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Greatest Data Inventions


The top 25 DATA inventions 

Data is the most important class of technology, as important as energy, machines, materials, and biotechnology combined. Data inventions are four of the Top 10 Greatest Inventions of All Time. Sixteen of the 25 greatest DATA inventions are from the last 120 years.

1) Cuneiform Hand Written Language On Clay tablets.

In 3500 BCE the second dimension of data began with hand written language on clay tablets in Sumer, Mesopotamia. Written history and civilization were first created at that time. I have ranked hand written language as #2 Greatest Inventions of All Time. The Big Bang of Technology occurred in 3500 BCE with the invention of hand written language (see blog). The Big Bang began with the near simultaneous non data inventions of the plow, the wheel and axle, the oared wooden hulled sailboat, cities, smelting of bronze, and hydraulic engineering in Sumer, Mesopotamia.

The first civilization to develop was Sumer, Mesopotamia on the Tigris and Euphrates rivers in about 3500 BCE.  Within three hundred years, 6 independent civilizations developed in the Indus river 3300 BCE, in Egypt on the Nile river 3200 BCE, Newgrange Ireland 3200 BCE, Greece 3200 BCE, Peru 3200 BCE, Iran 3200 BCE. The greatest of DATA inventions is also the second dimension of data.

2) Mechanical Printing Press With Movable Type On Paper.

In 1450, the third dimension of data began with the mechanical printing press with movable type on paper. The printing press caused the Big Surge of Technology (see blog) which accelerated the Renaissance, led to the Reformation, Scientific Revolution, and the Enlightenment in Europe.  Although invented in China, the printing press was not widely adopted there which likely contributed to the stagnation in inventions in China since 1450.  The printing press created the newspaper which was the first form of mass communication. I ranked the printing press as #3 Greatest Invention of All Time. The second greatest of DATA inventions is also the third dimension of data.

3) Radio wave technology.

Wireless mass communication credits to Gugliermo Marconi in 1895. Electronic language is the fourth dimension of data. US commercial radio began in 1920. Radio waves are how machines communicate with each other and are the basis of radio, television, cellular phones, blue tooth technology, and the internet of things (IoT). I ranked radio wave technology as the #6 Greatest Invention of All Time. The third greatest of data inventions is also the fourth dimension of data.

4) Personal Computer.

1957 IBM 610 was the first personal computer owned and operated in one’s own home. With a price tag of $55,000 only 180 units were made. Simon in 1950 sold for $600. 1977 saw the “trinity” of Apple II, Commodore PET 2001, and the Tandy TRS-80. 1981 brought the IBM PC and almost monthly computer innovations have occurred ever since. Probably more important than computing power was electronic data storage. Following Moore’s Law, computing power, speed, and most importantly, memory has increased exponentially with time. The computer ranks as #7 Greatest Inventions of All Time.

5) Hindu-Arabic numbers including zero.

Base 60 numbers developed in Mesopotamia and had many deficiencies. First created in India with modifications in the Middle East, the base 10 number system, including zero, came into maturity around 820 AD. From the 980’s AD the Hindu-Arabic number system dominated in Europe. The Hindu-Arabic number system ranks as the #13 Greatest Invention of All Time. The base 10 Hindu-Arabic number system dominates the world with few exceptions.

6) Telephone.

In 1876, Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone. Thomas Edison invented the carbon microphone which greatly improved Bell’s invention. Whereas the telegraph was a great leap forward in terms of instantaneous long distance communication, the telephone was a much larger leap. Whereas the telegraph required a translator for Samuel Morse’s code for understanding. With the telephone, direct speech transmitted over a long distance without need for translation or any intermediary. Direct, personal, back and forth communication over great distances was now possible. The improvements of the telephone continue in the world today. Cellular phones and later, smartphones effectively reinvented the telephone in 1992. Smartphones allows long distance communication and internet access without wires almost anywhere in the world. The telephone ranks as the # 15 of the Greatest Inventions of All Time.

7) Transistor/integrated circuit.

