April is National Inventors Month and we wanted to celebrate the inventors who made many of our favorite modern-day technology possible. Their inventions paved the way for the computer, mobile devices, Internet and modern entertainment technology that we use every day.
Computers have become increasingly essential to our way of life, impacting how we learn and how we work.
Douglas Engelbart (Human-Computer Interaction)
Before the computer was made for personal use, Engelbart founded the field of human-computer interaction – with many proposals to help people get the most out of computers and their capacity. At the “mother of all demos” in 1968, Engelbart introduced his inventions – including the computer mouse, hypertext, the beginnings of graphical user interfaces, and networked computers. He is credited with changing the entire philosophy of how people used computers – as tools for gaining and enhancing knowledge rather than just simply tools for automation.
Ed Roberts (First Personal Computer)
Invented first commercially successful personal computer in 1975. He started MITS, the company that Bill Gates and Paul Allen joined to create the Altair Basic – the next generation personal computer. Roberts didn’t stay in technology for his entire life. Instead, he sold his company in 1977 and retired to become a small-town farmer and town doctor in Georgia.
Dr. Fujio Masuoka (Flash Technology)
Dr. Fujio Masuoka worked for Toshiba in the 1980s. He is known for inventing flash memory. Before his invention, a computer’s memory and data were erased every time the power source to the machine was turned off. With flash memory, the memory drive could store data even when the machine was turned off – allowing for data storage and increased processing capacity.
Bill Moggridge and Adam Osborne (Personal Laptop)
In 1981, Adam Osborne was the first inventor to design the luggable computer – something that could be toted from place to place. It was a lot like a portable sewing machine – it could be transported, but not easily. In 1982, Bill Moggridge designed the GRiD Compass Laptop, which was the first to have a clamshell design with a flat screen and also the first computer that could fit in a briefcase. While Osborne was the first to conceive a portable computer, Moggridge is responsible for the way laptops still look and function today.
The Internet and Internet Communications
It’s difficult to think of using a computer without being connected to the Internet in some way. However, early computers didn’t include interconnected networks and were used more like calculators to automate large scale solutions. Thanks to several inventors, the Internet became the information and communications super highway that it is today.
Norman Abramson (Wirelesss LAN technology)
In the 1970s, Norman Abramson invented ALOHAnet, the first local area wireless network. ALOHAnet was the first network to transmit data using radio signals – a huge breakthrough at the time. It paved the way for the modern day ethernet and the way that we use the Internet today.
Robert Metcaffe (Ethernet)
Inspired by Norman Abramson’s work with ALOHAnet and building off of his colleague’s work, Robert Metcaffe invented the Ethernet, which received a patent in 1977. The Ethernet paved the way for modern day broadband, and transmitted data at higher bandwidths than dial up by increasing the size of data packets that could be sent over a network, allowing for future video streaming and web applications.
Tim Berners-Lee (The World Wide Web, HTML, HTTP)
Tim Berners-Lee took the networks that Abramson and Metcaffe created one step farther and created the World Wide Web in 1990. He also designed the first web browser (NEXUS), Hypertext Markup Lanaguage (HTML, the coding language still used for all websites today), and Hypertext Transfer Protocol (HTTP, the protocol on which all modern websites are built). Without Berners-Lee’s work, we wouldn’t have websites and wouldn’t interact over the web in the same way.
Nathaniel Borenstein (Email Attachment Protocol)
Borenstein and Ned Freed wrote the Multipurpose Internet Mail Extension (MIME) protocol for sending email messages with multimedia attachments. This became a proposed standard in 1992 and almost all emails today use MIME even if they don’t include attachments. Imagine If we never had the ability to send attachments (photos, documents, PDFs, etc.) through email – we wouldn’t have been able to evolve this as an efficient mode of communication quite so far.
The mobile devices we use today can basically do anything that computers can do, so it’s difficult to imagine that at one time, just having a portable phone was a novelty. Without the first wireless mobile technology, however, our modern-day cell phones would not have been possible.
Martin Cooper (First Mobile Phone)
Martin Cooper invented the first handheld cellular mobile phone while working for Motorola in the 1970s. The first phone of this type was brought to market in 1983. He is also the first person the make a handheld cellular phone call in public.
Modern Entertainment Technology
Much of the way we interact with technology on a daily basis now has something to do with entertainment. Here are a few ways that inventors have shaped the way we experience entertainment through technology over the years.
Eugene Polley (Wireless TV Remote Control)
In 1955, Eugene Polley invented the “Flash-Matic” while working for Zenith Electronics. This pistol-shaped control used visible light to remotely control a television. With the remote, you could change channels, turn the receiver on and off and turn off the sound. Though more advanced and easy-to-use versions came out later, this was the first known remote control for television.
Ralph H Baer (Video Game Console)
Baer is considered the “Father of Video games” because in 1966 he came up with the idea that people could play games on a television screen. While working for Sanders Associates, he created a “Brown Box” video game that became the first home video game console. He continued with computer game development throughout his life, but the video game console was the invention for which he was best known.
Gerald A Lawson (Cartridge-based Video Game System)
Though Lawson was not the first to invent a video game, he had a huge effect on the trajectory of video games and how we use them today. In 1976, he pioneered the cartridge-based video game system, creating the first system in which gamers could play different games using the same system and hardware. This work transformed the video game industry by making it much more accessible and varied.
These inventors shaped the way that we interact with technology and communicate with one another today. We can’t wait to see the ways in which current inventors continue to influence the future of technology and how we interact with the world.