The 13 Most Influential Inventions in History

I'm currently reading The Signal And The Noise by Nate Silver and he pointed out that the most influential invention in the history of mankind was the printing press. Silver gives several reasons why it is so important which can be summed up in 2 points:

  • It allowed for free flow and mass consumption of information
  • Because of above it greatly changed economics

This led me to think what are the most important inventions in history due to economic or societal impact? I will not include fire, stone tools, the wheel etc. The inventions of antiquity are too old to properly realize how they reshaped society. In fact, I would say the majority of them happened in the past 150 years.

  • The printing press-For the reasons stated above.
  • Electricity-Every single appliance we have uses this.
  • The computer-They allow us access to vast amounts of information, every industry relies heavily on computers and they make all around easier.
  • The internet-One can look up anything they could possibly want, it allows for immediate access of information and communication across the globe. Every day new ideas are coming up that reshape society through the internet like facebook and kickstarter.
  • The steam engine-It allowed for transportation of culture, people and goods across land (trains) and the oceans (ships). The steam engine is the first time the world is effectively made "smaller" and the first step of globalization.
  • Steel-The first of many alloys that will make construction easier and products better. I don't imagine there would be many skyscrapers without steel.
  • Gunpowder-We can kill a lot more people quicker. War is changed forever and we are now off to the races in the arms race. One could argue almost all economic expansion is due to war or somehow tied to military production and innovation.
  • The atomic bomb-We can destroy ourselves, a new form of power, it gives humanity a much better understanding of science.
  • The car-It allows individuals to move about without need of a train. A person no longer has to live close to work, they can just drive instead. Goods are much easier to transport from a centralized location to stub (for instance, from a warehouse to a store).
  • The airplane-Anyone can reach any place in the world. Every part of the world is only 20 to 30 hours away. Aid can quickly be given in case of disaster and goods can be transported just as quickly.
  • Radio-An individual or group can reach a mass audience at the same time. Ideas and information can be spread much faster. Also, it is the first electronic mode of entertainment.
  • Telephone-Individuals can instantly communicate with anyone in the world.
  • Television-This is important for the same reasons of the radio. Others might argue that TV will only hinder us. Hopefully Honey Boo Boo will enter a diabetic coma soon.

I tried not to list an invention that only changed one country, i.e. the cotton gin. What ones don't you agree with? Which ones do you agree with? And please don't say antiseptics.

Comments (31)

Aug 6, 2013

Electricity isn't an invention. It's a form of energy that naturally occurs; maybe you mean something like the battery which harnesses the potential of electricity so that humans may use it?

"Yes. Money has been a little bit tight lately, but at the end of my life, when I'm sitting on my yacht, am I gonna be thinking about how much money I have? No. I'm gonna be thinking about how many friends I have and my children and my comedy albums."

Aug 6, 2013
SilvioBerlusconi:

Electricity isn't an invention. It's a form of energy that naturally occurs; maybe you mean something like the battery which harnesses the potential of electricity so that humans may use it?

You are absolutely right. Thank you.

Aug 6, 2013

Tom Standage's book, "A History of the World in Six Glasses", points out that the most overlooked invention/discovery in human history has to be Alcohol. For instance, beer gave early humans access to reliably clean water (fermentation kills a great deal of harmful bacteria), which allowed us to explore new territories without succumbing to water-borne illness. Beer is also rich in nutrients and calories, which greatly increased the general health of society (the workers who built the pyramids were paid in beer).

Aug 6, 2013
ate9ten:

Tom Standage's book, "A History of the World in Six Glasses", points out that the most overlooked invention/discovery in human history has to be Alcohol. For instance, beer gave early humans access to reliably clean water (fermentation kills a great deal of harmful bacteria), which allowed us to explore new territories without succumbing to water-borne illness. Beer is also rich in nutrients and calories, which greatly increased the general health of society (the workers who built the pyramids were paid in beer).

Thats also a great point. What would you replace on the list? I'm thinking TV as it is just basically a radio with a screen. But that screen did help get the computer invented.

Aug 6, 2013
SilvioBerlusconi:

Electricity isn't an invention. It's a form of energy that naturally occurs; maybe you mean something like the battery which harnesses the potential of electricity so that humans may use it?

Stop being a smartass and go back to jail.

    • 1
Aug 7, 2013

Hahahaha +SB. But as to your demand, I'd rather not.

"Yes. Money has been a little bit tight lately, but at the end of my life, when I'm sitting on my yacht, am I gonna be thinking about how much money I have? No. I'm gonna be thinking about how many friends I have and my children and my comedy albums."

Aug 7, 2013

#1 is beer. This isn't even up for debate.

Aug 7, 2013

The elephant in the room that is missing on this list--penicillin. Penicillin and other antibiotics discovered in the 20th century have saved literally billions of lives. Not sure if one defines medical science as an "invention" or simply as evolved knowledge or continued discovery, but the harnessing and mass production of antibiotics changed the world. I would also throw in vaccines (i.e. polio vaccine), which have changed the face of humanity.

