The last two decades or so have been really about the Internet, which seeped into every aspect of our lives. Facebook, Amazon, Google and Netfllix have famously changed the way we shop, connect, consume content and information and unwind. No wonder then, these have become the largest companies, creating considerable wealth for their shareholders.
Following suit, other technopreneurs jumped on to the bandwagon too. Several of them made a killing by giving us more internet-based platforms for shopping, entertainment, information, payments, etc. Thus, we also have giants of the likes of Alibaba, PayPal, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, HotStar, Uber, Didi, WhatApp, Apple Pay and so on.
But wait, amidst the host of apps and websites making our lives smoother, what about more game changing discoveries a la the Internet itself? Have discoveries and inventions simply given way to app and website development? Has the internet let us down?
Yes, feels none other than PayPal cofounder and early Facebook investor Peter Thiel. He once said, “We wanted flying cars, instead we got 140 characters.” The “140 characters” refers to Twitter here.
Against the backdrop of such an argument, we delve a little bit more…
Major discoveries, internet aside, that have ushered us into the 21st century
Human history all along has been shaped by major discoveries, which stood the world on its head. Without the wheels discovered hundreds of centuries back, we wouldn’t have the modern day semi-autonomous cars paving the way for the more futuristic driverless ones.
The telephone, transistor, steam engine, electricity and aeroplanes, among others disrupted our lives big time. With subsequent improvements, sometimes completely supplanting the underpinning technologies themselves, those ushered us into the 21stcentury as we know it today.
The bulky black telephone, invented by Graham Bell in the 19th century, can be categorised as a distant precursor to the smartphones we use today. While making the first phone call to his assistant in an adjacent room in 1876, Bell sure did not even remotely imagine his idea would revolutionise communication to this extent – sleek handsets that are powerful wireless phones, messaging platforms, entertainment portals, and so much more.
The steam engine invented by James Watt, almost a century before the telephone, has morphed into the modern day, high speed bullet trains and metros. And now the hyperloop is projected to take that concept several notches higher with speeds greater than supersonic planes.
The modern day fighter jets piercing the skies at lightening speeds or the ultra-luxurious private jets and airplanes shuttling us between continents in record time – all of them trace their roots to the first crude aeroplane invented and flown by the Wright brothers in 1903.
And then of course the mother of all discoveries, the electricity without which our lives wouldn’t be so bright and hi-tech. However, such inventions and discoveries have been few and far between in the past one century. What we have seen instead massive improvisations of the existing inventions and discoveries.
It’s all about the technology nowadays
Pathbreaking inventions seem to have run out of steam. The modern day cars, buildings, solar farms, industries, multiplexes, flat screen TVs and every other conceivable object are a result of continuous product development.
If patent and trademark application is anything to go by, then it is all about technological innovation at present. Huawei Technologies, ZTE Corporation, Intel Corporation, Mitsubishi Electric Corporation and Qualcomm Incorporated topped the list of international patent applications in 2017. This makes the computer and electronics industries the leaders with respect to patent application.
Does that mean we have discovered all that there is for finding and have answered all basic laws of physics? Is there no more room for more big bang inventions?
Well, no. It’s just that we just need to shift our gaze away from technology and the internet.
There is still so much to be accomplished. Think cures for fatal health conditions, namely cancer, AIDS, Alzheimer’s, and others. Think pathbreaking solutions in agriculture. Think flying cars.
The list could be endless.
Maybe a superfood the size of a small capsule that can eliminate the hunger and malnutrition problem altogether; a new technique to control weather change; building habitat on Mars and Moon to solve the problem of overcrowding on earth.
Already efforts are being made in these directions.
We are seeing promising progress in stem cell research and biotechnology to uncover new possibilities in diseases cures and treatments. Cutting-edge research is being carried out to develop prosthetics that are as good as natural limbs. Studies are on for decades to discover potential habitats in nearby planets and the moon. Scientists are seen working on creating more powerful genetically modified foods.
However, most of the headlining dealmaking, big ticket projects and investor money are in the domain of internet and technology. From artificial intelligence and machine learning to robotics and cloud, it’s all about the internet and new software.
By Pubali Neogi