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12 technologies that changed the world

From a TV remote to broadband

New technology appears daily, but only the rare breakthroughs really change our lives. Here are a dozen advances that transformed our world.

3. Atari Pong (1972)

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Back in the early 1970s, no sane person would have predicted that swatting a small 'ball' of pixels between two rectangular 'paddles' would spawn a $22bn home gaming industry. Pong was not the first home video game system, but the massive popularity of its home version (introduced in 1976) lead to the first home PCs, as well as to our current console-game universe.

Yet Pong is far from just a museum piece. Last March, students at Imperial College, London announced that they had developed a version of Pong that could be controlled using only your eyes.

A webcam attached to a pair of glasses uses infrared light to track the movements of one eye; software translates that into the movement of a rectangular paddle on a screen. The idea is to make computer games more accessible to the disabled. Even today, Pong continues to be a game changer.

4. IBM PC Model 5150 (1981)

Before IBM unleashed the 'PC' onto the world in August 1981, there were perhaps a dozen completely incompatible personal computers, all of which required their own software and peripherals. Shortly after August 1981 there were just three: the PC itself, the dozens of clone-makers doing their best to copy IBM's open design, and those pesky Apple guys.

The IBM label turned personal computers from a toy for hobbyists and gamers into a business tool, while software like Lotus 1-2-3 and Wordstar gave businesses a reason to buy them.

The PC's open architecture enabled software vendors and clone makers to standardise on one chipset and one operating system - driving down costs, making the PC ubiquitous, and completely changing the nature of work. Give credit to the Apple II (and VisiCalc) for proving personal computers were more than just playthings, but thank IBM for turning them into an industry.

Photo: Courtesy of Old-Computers.com

5. Motorola DynaTAC 8000X (1983)

More than a foot long, weighing more than 1kg, and with a price tag just shy of £2,500, the DynaTAC 8000X would be unrecognisable as a mobile phone to any of today's iPhone-slinging hipsters.

Yet the shoebox-sized unit - approved by the FCC in 1983 and immortalised by Michael Douglas in 1987's Wall Street - was the first commercially available mobile phone that could operate untethered from an external power source.

It wasn't until Motorola introduced the StarTAC in 1996 that mobile phones began to adopt sleek form factors, and it took the Motorola Razr (2004) for phones to make a fashion statement. But neither would have existed without their older sibling. The DynaTAC helped change the nature of how and where we communicate.

NEXT PAGE: The IBM ThinkPad 700C

  1. From a TV remote to broadband
  2. Atari Pong
  3. The IBM ThinkPad 700C
  4. Apple iTunes
  5. Capacitive touchscreens

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