1880–1950: from trains & telegraph to flight, radio, atomic energy & jet engines. To put things in perspective, the absolute pinnacle of personal transportation was a horse driven cart before 1880 (Benz was founded in 1883, and first internal combustion engine in 1885). We had just started exploring the idea of germs and disease.
1950–2020: Semiconductors! What semiconductor is to modern human life equates to the wheel or iron working before the industrial era! No single invention has made such behavioural change amongst humans since its inception in 1956 (other than iron working and wheel), as semi-conductors enabled minifications & domestication of industrial technologies.
The argument can be made that I have completely ignored the breathtaking advancement in medical sciences, like highlighting the world first DNA was isolated in 1878 while the first DNA sequencing took place somewhere in 1960’s, or the remarkable feat i.e dolly the sheep, or we creating the first embryo. While they are all remarkable feat, and have their impact on humanity in general, but doesn’t beat the impact of semiconductor.
During the past, 2 decades, everything has been about speed! More speed, Extra speed! Super speed! Ultra speed! Monster Speed! The only thing we seem to have done is find a way to put more semiconductors on a chip, or getting more mileage from gas or finding a way to get the job more fast. That seems to be the only thing we, the humans, are doing.
We can look at it from a different perspective. The impact of technology on an average human life.
The pre-renaissance were all basic technologies e.g wheel & iron working.
The renaissance era happened because of invention of printing press.
Then comes the industrial era. The harnessing of steam power brought about its logical beginning but the steam engine, then coal and eventually fossil fuel engines are its pinnacle.
Chemistry or advancement in chemical technology brought about the institutionalisation of industry thus the modern life styles and modern education e.g. the need for degrees required for humans to be consumed to cater for the ever growing need of skilled manpower. The industrial era marks the overall drastic change in human lifestyles in response to technology. i.e. The 9 to 5 routine is a direct result of industrialisation.
The digital age, galvanised by the invention of semi-conductors, although not immediately but have brought about drastic change in the overall human lifestyles second time in the history. Although, never in human history, we had so much institutional and focused R&D going on, what impact it will have on generic human lifestyles is yet to be seen. All big players, be it in the retail industry, manufacturing, even finance (Quant Engineers) have machines at its center (or semi-conductor). Even medical science now have semi-conductor at its center (nano-bots as digital image processing and machine learning for diagnosis). But at what point do we call it an invention and at what point innovation?
The fundamental question remains, what is innovation? what is the difference between invention and innovation? Are FinFETs, Quantum Wells, EUV lithography, compact linear accelerators, LHC and any such technology that produces more speed, invention or innovation?