GeekeryScience

On The Frivolous Use Of Advanced Technology

It’s easy to become complacent with technology. It’s all around you. You can’t really avoid it anymore. But it wasn’t always like this.

Sometimes we need to remind ourselves that the modern conveniences we take for granted began as major scientific breakthroughs. For example…

1931 – Zoltán Bay generates a microwave radio beam to measure the distance to the Moon.
1946 – Percy Spencer notes that a candy bar in his pocket melts when exposed to emissions from a microwave magnetron.
Present Day – Your microwave oven lets you get to chowing down on Jimmy D’s Griddle Sticks in under 2 minutes!

1936 – Alan Turing proposes automatic computation by means of sequential processing of logical operations.
1975 – MITS releases the Altair 8800, the first commercially successful home computer.
Present Day – Chances are everyone you know has at least one computer, which they use primarily for looking at amusing pictures of semi-literate felines.

1939 – Valentin A. Fabrikant predicts the use of stimulated emission to amplify electromagnetic waves.
1958 – Bell Labs files a patent application for a laser.
Present Day – Trade show exhibitors give away promotional laser pointer key chains, which you then use to torment your cat.

1942 – Hedy Lamarr patents the frequency-hopping Secret Communication System.
1988 – Frequency-hopping is incorporated into the code division multiple access (CDMA) standard for cellular telephony.
Present Day – With a mobile phone, you can get in touch with anyone, anywhere, anytime. Except when you really need to.

1957 – Richard B. Kershner notes that Doppler distortion from Sputnik’s radio signal could be used to pinpoint its position in orbit.
1978 – The first global positioning system (GPS) satellite is launched, for military use.
Present Day – GPS lets you become Mayor of Stuckey’s on FourSquare.

1959 – Richard Feynman proposes fabricating extremely small machines to perform previously unimaginable tasks.
1982 – The first micro-electromechanical systems (MEMS) accelerometer is created, leading to the miniaturization of gyroscopic and motion-sensing devices.
Present Day – MEMS accelerometers in your Wii-mote introduce entirely new and creative ways of wasting time.

To wrap things up, consider your smartphone. Some might call it a miracle of modern technology. It’s not. It’s the end product of a lot of hard work and long hours put in by a lot of very clever people most of us have never even heard of. Here’s a short – and by no means comprehensive – list of some of the people who contributed to the technology found in a typical smartphone. You might consider silently thanking them for their efforts next time you’re, say, playing Angry Birds.

Previous post

Desperately Seeking Science (PS: I Found It.)

Next post

Timeless

Steve D

Steve D

Steve consists of approximately 60% water and 40% organic molecules, arranged in a configuration that is, among over things, capable of describing itself in this manner.

4 Comments

  1. April 28, 2011 at 12:45 am

    Excellent!

  2. April 28, 2011 at 4:54 am

    Wow, great post. Thank science.

  3. April 28, 2011 at 8:32 am

    Love it. Spreading it.

  4. April 28, 2011 at 9:56 am

    Very interesting, what a novel approach to a number of things many of us take for granted.

    But I feel I must point out, playing with the Wii is NOT a waste of time – it is practicing to defend oneself from the rise of the robot overlords. Or something.

Leave a reply