    • 1
Aug 7, 2013

democracy

"It's not that I'm so smart, it's just that I stay with problems longer." - Albert Einstein

Aug 7, 2013

Writing or more fundamentally language is more important than the printing press.

Aug 7, 2013

Who invented those though? I don't think they can be classified as inventions.

    • 1
Aug 7, 2013

The Financial Times provided a report on 50 most innovative ideas that transformed the world.

"It is our fate to be tormented with large and small dilemmas as we daily wind our way through the risky, fractious world that gave us birth" Edward O. Wilson.

Aug 7, 2013
futurectdoc:

Writing or more fundamentally language is more important than the printing press.

I didn't want to put writing or the invention of language as we know its important but since it happened so long ago we have no idea how quickly it revolutionized the world. That's why fire, the hammer and other tools, and the wheel is not on there.

Aug 7, 2013
DCDepository:

The elephant in the room that is missing on this list--penicillin. Penicillin and other antibiotics discovered in the 20th century have saved literally billions of lives. Not sure if one defines medical science as an "invention" or simply as evolved knowledge or continued discovery, but the harnessing and mass production of antibiotics changed the world. I would also throw in vaccines (i.e. polio vaccine), which have changed the face of humanity.

I had penicillin on there and removed it. I would say penicillin kicked off the rest of antibiotics and vaccines. Maybe I should of made it 14 instead of 13.

Does anyone think that anything shouldn't be on there? What else is missing? Or what will be the next game changer? Personally, I think what ever makes getting objects into space cheaply will be in the next few. Whether its a space elevator or type of slingshot, it will be a complete game changer.

Aug 7, 2013
ate9ten:

...the [slaves] who built the pyramids were [placated] with beer.

FTFY

Aug 7, 2013

Vaporizers to get you high as a kite. Not so much productive, but all in all useful.

But in seriousness, I agree with the penicillin. Should deff. be on the list.

Maybe Atari? Changed the way most people are growing up today, a whole new world filled with video games... maybe you can just count that in with computers... just a thought.

It is of interest to note that while some dolphins are reported to have learned English -- up to fifty words used in correct context -- no human being has been reported to have learned dolphinese.

Aug 7, 2013

Polyethylene, polypropylene, polystyrene and polyvinyl chloride. Who doesn't love plastics?

"My caddie's chauffeur informs me that a bank is a place where people put money that isn't properly invested."

Aug 7, 2013

I don't think television and radio should be on there. Yes they have changed the world, but arguably not for the better. The internet has made both of those forms of communication essentially redundant, and within less than an average lifetime.

Penicillin should DEFINITELY be on there and so should the water purification process.

Aug 7, 2013

The big three:
Agriculture
The steam engine
The transistor

Add in fermentation, antibiotics, and the printing press and you have most of the big ones.

Aug 7, 2013

Again, who "invented" agriculture? The others are legit, but agriculture isn't an invention.

Aug 7, 2013

Irrigation, in that case then.

Aug 7, 2013
Imprimatur:
ate9ten:

...the [slaves] who built the pyramids were [placated] with beer.

FTFY

In all likelihood, the workers who built the pyramids were hired workers, not slaves. There is even evidence to suggest that they were unionized. http://english.pravda.ru/science/mysteries/04-06-2...

Aug 7, 2013

My TV says that aliens built them, which makes total sense...

Aug 7, 2013

internet porn

"anyone who believes money is the root of all evil, doesn't have any"

Aug 7, 2013
Anihilist:

Again, who "invented" agriculture? The others are legit, but agriculture isn't an invention.

In terms of agriculture in the 1960's 'Norman Borlaug developed semi-dwarf, high-yield, disease-resistant wheat varieties. These collective increases in yield have been labeled the Green Revolution, and Borlaug is often credited with saving over a billion people worldwide from starvation'.

Agriculture/ Transportation (Energy)/ Medicine/ Information/ Technology

I would say the biggest is anything that spreads information (printing press/ radio/ TV/ internet) which has completely changed the world. Obviously computing power compounds the effect but building/ storage/ access to information worldwide has so many flow on effects. Completely destroying industries, killing xenophobic views, sharing or building on solutions to making things cheaper worldwide. This shared global brain could be applied to any advancement above.

Aug 7, 2013

I read somewhere that the most important "invention" (although it's pretty old) is soap. Mostly because of what its use has done to stop the spread of disease and save lives.

Aug 7, 2013
Otter.:

I read somewhere that the most important "invention" (although it's pretty old) is soap. Mostly because of what its use has done to stop the spread of disease and save lives.

Its from Donnie Darko. Thats why I said dont say anti septics as a joke.

Aug 7, 2013

Steve Jobs

Aug 7, 2013
Comment
Aug 8, 2013