Technology is advancing today at an incredible pace. There are inventions, gadgets and technologies we take for granted that either weren’t practical yet or didn’t exist at all until just the last 10 to 15 years. Below are a few of the more impactful technological advances since the turn of the century and the effect they’ve had on our lives.
The Widespread Availability of High-Speed Internet
I was planning to say “media streaming over the Internet” for this tech advancement, but then I realized that what actually makes this possible is the widespread availability of high-speed Internet. Back in the days of dial-up Internet service, real-time streaming of videos was impossible. The proliferation of fast Internet through DSL and cable providers was the actual technological breakthrough. It has, however, been both a positive and negative for cable TV companies. Being able to offer Internet services has given them another product to sell to people, but it is internet TV and movie streaming services such as Netflix and HBO Now that are causing increasing numbers of people to cut their cable TV subscriptions. People just order their Internet from a cable or DSL provider and then order their own TV and movies from far more flexible providers online. Additionally, with smartphone technology, people are able to cut the cable completely and have their Netflix shows sent directly to their iPhone or Android. If they still wish to watch their content on that huge TV in the living room, rather than their tiny iPhone or tablet screen, they can connect the two through set top boxes such as Apple TV, Roku and Amazon Fire TV. Given that cable companies consistently finish near the bottom in consumer satisfaction surveys of various industries, not many tears will be shed when this proliferation of mobile, high-speed Internet access makes them go the way of the local video store.
The Smartphone Revolution
Already mentioned above, the smartphone is a big part of what currently makes high-speed Internet so widespread. Even as recently as the early 2000s, the adoption of desktop computers in households was never quite as high as that of things like televisions or microwaves. The Invention of the smartphone is what created a greater demand for ubiquitous Internet. Smartphones still deserve their own category, however, because they are so many tools in one convenient, mobile form. They are truly the Swiss army knife of modern society. They have replaced so many other dedicated devices that used to be required to handle what they now do that it has caused disruptions in certain industries. Your point and shoot camera, music player, GPS device, radio and so many other things are already fully supplanted by this little technological marvel, and the list is only going to get longer.
3D Printing Will Transform Manufacturing
While this technology was invented in the 1980s, it is only recently becoming a next-generation manufacturing technology. This tech is finally coming out of the lab and into the real world with numerous manufacturers selling such printers. They basically build three-dimensional, solid objects by creating them one layer at a time. This technology, though still in its infancy, holds the potential to dramatically transform manufacturing when it is perfected and becomes cheaper and more readily available. In the near future, anyone who needs a simple consumer product can just 3D print it in their home instead of going out to the store to buy one. This could be seen as the primitive, and currently much slower, precursor of the replicator as seen in “Star Trek” where anything the user desires is just created right in front them.
Electric Vehicles Becoming More Practical
While the first mass-produced electric car in the U.S. was the General Motors EV1 produced from the middle to late 1990s, the technology has improved since the turn of the century. Hybrids have become quite the craze among those who both cherish the environment and can afford an electric car while still having the convenience of a gas engine when your battery needs charging. As with any new technologies, however, while the tech is getting better, the price should also continue coming down. The technology and driving distance from one charge is getting good enough that there is now a company, Tesla Motors, that only makes fully electric cars.
Semi-Autonomous Driving Technology
Automotive experts agree that fully autonomous cars are coming soon. That said, a lot of the technology that will be in these vehicles is already in some cars. Just a few years ago, turning on cruise control meant you could relax by taking your foot off the gas pedal, and your car would keep going at the exact same speed. Today, there are many car models with what is called adaptive cruise control. The cars have radar that detects the speed of the car ahead and will slow your car down if the one ahead slows down. Some cars are advertised that have automatic emergency braking. As it sounds, when an object ahead is detected, the car can stop itself to avoid a crash. Development of this technology is working toward a day when humans are taken out of the loop as far as having to take an active part in our cars when getting from point A to point B. Given the dangers of distracted driving and the impressive safety record so far of Google’s test drives with their autonomous cars, we can expect a day of far fewer traffic accidents, injuries and fatalities when this technology is fully perfected.