William Shockley, Jr. invented the transistor in 1947. Then Shockley began what became an empire in Silicon Valley, California. Jack Kilby invented the integrated circuit in 1958 in the USA. Two years later Rpbert Noyce invented the monolithic integrated circuit. Integrated circuit microprocessor manufacture moved to Silicon Valley with Fairfield Semiconductor, and later, Intel. The integrated circuit is solid state transistors on a semiconductor microchip. An integrated circuit consists of resistors, capacitors, and transistors which can function as amplifiers, oscillators, timers, microprocessors, or memory. Moore’s law states: the number of transistors on a microchip doubles every 2 years. Speed proportionally increases and costs decrease with the number of transistors. The integrated circuit ranks as the #21 on the list of the Greatest Inventions of All Time.

8) World Wide Web and hypertext.

Information storage and information access took a giant leap forward with the development of integrated computer systems. Beginning with ARPANET Department of Defense network in 1969, Vint Cerf and Robert Kahn originated the TCP/IP protocol in 1972. The modern internet era more formally began with the creation by Tim Berners-Lee of the World Wide Web in 1989. Information from distant supercomputers transmitted to your personal computer at home or office. Hypertext language, the fifth dimension of data, with the internet have created an explosion of data. The internet ranks as the #24 Greatest Invention of All Time. The eighth greatest of DATA inventions is also the fifth dimension of data.

9) Television.

By 1927, the first electronic television originated with Philo Taylor Farnsworth utilizing the cathode ray tube. Electronic televisions were vastly superior to earlier mechanical televisions which relied on rotating discs which created a number of mechanical problems. On July 1, 1941, commercial television was born. Television allowed instantaneous communication to potentially millions of people. News, sports, wars came into the living rooms around the industrialized world. In 1954, color television was born, based on the RCA model for color TV. In 2005, flat screen TVs appeared in the market. Television, much more than radio, helped to create a world culture. I have ranked television as the #29 Greatest Invention of All Time.

10) Time.

Calendar/clock/ Base 60 numbers. In 3100 BCE symbols for numbers were created in Sumer, Mesopotamia. Counting was sexiguismal, that is, base 60 numbers. Base 60 numbers continue into modern times with seconds, minutes, and circle measurements in geometry. Clocks have gone through an evolution over time. The oldest sundials date to ancient Egypt (Valley of the Kings, 1500 BCE) and Mesopotamia (household shadow clocks, 1500 BCE). Water clocks also date to 1500 BCE in Mesopotamia and Egypt. The first geared water clock dates to 250 BCE invented by Archimedes. The oldest hourglasses date to 700’s AD in Europe invented by a French monk named Liutprand.

China reports the invention of the mechanical water clock by Yi Xing in 725 AD. The first dry completely mechanized clock originated in China in 1092 by Su Song. The Salisbury clock of Salisbury Cathedral, England dating to 1386 is the oldest working (faceless) clock in the world. The highly accurate marine chronometer used for navigating and determining longitude dates to 1761 invented by John Harrison of England. Digital clocks originated in the 1960s. The mechanical clock ranks as the #31 Greatest Inventions of All Time.

Greatest data invention

11) Alphabet.

Proto-Sinaitic alphabet began in the Sinai peninsula of Egypt in 1850 BCE which progressed to the Phoenician alphabet then to the Greek true alphabet in 700 BCE. Phoenicians were the first to create an alphabet that used 22 letters and had only consonants with no vowels around 1050 BCE. Then the ancient Greeks improved on the alphabet adapting it to their language, adding vowels around 750 BCE. Later with the Greeks, an explosion of literature occurred.

The alphabet simplified writing and later simplified printing after the invention of movable type. Rather than use new symbols for each individual word like with Chinese and Japanese, the rerranged letters make new words with simple language. 20,0000 characters exist in the Chinese language compared to under 100 for European alphabetic languages. The printing press with movable type became widely accepted in Europe compared to China due to the more limited number of characters.

