Advanced technology has become an integral part of society — according to Pew Research, 67 percent of U.S. adults have broadband internet access at home, while 13 percent have tossed traditional connections and exclusively use mobile devices. But the evolution of technology goes beyond PCs and smartphones. Here's a look at tech that has made the shift from unusual to ubiquitous.
Related Article: A History of Information Technology: Then and Now
The Speed of Smart
The rapid adoption of mobile technologies makes them an ideal place to start. Put simply: If you've got a smartphone, it's more powerful than the computers used to land Apollo 11 or defeat world chess Grandmaster Garry Kasparov. The Apollo guidance computer ran at speeds of 0.043 megahertz. The CPU of an iPhone 5, by comparison, can reach 1.3 gigahertz. Quite an improvement. And when it comes to sheer processing power, the chess-playing Deep Blue managed 11.38 gigaflops — that's 11.38 billion floating-point operations per second — but a modern smartphone can reach more than 364 GFLOPS. Checkmate.
Hard drives have also come a long way. PC World notes that in 1956, IBM's 305 RAMAC Disk System cost $10,000 per megabyte and held a maximum of 5 MB using 50 disks, each 24 inches in diameter. Now, it's possible to store more than 4 gigabytes of data using a drive less than an inch wide. Solid state drives (SSD), which eliminate the need for failure-prone spinning disks, have also gone mainstream as a way to quickly access information.
Consider the first modulator-demodulator or modem, if you don't like the wordier version. The device came with full-duplex transmission, frequency-shift keying (FSK) and, most importantly, the ability to send data at 300 baud (bps). Now? Ethernet-based technologies have made it possible to achieve 100 Gbps transfer speeds. Sure, it looks faster on paper, but consider what it means in practice. At 300 bps it would take around 30 minutes for a text-only webpage to load; you'd have to wait at least an hour to read this post because it comes with a few pretty pictures. Totally worth it, right?
Reinventing the Wheel
Of course, the evolution of technology isn't limited to computers and data. What about cars? Or more specifically, the SUV? It all started with the U.S. military and the need for a tough, durable 4x4 vehicle during the Second World War. Only two companies answered the call for prototypes, and the Army selected the "Jeep" as its go-to soldier transport.
After the war, the Jeep went into mass production but wasn't exactly built with comfort in mind — no roof, hard shocks and a rough ride came with the territory. Now, SUVs are not only as luxurious as their lower-profile counterparts, but brands such as Infiniti, Nissan and Prius feature "around view" cameras, which provide both a look at what you might hit while backing up and a 360-degree birds-eye view of your vehicle while parking.
It's hard to imagine a world without camera phones, although there would certainly be advantages — no more pictures of carefully styled lunch dishes and endless cat photos, for example. Like it or lump it, however, digital cameras are here to stay. Smartphones now boast features such as 16 megapixel (MP) resolution, optical image stabilization (OIS) and auto high dynamic range (HDR) to help you capture the perfect shot.
These digital snappers are less than two decades old, but the technology has taken centuries to evolve. Nearly two hundred years ago, a French inventor created permanent images using sunlight. More than one thousand years ago, the camera obscura projected an inverted image when light passed through a small aperture. Not exactly meme worthy, but quite the snapshot of the now-ubiquitous digital camera's humble lineage.
The evolution of technology doesn't have a steady pace or flow — thanks to a new warp drive prototype spaceship currently in design, soon it may even move faster than the speed of light — but it's impossible to stop the march. What we take for granted today will become old tech in a generation and museum-worthy in a few more. Ready to feel old because of your phone or car? If not, that's OK — chances are tech will move too fast for you to notice.