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Engineering inventions that changed the 21st century

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Can you remember what life was like in the year 2000?

The turn of the century brought us the millennium dome, Big Brother, The Sims, Coldplay, and some truly retro mobile phones. There were even predictions that the engineering feats and technology innovations of the time could have led to our demise (how can we forget the millennium bug?). But when Big Ben struck midnight and life went on as normal, our burgeoning tech sector went into overdrive and hasn’t looked back since. Since entering the new millennium, here are five engineering inventions that we believe revolutionised the 21st century… so far.

1.    Blockchain technology
While not many of us will be lucky enough to own some Bitcoins, you’ve no doubt heard about this new virtual currency that exists entirely in the digital world. The technology that underpins the ‘cryptocurrency’ is called Blockchain, and many speculate that it has the potential to revolutionise our world’s economy. It’s a difficult technology to really define, but perhaps one of the simplest definitions is a ‘giant global spreadsheet that runs on millions and millions of computers’. It can record all sorts of structured data, from monetary transactions to who married who, or who owns what land. It’s an extraordinary, world-changing innovation with a range of potential use-cases, such as digital voting or enhanced food safety. If you haven’t heard of it yet, you will very soon.

2.    The Internet of Things
We’ve previously touched on how the Internet of Things (IoT) has already begun improving our lives. Connecting previously offline devices to the internet has changed the way we interact with our environment at home, on our commutes, and in the workplace. From asking Alexa to switch on the lights to automated production lines that are helping our factories become increasingly productive, we are all beginning to benefit from a more connected world. And yet, we still don’t truly understand its full potential. Watch this space for continued innovation in the very near future!

3.    Artificial Intelligence
Artificial Intelligence, or AI, has been improving each year for the last two decades. To many it may still seem like futuristic technology, but it is here and already fairly mature. It essentially allows firms in all sectors to analyse data, often from a multitude of different sources, to derive intelligent, artificial insights. One particular use case in manufacturing, for example, is how it has enabled the process of predictive maintenance. This allows manufacturers to predict when systems require maintenance with high accuracy. It has quickly become an incredibly important business process, as scheduling maintenance can help prevent unplanned, and potential costly, production line downtime.

4.    Mobile operating systems
Can you remember what mobile phone you were using in the year 2000? In case you’re wondering what type of technology was available at the time, it was the year the Nokia 3310 was launched. Our operating systems were limited to black and white screens, texting, calling, and not a whole lot else. As you’ve no doubt anticipated, much has changed. It’s changed so much in fact that we don’t even call them mobile phones anymore. They are smartphones, made possible by new mobile operating systems that enable us to do almost anything we like, from communications and shopping, to gaming and even banking. In fact, we barely use the phone element of our phones at all anymore.

5.    Social media
Let’s be honest, it would be difficult to create a list of the 21st century inventions that have shaped our modern lives without mentioning social media. From MySpace to Facebook and everything in between, it has transformed our planet into a truly global village. We can now communicate with anyone, anywhere in the world, in real-time. This innovation in communication has led to a rise in social movements that have brought about real change. While there are many examples that could be referenced, the most recent would of course be the bringing together of disparate but like-minded individuals to fight one of the most important battles of our time: climate change. Social media has given a voice to the many and, combined with advances in mobile operating systems, has been one of the most powerful engineering feats of the 21st century by some margin. 

That’s a lot of change in only 20 years, and yet technology’s progression shows no signs of abating. Once futuristic visions are now very quickly becoming reality, making it almost impossible to predict what even the next five years might bring. What do you think our world will look like in 2040?

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