20 technologies that changed the world

Some new technologies are little more than shiny toys, but others change your life. Some of them can even change the world, spawning entire new industries and making everyone slap their heads and go "duh! Why didn't we think of that?"

The following 20 technologies range from the tiny to the shiny, but they've all got one thing in common: they've had, or will have, a massive impact.

The Transistor

Without the transistor, pretty much all the techno-toys we take for granted wouldn't exist - or if they did, they'd each be the size of Belgium. The basic building block of everything electronic, the transistor is widely credited to Bell Labs' William Shockley, who based his own research on findings by John Bardeen and Walter Brattain in 1947.


The first IBM PC was powered by an Intel 8088 microprocessor, was the size of a portable typewriter and packed 16K of RAM. It cost $1,565. It might look horribly dated now, but if it weren't for this first PC we might not have computers at all.

The PC brought computing to the desktop, and its influence lives on. When IBM stopped fighting clone manufacturers and licensed technology to them instead, it led directly to today's modular, upgradeable and customisable machines. When you're upgrading your ageing graphics card to play Crysis or swapping out your old DVD drive for a Blu-ray/HD DVD combo unit, you've got IBM to thank. Or curse.


Developed by Vint Cerf and Bob Kahn of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency in the early 1970s, Transmission Control Protocol / Internet Protocol is the glue that holds the internet together. Without it we'd just have a bunch of networks that couldn't talk to one another.

The Apple iMac

The original iMac is one of the most influential designs of the last decade. In a world where computers were ugly, blocky and beige, Apple showed machine-makers a better way of doing things. And the iMac has influenced not just computers, but irons, vacuum cleaners and even baby bottle sterilisers. With the iMac, Apple rediscovered its mojo, giving it the platform (and the confidence) to design other icons of our time like iPods and iPhones. You may have heard of them.

The World Wide Web

The World Wide Web isn't the internet, but without it it's unlikely that your Gran would be looking at your Flickr pics or that you'd be chortling at things on Fark. Created by Tim Berners-Lee in 1989 and released in 1992, the web took off in 1993 with the introduction of the Mosaic Web browser. Berners-Lee could probably have made enormous stacks of money from patenting and licensing his invention, but he gave it away instead. What a man.

The mouse

Invented by Douglas Engelbart at the Stanford Research Institute in 1963, the mouse changed the way we interact with machines - but sadly Engelbart didn't receive a penny in royalties for his invention, because his patents ran out before the mouse turned up in PCs. The mouse ball came along in 1972, making tracking easier, and while the nuts and bolts have changed - today we have wireless mice and laser mice, not to mention mice with more buttons than a tailor's shop - the mouse is still an essential part of our computing kit.


It may well have ruined the English language, but SMS (Short Message Service) has also transformed the way we communicate - and it's done so entirely by accident. While the idea was kicking around during the mid-1980s, nobody thought of it as a way for people to send messages to one another; instead, it was envisaged as a way to let people know they had new voicemails. The first mobile phone SMS was sent by a Nokia student engineer in 1993, and by 2000 the average user was sending 35 SMSes per month. We know people who send that many messages every few minutes.

Carrie Marshall

Writer, broadcaster, musician and kitchen gadget obsessive Carrie Marshall (Twitter) has been writing about tech since 1998, contributing sage advice and odd opinions to all kinds of magazines and websites as well as writing more than a dozen books. Her memoir, Carrie Kills A Man, is on sale now. She is the singer in Glaswegian rock band HAVR.