And so we come to the last of our 50 inventions and, in some respects, we have come full circle, as we end with an invention that is arguably the closest thing we currently have to a machine that can create more machines! And that is the 3D printer, a device born in the mid-Eighties that — fed with CAD designs — can build objects, sculptures, gears, component parts, organs, artificial limbs, toys and much more through an ingenious layering of liquid plastics. The complexity of some of the things modern 3D printers are capable of making is truly astounding and, with work already underway to upscale both their commercial availability and their potential applications — such as a project to make a printer capable of printing entire houses — this particular invention has a very bright future ahead of it.
Be it a desktop, laptop, tablet or smartphone, the average person owns at least one personal computational device, for performing a variety of tasks. Whether it’s for writing letters, receiving mail, checking the weather, making phone calls, shopping, playing games, calculating sums or booking a holiday, computers can handle it — and a whole lot more. Indeed, the empowering qualities of the PC are massive and it is easy to see why many argue it’s the most important device on Earth.
This early personal computer sets the benchmark for their design, incorporating a monitor, keyboard, mouse and graphical user interface (GUI).
Commodore PET 2001
One of the first mass-market PCs, the PET 2001 featured a 1MHz CPU and up to 96KB of memory. It came in a one-piece form-factor, unlike the PARC.
IBM PC 5150
Tech giant IBM’s first mass-produced PC sold fantastically well and went on to become a business industry standard. The IBM 5150 had a 4.77MHz CPU.
Power Mac 9500
One of the first of a new wave of hi-spec PCs, the Mac 9500 helped popularise the separate desktop tower case and now-widespread PCI standard connector.
The iMac helped push the now popular all-in-one unibody design standard, with high-resolution LED screens and super-fast, multi-CPU PCs now the norm.
Military and governmental satellites had existed for over half a decade when the Telstar satellite was launched into space on top of a Thor-Delta rocket on 10 July 1962.
But that didn’t stop it from becoming one of the most important satellites of all time. This was because the Telstar was the first commercially funded initiative to develop satellite communications over Europe — a technological advance that would lead on to today’s widespread satellite-reliant communications and entertainment.
Indeed, Telstar would go on to successfully transmit the world’s first transatlantic television pictures, telephone calls and fax images. Telstar 1 is still in orbit around Earth but is no longer functional.
Another invention to which no firm date nor name can be ascribed, the internet nonetheless remains an absolute necessity for a top inventions list. With origins buried in US military facilities during the Sixties as a way to deliver fault-tolerant communication between individual computer networks, the internet soon grew in scale, with the development of increasingly large and complex networks. By the early-Eighties an identifiable backbone of the internet had emerged with its potential being realised, both commercially and academically. As a result, companies and institutions started linking their own networks and — along with the birth of the World Wide Web — a new era of online communication, business and entertainment had dawned.
Luna 1 (pictured left) wasn’t the first space probe to be built, but it was the first to successfully leave a geocentric orbit — the key criterion for classifying one today. The probe was built as part of the USSR’s Luna programme in 1959 and paved the way for a series of other Luna probes that would explore the Moon in unprecedented detail. Today, we have created space probes that are so advanced they can image alien worlds in high definition and travel to the farthest reaches of our Solar System and beyond.