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Not all innovations need to be hyper-sophisticated to change the world as we know it. In fact, many of the greatest inventions of all time have been very simple.
From the wheel to basic mechanical components like screws and wedges, low-tech inventions have been of incalculable importance to human development.
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In the following article, we'll take a quick look at the past, present, and future of technology, and highlight 7 examples of low-tech inventions that are set to change the world forever.
Trust us when we say these are just the tip of the iceberg.
What technologies will change the world in the future?
Technological development has changed the world since time immemorial. Massive leaps, like flight, to small incremental changes like the development of the washing machine, have allowed us to shrink the world and spend less time on labor-intensive tasks like washing clothes.
Innovations in medicine are eliminating some diseases, reducing child and adult mortality and generally, increasing our lifespans. But not all innovations are a good thing.
The rise of social media and smartphones for example, have been shown to negatively impact our lives. It disturbs our sleeping patterns and damages our mental health
It might also be making us all angrier and more divided than ever before.
But, that being said, most of us will probably agree it's better to allow the great engine of innovation to continue rather than resist it. Afterall, who knows what the great inventors of the future will be able to give to the world.
Just like the Industrial Revolution of old, innovation will destroy some older jobs but new opportunities will arise in their wake. This is the very basis of creative destruction that has given rise to the modern world.
At present, there are some very interesting technologies that are set to change the way we live in the future. Here are but a few examples:
- Lab-grown meats;
- Smart-everything, including cities;
- Artificial intelligence;
- Space tourism;
- Non-Earth colonization;
- EV and autonomous vehicles;
- Flying cars;
- Super-fast trains like Hyperloop;
- Augmented Reality;
- Wearable tech;
- 3D printed everything including food;
- Nanotechnology (especially in healthcare); and,
- Cloud-based computing.
What are the latest technologies in the world?
In addition to the technologies highlighted above, tech experts believe there are some other critical technologies that will change the world forever.
These include, but are not limited to:
- Machine learning and cognitive technology;
- Quantum computing;
- Touch commerce;
- Internet of Things (IoT);
- Intelligent Apps (I – Apps);
- Big Data; and,
- RPA (Robotic Process Automation).
As these technologies become more advanced, our world is set to change beyond all recognition. Many have come to the conclusion that innovations like robotics could spell the end of the need to work altogether.
Such technologies promise to make our lives easier, more interconnected and, perhaps, less satisfied too. After all, as the old adage goes, "The devil makes work for idle hands".
Just how future generations will come to terms with this is anyone's guess. It may be the case that man will need to merge with the machine.
We shall see.
What technology has changed the world the most?
This is an incredibly difficult question to answer. It also completely depends on your opinion of what is most important to humanity at any given time.
During times of war, for example, innovations in technology that expedite peace, like the Atomic Bomb, could be argued as the most important of all time. After all, many believe that nuclear proliferation has made the world a safer place! But, of course, we'll let you formulate your own opinion on that.
In peacetime, innovations that have freed humans from manual labor, or prevented once-debilitating diseases, could be argued as the most important.
For women, innovations like sanitary towels, birth-control, washing machines, microwave ovens, and a whole suite of other domestic and labor-saving technologies have made their lives unrecognizable since being invented only 70 years ago.
These innovations have been incredibly important for improving the lives of women around the world.
But, that being said, there are some technologies that are, more or less, universally agreed upon as being the most important.
These include, but are not limited to:
- The wheel;
- Agriculture and animal husbandry;
- The compass;
- Gunpowder, explosives, and firearms;
- The waterwheel;
- The printing press;
- The steam engine;
- Electricity and all its trappings;
- Telecoms (telephone, telegraph etc);
- Refrigeration; and,
- Computers and the internet.
But not all innovations need to be hyper-sophisticated. As we have already detailed, many great inventions of the past are very low-tech compared, to say, space flight.
Here are some examples of low-tech inventions that have changed, or could change, the world.
