Whether you're a 70's baby or a 90's kid the technology we have at our very fingertips has an enormous impact on our lives. Where would we be without it? What did people do before the evolution of technology? You know, pre-1990 when people who were in the same room, looked at each other and not at the vibrating lump of plastic in their hand?
We look back over the last 30 years to reflect on IT history and explore some of the big technological advances: the good, the bad and the OMG!
1. Science-fiction has a lot to answer for
Science-fiction classics like Star Trek and Red Dwarf have inspired technological change over the years, creating a huge amount of scope for tech-bods.
- When a brick mobile phone was cool
Captain Kirk used a compact flip-open-personal-communicator in 1966. This inspired the 'mobile' phone used by Martin Cooper when he made the inaugural call in New York, in 1973. His not-so-compact-personal-communicator was the size of a brick and weighed over a kilo. Captain Kirk would have struggled to keep that in his trousers, even if it did flip-open?
- The beginnings of speech recognition and artificial intelligence
In Red Dwarf you can engage a computer, Holly (voiced by Hattie Hayridge and Norman Lovett) in casual conversation. Now, if you want to talk to a computer you just talk to Apple's Siri, Microsoft's Cortana, or Amazon's Alexa. Why not say Hey Google? In fact, Google codenamed their voice-based service 'Majel' as a nod to Majel Barrett-Roddenberry who voiced the computer in the Star Trek Universe.
- The alien birth of language translation technology
Hurtling through space, bouncing planet to planet, Kirk was mixing with a huge amount of alien nations and he had a Universal Translator. He was able to decode, translate and understand all extraterrestrial lifeforms, allowing him to communicate in real time. Now, there are apps available that have the exact same functionality – we haven't yet found one with Klingon available. TripLingo describes itself as 'the ultimate tool for international travelers'. It provides the most common phrases and can (much like Kirk's Universal Translator) instantly translate your voice or connect to a live translator. Its American creator established it following a two-year period living, working and travelling through Asia.
"When I arrived in Vietnam, it didn't take long to learn that without any language skills it was going to be rough. I'm not sure if you've ever asked where the restroom is using only your hands, but it's just a tad bit embarrassing."
2: Remember when we used to talk to each other?
What's that guy's name? You know, the FBI agent in that film where the surfers are bank robbers. Dark hair. Patrick Swayze's in it too. Is it Rob Lowe? It's Rob Lowe. And then your mate decides to chime in… "Keanu Reeves" -It's obviously Keanu Reeves -But for some reason, you don't believe your mate. Keanu Reeves was Bill in Bill and Ted's excellent adventure. And your mate pipes up - again - "actually, he was Ted" and the argument goes on and on. And back then it would just keep going because there was no 'IMDB', there wasn't even an 'I' to which we could refer and solve the ever-present urgent puzzles. This was in the time before Google became a verb and people looked that 'I-must-know-it-now' fact up in an encyclopaedia - remember them? - or it simply went unanswered.
Everyone has seen it. Everyone is probably guilty of it. What is it? Sitting in a restaurant with another person and staring at your phone. It could be a message, call, or a news feed, anything is more interesting. And, we've all seen those tables where all parties are looking at their phone, their tablet, their laptop. The point is there is NO conversation or ANY attempt at interaction in any way.
3. Music: walkmans, mixtapes and the iVolution
We can't talk about the marvels of modern technology without mentioning the evolution of the way we listen to music. Specifically, the way we get hold of it and, more specifically, listen to it on the move. Ladies and Gentlemen, we take you back to the 70's when music was on cassettes. There was an A side and a B side. And, when they were homemade, an awful lot of thought and energy went in to them. The art of the 'mixtape' was lost with the arrival of digital technology. Creating a mixtape for a boyfriend, girlfriend was the equivalent of a musical love letter. Love could literally be lost or won with the choice of songs and the order they went in. It really was make or break.
In 1979 Sony released the Walkman, a personal cassette player. Well, 'personal' in that it played a cassette to the person using it and a tinny, white noise to everyone else in the nearby vicinity. Anyone remember those headphones? With metal bands that extended and spongey ends that fell off? Those were the days. However, this 'noise' would eventually be quashed by the arrival of the earbud and the in-ear headphone which came on the scene in the 80's. They didn't reach their peak in popularity until one Steve Jobs released the first Apple iPod in 2001.
