When people think of the inventions and breakthroughs that have changed our lives the most, much of the focus to this day remains on the achievements of the 20th century. Yes, the car, internet, satellite, and cellphone were all major milestones in the history of humanity, but the world has moved on leaps and bounds since then.
We’re barely two decades into the 21st century, yet the breakneck pace of technological advancement has already outstripped the achievements of the entirety of the last century in many respects. As humanity enters an entirely new era of civilization, one defined by the effect of human activity on the planet, it’s worth looking at the momentous advances of this century so far, to get an idea of where we might be heading. Here are the five greatest technological breakthroughs of the 21st century.
3D printing has existed in a primitive form since the early 1980s, although nowhere close to the capabilities that have been achieved in the past decade. Breakthroughs in technologies such as selective laser melting processes, as well as the greatly enhanced affordability of materials, has created an era where 3D printing has the genuine ability to impact mass change.
The last few years alone have seen the actual printing of prosthetic limbs, synthetic organs, homes, edible food, and even musical instruments according to Forbes. The fact that this is just starting to happen on a mass scale suggests that it may soon become a common feature of everyday life.
The End of Cash
We’re not talking about the increased usage of credit cards here. We’re talking about how digital breakthroughs have completely annihilated the need for physical currency, an item which has dominated human interaction for thousands of years. While contactless and mobile payments are just a part of that story, digital platforms like PayPal and e-commerce giants like Amazon have completely removed the need for physical money in our lives.
Just twenty years ago even a game of bingo meant that a lot of money had to change hands, while these days people can play it online and win thousands through digital platforms like Oddschecker, all without a single penny physically changing hands. The implications of the cashless revolution are only just starting to be realized.
Believe it or not, the first modern GPS satellite wasn’t actually launched until 2005. Since then, the way human beings navigate the globe has changed irreversibly. No longer do people need to rely on the knowledge of others, or on bulky equipment such as maps or compasses. GPS technology has meant that not only do people never get lost but that they can always be found.
Whether this is a universally good thing is a matter for debate, but the fact that Google Maps gives even a low-income person access to the entire known world is a thing of beauty.
AI has loomed large in our collective imaginations for decades, but it’s only just now beginning to fundamentally alter the world we live in. The capabilities of AI throughout the 20th century were limited to playing chess and solving equations. Since the new millennium rolled around, however, things have changed dramatically.
Artificial intelligence is now able to power self-driving cars, determine health risks with astonishing accuracy, make better decisions than any human possibly could, and accurately predict the risk that a person will commit a crime. This may sound like a surefire path to authoritarian dystopia for some, but the ability of machines to know more than humans and make better decisions could also be harnessed in a way which benefits everybody.
The Internet of Things
If the internet defined the 90s, the 2010s have been defined by the Internet of Things (IoT). It’s the breakthrough that perhaps most clearly defines humanity’s path toward merging completely with technology. The IoT integrates wireless technology and AI into everything we do and use, in order to streamline our existence and ensure our every action is technology-assisted.
This is most visibly manifested in technologies such as Amazon’s Alexa home assistant, but can also be seen in things like cloud computing and password synchronization.
Whatever you think of our current trajectory, there’s no denying that more has been achieved in the past decade than in the thirty years preceding it. This dizzying pace of change will throw up winners and losers, but the technology is something that can benefit everyone if used correctly.
Karen and her husband live on a plot of land in British Columbia. They aim to grow and raise a significant part of their food by maintaining a vegetable garden, keeping a flock of backyard chickens and foraging. They are also currently planning a move to a small cabin they hand built. Karen’s academic background in nutrition made her care deeply about real food and seek ways to obtain it. Thus sprung Anna’s interest in backyard gardening, chicken and goat keeping, recycling and self-sufficiency.