My Greatest Innovation article drew unexpected responses. I thought we’d all be happily arguing whether the printed-circuit board or the Faraday cage had a greater effect on the advancement of engineering. Wrong. Your comments began with specific inventions, but moved quickly into the broad innovations without which humans would never have advanced beyond cavemen. The only thing everyone seemed to agree upon was that the 1800s, or more specifically the Industrial Revolution, was the most innovative century.
As far as innovations, I’m not sure if it is possible to narrow them down to the one most influential—the one without which humans wouldn’t have reached life as we know it (assuming life as we know it is a good thing). But I promised a vote, and I feel bound to deliver.
I went through the entire 90-comment discussion and culled six categories of innovation. Take a look and thencast your vote for the most influential. Oh, and there is one additional item that I felt obliged to include, you’ll see it in the survey…
Language/communication (including symbolism, writing, numerals, and measurement)
Travel/transportation (including the sail and the wheel)
Power generation (including fuel, electricity, and all innovations electrical)
Agriculture (yes, including the plow)
Medicine (including antibiotics and anesthesia)
Weapons (I didn’t think this was worthy of inclusion, but “2001: A Space Odyssey” says otherwise)
I have to agree that writing is the most important innovation. First, it lets you expand your own memory. I do not have the memory capacity to multiply two ten digit numbers, but I can handle it easily with pencil and paper. I can manipulate very complex algebraic expressions by using pencil and paper. I can share my manipulations across space and time. But wait a minute. Computers have memory. Computers help me calculate 10 digit numbers and manipulate complex algebraic expressions. Whoa! A computer's memory is just another kind of paper; it is like a big tablet with lots of big pages. And the processor is just a convenient device for writing and reading to the big tablet.
Money (real one, no the fiat paper kind we have now), and free market system.
Money made exchange of the fruit of the labor convenient and easy.
Money made division of labor, specialization and as a result huge increase in productivity possible.
Division of labor made all the inventions mentioned in the poll possible. Without it those few of us alive would still be at caveman level.
Double edged sword indeed! Religion brings out either the best or the worst in people. Most religions are more about men trying to control other men than about God. And they've probably caused more wars than anything else.
Interesting comments, however, I don’t think you are taking the infant mortality rate into account. Your assertions about “more healthy” may simply be a result of the fact that fewer people survived childhood and that those who would have been “less healthy” died early on, thus raising the general health levels of the rest of the population. Some societies did not even name their children until they passed a certain age and celebrated Name Days rather than Birthdays. So, perhaps you should say that you would be willing to trade some of your life-span, provided you made it out of childhood. After all, there is no guarantee you would have been one of the lucky few.