But before we get to 2001 and digital, downloadable music let's first acknowledge the technology that came in between: CD's and the Discman. It didn't take long before cassettes were relatively obsolete. Gone were the days of turning a tape over or spending hours rewinding and winding forwards to get to your favourite song. The arrival of the compact disc meant easier functions and a better sound. You just hit a button and the next track was all lined up. In 1984 we saw the Walkman all but disappear in to the shadow of the Discman. Of course, when compared to the Walkman, the first Discmans were far from portable. In March 1989 a reviewer at the Chicago Tribune said:
"When CD players first went on sale, manufacturers lamented that personal portable players might be a fantasy. While they promised a small player, they remained uncertain whether it could be battery powered. Indeed, Sony`s first portable Discman came with a battery pack as big as the player."
Made 30 years ago, this statement seems incredible as the number of smartphone users in the world is forecast to grow from 2.1 billion in 2016 to around 2.5 billion in 2019. Most of the western world now listens to music (on the go at least) via their smartphone. As mentioned before, it's Steve Jobs we can thank for this. In 2001 Apple unleashed the iPod and it changed the way we listened to music, forever. The iPod was the first device where you could upload music digitally and it stored 100's of songs. In 2007 the iPod touch was released. Yet another ground breaker, the iPod Touch was the first music device with WIFI connectivity, we could now connect to the iTunes store, download our tune of choice and 'Whoomp-there-it-was'. Now it's common practice to listen to music via our Smartphones. Every day we download music from all over the internet and use software to stream live songs so no download is necessary. Mind blowing stuff when you think about it.
4. The almighty computer: It's life Jim, but not as we know it
'When was the first computer invented?'
This is actually a surprisingly tough question to answer. If we agree to ignore the early inventions that may well have lead us to the computer. Like the abacus imported from China around 1600, or the first mechanical calculator, in 1645, driven by gears and capable of performing addition and subtraction. If we ignore these then the first device that we can consider a modern computer is probably the Turing Machine. In 1936 Alan Turing came up with a machine that seemed to mimic a human, following a series of logical instructions that was to become the foundation for theories about computing and computers.
Turing came up with a pretty simple way to test if the computer contains (artificial) intelligence or not. In 1950 he wrote:
"A computer would deserve to be called intelligent if it could deceive a human into believing that it was human."
This was to become the definition of the now-famous Turing Test. The actual test involves putting a human (the tester) in a room with two terminals, one connected to another human the other to a computer. If the tester can't tell the difference between the two, the computer passes. So far, no computer has passed the test. Although many tried to claim they did.
In 2014 a Russian computer programmer made the claim to have beaten the Turing Test causing a huge stir throughout the world. Back then, Chris Dixon pointed out you don't get to run a single test with judges that you picked and declare you accomplished something. That's just not how it's done. If someone claimed to have cured cancer, you'd wait for some peer review and repeat tests before going for it, right?
Even though humans seem to keep moving the goalposts for what qualifies as artificial intelligence AI projects are making significant progress. We haven't got as far as the creation of a computer with a conscience, but chips and software are getting closer to being able to mimic the way in which the human brain works. It appears that one of the biggest problems is getting the tech-bods to agree on how to measure intelligence, though if they keep moving in the direction they are going maybe the computers will just tell them?
5. Three free apps to make your life 'app-en!
As an additional takeaway treat we have a few great iPhone and Android apps that you might want to have a play with… if you've not done already. Here goes…
1. Google Trips - Ever fancied having a PA? Turn your smartphone into an all-in-one travel assistant, with Google Trips. Use the magic wand and it's made organising your trip super-easy-peasy. This is an app that will pull all the itineraries and reservations from your emails and automatically sort it in to one trap. It can map out full day or half day suggestions of 'things to do' once your away, ALL based on your tastes, interests and local travel tips.
2. Shazam - Like the sound of that track you hear in the background at the restaurant and you can't quite remember the name? Heard it somewhere before but don't know what it's called, so you can't download it from iTunes? If only there was an app that could tell you what the track was called and who it was by after "listening" for just a few seconds? There is: 'Shazam'. Running across all the major mobile operating systems, Shazam is free and extremely accurate.
3. Quik - This app is full on video-assembly-wizardry. It's AI assisted video editing that can intelligently splice together your footage into short and snazzy videos. Quik intelligently (we can't explain it) selects the meaningful moments and photos from the internal memory or cloud storage. You then get your freak on and tweak visual effects, text overlays and titles. You can add a soundtrack by choosing from the 80 free songs available to sync or add your own music. And fear not, the app can slide those carefully chosen transitions to match the music's beat.
Snap your fingers: what's changed since you started reading?
In the time it took you to read this:
- 6,000 tweets were tweeted
- More than 40,000 Google queries were google
- More than 2 million emails were sent
Mind blown? Yet these numbers only hint at the size of the internet. It's a place with close to 2 billion websites, though this number is constantly fluctuating as sites die and others are born. Let's just agree: the internet is big, and it's getting bigger. The world of technology is great and it's getting better all the time.