I believe it is no accident that the first civilization to create a full alphabet, Greece, was also the foundation for western civilization. Without a doubt, literature, philosophy and the arts flourished to a degree not seen for 2000 years after the ancient Greeks. Since its invention, all European languages have developed alphabets proving the utility of such a communication technology invention. Further, 70% of the world population uses the Latin alphabet for writing. The Latin alphabet is also used for the International Phonetic Alphabet which expresses the phonetics of all the world’s languages. The alphabet is the listed as the #35 Greatest Inventions of All Time.

12) Camera.

In 1826, the first photograph occurred in France by Joseph Nicephore Niepce. Later, Louis Daguerre improved the technique with silver iodide. What the invention of cuneiform and clay tablets did to words and numbers, photography did to images. Ever since the invention of the film camera by Eastman Kodak in 1888, anyone could become a photographer. With paintings and drawings preceding photography the impact of photography was not as great as with writing but it was great nonetheless. Motion pictures began in 1895 with August and Louis Lumiere of France. The Lumiere brothers invented the movie camera, projector, and movie theater. The camera ranks as #36 of the Greatest Inventions of All Time and the motion picture camera ranks as #37.

13) Computer mouse and graphic user interface.

Although 2 inventions, they are mutually interdependent. Douglas Englebart was key to inventing both the mouse and graphic user interface. Point and click with a computer mouse using the graphic user interface was the basis for the successful Apple Macintosh computers and Apple computers. Point and click with a mouse and also the touch screen are the basis for hypertext links. Together with the computer mouse and graphic user interface (GUI) rank #48 on the list of Greatest Inventions of All Time.

14) Credit card.

Paper currency originated in China in 800 AD. Invented in 1946, credit cards were another revolution in commerce. Even more than the creation of paper money, credit cards made possible electronic trade and commerce. Purchases, even expensive items, could be made within seconds, initially mechanically, then, later electronically. Eventually, purchases occur over long distances electronically without the buyer ever seeing the seller or vice versa. Amazon was born in 1995 as an online bookstore. EBay began the same year. Commerce and retail would never be the same. Credit card ranks as #54 of the Greatest Inventions of All Time.

15) Google (search engine)

Of course, all the newfound internet data storage was of little use if no good means was present to access the data. Search engines such as Google (invented in 1998) allowed simple, fast, and reproducible access to data anywhere on the internet. Now the world’s knowledge of technology was at anyone’s fingertips. Currently 93% of web use occurs through search engines. About 76% of desktop computers and 86% of mobile phones use Google as the primary search engine. Google search engine ranks as #55 of the Greatest Inventions of All Time.

16) Telegraph.

Electronic language is the fourth dimension of data. Morse code was the first electronic language. Telegraph also was the first wired electronic communication. Practical telegraphy with Morse code began in 1837 launching the Wired Era of technology. With the telegraph, near instantaneous transmission of electronic language could occur across great distances. Telegraph ranks #56 of the Greatest Inventions of All Time.

17) Fiberoptics

Fiber optics uses light instead of electricity to transmit data. Since fiber optics operate under the principle of total internal reflection of light. efficiency is key. Light is faster than electricity. Advantages of fiber optic transmission compared to copper wires:

  1. Greater bandwidth than copper wires
  2. Faster speeds than electricity, decreased latency
  3. Longer distance signal strength than wires
  4. Better reliability than wires
  5. Thinner and sturdier than copper wires
  6. More future flexibility than wired
  7. Lower total cost due to increased durability
  8. Better cloud access than wires
  9. Improved security compared to wires
  10. Improved HD video compared to wires

Disadvantages of fiber optics: higher initial cost, need for specialized equipment, can be more difficult to install.

Fiber optics ranks #58 on the Greatest Inventions of All Time.

18) Text messaging/email.

At first, text messaging seems to be almost a step backward with technology. Texting is like a wireless telegraph without an intermediary. Texting has several advantages mostly related to data storage over direct phone communication:  a) Permanent record of the “conversation”. b) Ability to send images as part of the conversation. c) Ability to delay responses to communication to more convenient times. d) Ability to quickly and easily incorporate multiple people in the threads of communication simultaneously.  Ray Tomlinson invented email in 1971. Text messaging/email ranks #68 on the Greatest Inventions of All Time.