1. The famous wind-up radio helped combat AIDs in Africa
Back in 1991, a British inventor, Trevor Bayliss, devised an innovative radio that didn't require an external electrical source or batteries. His now famous wind-up radio is one of the greatest examples of lateral-thinking in modern times.
But, it should be noted that forms of hand-cranked radio have existed before.
As the name suggests, his radio is powered by a wound-spring that stores energy to drive an electrical generator. Turning the crank winds the spring and a full winding will allow several hours of operation.
Alternatively, the generator can charge an internal battery. Trevor developed the radio in response to the need to communicate information about AIDs to the people of Africa.
2. Cheap and low-power irrigation for cheaper, better crops
Agriculture is one of mankind's greatest inventions, but it is all for nothing without reliable irrigation. In fact, irrigation tends to be the bulk of fresh-water consumption in most countries around the world.
Some recent innovations, like drip-irrigation, are able to reduce this considerably but still tend to require significant investment in tech and require electrical power to work.
That's where GEAR lab at MIT might have devised an interesting low-tech alternative. Their low-pressure, solar-powered drip irrigation system has all the benefits of traditional drip irrigation but is a lot cheaper.
3. Simple water filters will save thousands of lives
Clean, potable water is vital for life around the world. Whilst there are many natural sources around the world, many other areas of the planet that lack access to safe drinking water for millions of people.
High-tech methods for filtering and cleaning water have existed for a long time but they are not necessarily viable in places where safe water is vitally needed. This is where a cheap, simple and effective water filter could change the lives of millions around the world.
One example combines silver nanoparticles and ash to filter our impurities and pathogens in one package.
4. The "Hippo-Roller" is a low-tech solution to a major issue
Even today, there are millions of people, normally women, who still have to walk many kilometers to collect water for drinking, cooking and washing. Traditionally this is achieved using buckets, or other vessels, and it is a laborious and never-ending task.
But that's where an incredibly low-tech solution promises to make their lives that much easier. Called the "Hippo Roller", it is a heavy-duty plastic barrel that can be flipped on its side and simply rolled home.
It comes complete with an attachable handle and can be easily transported over rough terrain. If mass-produced, this could literally revolutionize the lives of millions around the world.
5. Paper microscopes could revolutionize healthcare
Microscopes are one of the many invaluable tools to medical professionals needed to diagnose any one of the many infectious diseases around the world. But most traditional ones are not very practical in the field.
They are heavy, expensive and require a lot of maintenance over their lifetimes. But, there is a new form of paper microscope that has been developed.
Also called "Foldscopes", they contain all the basic elements of a microscope on one foldable piece of paper. They can even be optimized for different diseases and cost less than a buck each. Paper microscopes could revolutionize healthcare in remote parts of the world.
6. This non-electrical refrigeration is a great idea
Refrigeration, as we have seen, has been one of the most important inventions in human history. But typically, at least today, this requires high-tech, electrically powered refrigerators.
This makes them useless for places off the grid or in economies where the general public cannot afford to buy one. One man, Mohammed Bah Abba, managed to devise a low-tech solution to this problem and improved the lives of many people.
And it's relatively simple. By relying on a technique called evaporation refrigeration, the pot is able to cool food below 15-20 degrees Celsius from ambient temps.
It consists of two pots, one inside the other, with wet sand in between them and covered in another wet cloth. When the water evaporates, it pulls the heat out with it, making the inside cold.
For his innovation, he also managed to win the Rolex Award for $100,000.
7. The Berkeley-Darfur Stove
Deforestation is a huge problem in many developing parts of the world. Burning wood for fuel is also known to be a major health hazard for many.
Breathing in particulate matter from open fires, and wood stoves can be incredibly harmful to someone's health. This is where better-designed stoves could help millions around the world use less fuel and stay healthier in the long run.
One recent example is the Berkeley-Darfur Stove that uses only half the wood fuel compared to more contemporary designs. It enables users to make the same amount of food and cut their exposure to harmful particulate matter at the same time.