is an apt way to think of our journey up to now. It might also lead us to ask: What doors will we open in future decades? What rooms will we explore?

On the one hand, we can be assured that the advent of mRNA vaccines portends applications for a range of other diseases in coming years. It seems more challenging to predict — and, perhaps, hazardous to underestimate — the human impact of biotechnology , such as CRISPR gene editing or synthetic DNA. And it seems equally hard to imagine with precision how a variety of novel digital products ( robotics, for example, and artificial intelligence ) will be integrated into societies of the future. Yet without question they will.

Erik Brynjolfsson of Stanford and Andrew McAfee of MIT have posited that new digital technologies mark the start of a “second machine age” that in turn represents “an inflection point in the history of our economies and societies.” What could result is an era of greater abundance and problem-solving, but also enormous challenges — for instance, as computers increasingly take on tasks that result in the replacement of human workers.

If this is our future, it won’t be the first time we’ve struggled with the blowback from new innovations , which often create new problems even as they solve old ones. New pesticides and herbicides, to take one example, allowed farmers to raise yields and ensure good harvests; they also devastated fragile ecosystems. Social media connected people all over the world; it also led to a tidal wave of propaganda and misinformation. Most crucially, the discovery of fossil fuels, along with the development of steam turbines and internal combustion engines, led us into an era of global wealth and commerce. But these innovations have bequeathed a legacy of CO 2 emissions, a warming planet, diminished biodiversity and the possibility of impending environmental catastrophe.

The climate dilemma almost certainly presents the greatest challenge of the next 50 years. Some of the innovations needed for an energy transition — in solar and wind power, and in batteries and home heat pumps — already exist; what’s required are policies that allow for deployment on a rapid and more massive scale. But other ideas and inventions — in the fields of geothermal and tidal power, for instance, or next-generation nuclear plants, novel battery chemistries and carbon capture and utilization — will require years of development to drive costs down and performance up. The climate challenge is so large and varied, it seems safe to assume we will need every innovation we can possibly muster.

A solar thermal power plant in Morocco, with long rows of solar panels

Perhaps the largest unknown is whether success is assured. Even so, we can predict what a person looking back a century from now might think. They will note that we had a multitude of astonishing scientific breakthroughs in our favor at this moment in time — breakthroughs that pointed the way toward innovations and a cooler, safer, healthier planet. They will reflect that we had a range of extraordinary tools at our beck and call. They will see that we had great engineering prowess, and great wealth. And they will likely conclude that with all the problems at hand, even some that seemed fearsome and intractable, none should have proved unsolvable.

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[CFP] 2024 Situations International Conference: Asian Diaspora in the 21st Century

Call for Papers

2024 Situations International Conference

22-23 November, 2024

Yonsei University, Seoul, South Korea

Asian Diaspora in the 21st Century:

Transnational Hauntology and Affective Production

Scholars have extensively debated the meaning and significance of diaspora . At their inception, classic diaspora studies considered a racial or ethnic group’s dispersal caused by religious difference, the Jewish people being the archetype in understanding diaspora. The scope of modern diaspora studies has been expanded to embrace emancipatory politics and the exploration of various conditions of racial, ethnic, and political minorities. Contemporary diaspora is characterized by fragmentation, dislocation, and globalization, and these new features must be clearly redefined and analyzed. Non-European diaspora experience, Asian diaspora in particular, has not been extensively explored. Raising questions about the magnitude and the limited destinations of Korean migration being identified as a diaspora, Gerard Chaliand and Jean Pierre Rageau argue that “the total number of overseas Koreans lacks the massive proportions of a typical diaspora, such as the Irish case, in which more than half of the population emigrated from their homeland” (1995). Should we define an ethnic group’s diaspora through size or distance? Doesn’t the atypicality of the Korean diaspora call for a retheorization of diaspora today?

A small group of migrants may have felt themselves to be in a precarious situation in the 19th and 20th centuries, but in the 21st century, diasporic subjects have multiple ways of retaining contact with their communities of origin, thanks to advances in communication technology and frequent air travel. Contemporary diasporas in the 21st century can be characterized by varieties of diasporic experience that no longer necessitate a permanent break from one’s homeland. The consciousness of being a diasporic subject may no longer depend as much on a physical and geographic separation from a homeland. What does diasporic consciousness mean then in a world where contact and even return to the homeland is possible? And turning away from the attention of ethnicity or race on diaspora to the emotional experience of being unsettled, displaced, and haunted, may unveil a greater understanding of our being in the 21st century.

Playing on the concept of ontology and resonating with his lifelong project of deconstruction, Jacques Derrida suggests by the term, hauntology, how to engage ghosts and historical remnants from the past. (Hau)ntology is a neologism that reminds us that we are always displaced and unhomed. When diasporic subjects seek to break away from their past, it can always come back to haunt their present experience associated with mixed feelings of melancholia, rage, alienation, anomie, and hopefulness for a better future. The displaced subjects’ affective production transcending the limited ties of kinship and nation can mediate the deterritorialized humanity in the 21st century. Situations (Volume 18, No. 1, 2025) calls for papers that explore concepts of migration and diaspora in the 21st century and/or papers that examine literary and cultural content representing, mediating, or rearticulating the diasporic consciousness of Asian diaspora communities.

Possible topics:

  • Contemporary diasporas: North Korean defectors, the Zainichi community, the Chinese diaspora in Southeast Asia, and the South Asian diaspora in African and Arab states
  • diasporic consciousness: displacement and lost land, homeland and host land
  • language barriers and linguistic isolation
  • citizenship and sense of belonging
  • the myth and politics of return
  • refugee camps, resettlement, and national borders
  • gendered experience within diasporic communities
  • inter-Asian migration and politics of asylum
  • the problem of collective memory in diasporic communities
  • assimilation and de-assimilation in one’s adopted land
  • diaspora and the “blue humanities” centered on oceans and seas

Confirmed Keynote Speakers:

John Lie, Distinguished Professor of Sociology, U.C. Berkeley

So-young Kim, Professor of Cinema Studies, Korea National University of Arts

Early inquiries with 200-word abstracts are appreciated.  By  3 1  August 2024 ,  we would invite you to submit your 4,000-word Chicago-style conference presentation with its abstract and keywords  (the acceptance of the presentation will be decided based on the 4,000-paper).

Each invited participant is then expected to turn his or her conference presentation into a finished 6,000-word paper for possible inclusion in a future issue of the SCOPUS-indexed journal,  Situations: Cultural Studies in the Asian Context . All inquiries and submissions should be sent to both  [email protected]  and [email protected] .

Submissions should follow the Chicago Manual of Style (16th ed.), using only endnotes.

We will pay for the hotel accommodation for those participants whose papers we accept. The presenters will share twin bedrooms.


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