19) WiFi.

In 1971, the first wireless transfer of data occurred in Hawaii by the University of Hawaii on UHF by Norman Abramson. By 1985, the US Federal Communications Commission released the ISM band for unlicensed use. In 1991, NCR Corporation with AT&T created a precursor to 802.11. Then in 1997 in Australia , John O’Sullivan and colleagues at the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) obtained a key patent. IEEE802.11 is a set of standards that define communication for wireless local area networks (WLANs). WiFi is broadband internet. Data is received by a device from the internet then converted to a radio signal read and received by a WiFi enabled device. Data is then exchanged between the usually fixed receiving device and the often mobile personal device.

WiFi runs on 2 frequencies: 2.4Ghz (802.11b) and 5Ghz (802.11a). In 2003, 802.11g became standard. Routers are getting better with more power and greater coverage. 2009 saw the final version 802.11n which is faster and more reliable. Better service is attributable to “multiple input multiple output” data (MIMOs) which uses multiple antennas to enhance communication between both the transmitter and receiver allowing more data without the need for more bandwidth or power. The 2.4 Ghz became overcrowded and slower. Dual band routers require transmitting both 2.4 and 5 Ghz links. Then in 2012, 802.11ac sought to make 5Ghz better with 4X the speed of WiFi 8011.11n . Beamforming concept focuses signals and concentrates data transmission so that more data reaches the target device. WiFi hotspots and access points have encryption technologies which improve security. I ranked WiFi as the #70 Greatest Invention sof All Time.

20) Facebook

Social networking giant Facebook has altered human interaction. So began individualized mass media with Facebook in 2004, invented by Mark Zuckerberg of the USA. Facebook ranks #73 on the Greatest Inventions of All Time.

21) Amazon on line shopping

Without a doubt, Amazon defines e-commmerce. Beginning in 1994 by Jeff Bezos, Amazon has come to dominate western online retailing and 10% of world wide on line sales. Chinese Alibaba is dominant in world with 16% of e -commerce. On line shopping was 16% of retail shopping in 2019. In 2020, Amazon achieved 39% of USA online e-commerce sales. Walmart is the nearest competitor with 5.3% of online sales. Worldwide online sales project to be 22% of retail commerce in 2023 (Oberlo). Amazon ranks #80 on the list of Greatest Inventions of All Time.

22) Magnetic tape memory.

Cheap, dependable, magnetic tape memory remains surprisingly popular. Like the transistor, magnetic tape storage capacity has increased exponentially with time. About half of all data is on the cloud. So much of cloud data is on magnetic tape memory. Magnetic tape memory is #81 on the list of Greatest Inventions of All Time.

23) Touch screen.

Invented in 1973, the touch screen was a revolution in data entry and data manipulation. Rather than relying on mechanical buttons of a keyboard and a mouse as separate devices, the entire computer and smartphone screen was now available for data manipulation. Primary use of touch screens is with computer tablets and smart phones. Touch screens are currently manufactured with lithium in the glass for greater toughness. Touch screen #85 on the list of Greatest Inventions of All Time.

24) Phonograph

Invented by Thomas Alva Edison in 1876, the phonograph is without a doubt one of the most original inventions of all time. Sound recording on cylinders evolved into sound recording on discs, then vinyl discs. The phonograph is #88 on the list of Greatest inventions of All Time.

25) Video format websites (YouTube)

Numbers and letters require little data storage. Images and pictures require more data storage and represent an expansion of data. Video requires even more data storage. Continuously operating surveillance security cameras are present with many businesses of the industrialized world, making it difficult for anyone now to hide from these cameras. YouTube, founded in 2005, is the ultimate video library. Video entertainment, video instruction, amateur or professional video of almost any type is available on YouTube. The digital memory necessary to contain this extraordinarily vast collection of video data would have been unthinkable only a few years ago. Video format websites rank #95 on the list of Greatest Inventions of All Time.