Nightly Business Report is celebrating their 30th year on television.

NBR viewers suggested the advances they admired during the 1979 to 2009 time frame. Professors at The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania selected and ranked the top thirty.

The Top 30 Innovations of the Last 30 Years

30. Anti retroviral treatment for AIDS (Health Care)
29. SRAM flash memory  (Electronics)
28. Stents   (Health Care)
27. ATMs   (Finance)
26. Bar codes and scanners   (Retail)
25. Bio fuels   (Biotechnology)
24. Genetically modified plants   (Biotechnology)
23. RFID and applications (e.g. EZpass)     (Electronics)
22. Digital photography/videography   (Electronics)
21. Graphic user interface (GUI)      (Computer Science)
20. Social networking via internet   (Media)
19. Large scale wind turbines   (Energy)
18. Photovoltaic Solar Energy    (Energy)
17. Microfinance      (Finance)
16. Media file compression (e.g., jpeg, mpeg, mp3)      (Computer Science)
15. Online shopping/ecommerce/auctions (e.g., eBay)       (Information Technology)
14. GPS Systems     (Electronics)
13. Liquid Crystal Displays             (Electronics)
12. Light emitting diodes (first real devices in 1960s; in products in mid-70s)      (Electronics)
11. Open source software and services (e.g., Linux, Wikipedia)         (Media)
10. Non-invasive laser/robotic surgery (laparoscopy)        (Health Care)
9. Office software (Spreadsheets, word processors)        (Computer Science)
8. Fiber optics         (Telecommunications)
7. Microprocessors        (Computer Science)
6. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)     (Biotechnology)
5. DNA testing and sequencing/Human genome mapping     (Biotechnology)
4. E-mail         (Computer Science)
3. Mobile phones           (Telecommunications)
2. PC/laptop computers      (Computer Science)
1. Internet/broadband/WWW (browser and HTML)       (Telecommunications)


The Top 30 Innovations of the Last 30 Years
PBS, February 16, 2009

Category: Digital Media, Technology, Venture Capital, Web/Tech

Please use the comments to demonstrate your own ignorance, unfamiliarity with empirical data and lack of respect for scientific knowledge. Be sure to create straw men and argue against things I have neither said nor implied. If you could repeat previously discredited memes or steer the conversation into irrelevant, off topic discussions, it would be appreciated. Lastly, kindly forgo all civility in your discourse . . . you are, after all, anonymous.

13 Responses to “Top 30 Innovations of the Last 30 Years”

  1. tCA says:

    Is it possible to have no. 1 without having no. 2??? If not, isn’t the order wrong, thus, rendering the whole list lacking credibility. ;-)

  2. tradeking13 says:

    what about CDSs, CDOs, CDO-squareds, etc.?

  3. cjcpa says:

    It’s like inventing a cup, then inventing the cup with a handle, then inventing the travel mug.

    The laser is a requirement for the dvd player, but most people don’t think of that when they say they like the digital picture on their TV. not to dispute the ;)


  4. Ken says:

    tCA: It depends on what they mean by #1. The three things listed (Internet, broadband, and WWW) are not really that similar, being a technology, a particular implementation of the technology, and an application that uses the technology. It’s somewhat as if they wrote “Roads/Interstate highway system/Sports Cars.” With that caveat, “Internet” preceded the PC, and the other two could have been invented without PCs – it just happened that PCs came first.

    tradeking13: That also struck me. There are only two financial innovations on the list (accepting their perhaps-dubious classification scheme, which makes the ATM is “finance”, but bar codes “Retail” and e-commerce “Information Technology”). The only thing that hits me as an actual financial innovation, versus a new technology for an existing financial problem, is “Microfinance” – though I could also argue that it’s just the Bailey Building and Loan from “It’s a Wonderful Life”, but on a larger scale made possible through the technologies.

  5. donna says:

    I’m sorry, I was using email over 30 years ago. ;^)

  6. donna says:

    And yes, we had the Arpanet well before PCs were around..

  7. dsawy says:

    Many of these developments are from well before the last 30 years.

    Starting from #1: The “Internet” is just an outgrowth of ARPAnet, which has been around since the early 70′s. We didn’t have the HTTP protocol, but it was the genesis of peer-to-peer networking, packet-switching (as opposed to circuit-switching) networking, routing, etc. The broadband & WWW development — OK, that is a development of the last 30 years.

    Next: Microprocessors. The first microprocessor was in 1971, the Intel 4004. I can see people having a fit, because the 4004 wasn’t eight bit… OK, the 8008 was in 1972. Still more than 30 years ago. By 1976, we had the 8080, the Z80… still more than 30 years ago.

    Fiber optics: early research in the 50′s, overcame barriers throughout the 60′s and by 1970, there were single-mode fibers commercially available.

    “SRAM flash memory” – which do they mean? SRAM or flash? They’re two different types of memory. SRAM has been around a long time, flash much more recently. I suspect they mean just “flash memory.”

    Biofuels? They’re a century late with that one. Rudolf Diesel designed his engine to run on vegetable oil. Us rednecks have been running gas engines on moonshine forever – certainly during Prohibition. It isn’t a recent development.

    Neither are wind turbines. There’s a fella by the name of Marcellus Jacobs who was a self-taught engineer out of eastern Montana who built and sold thousands upon thousands of wind power machines for farms and ranches all over the west in the 1930′s to 1950′s. The first megawatt scale turbine in the US was in 1941. All these whizzy PhD’s who think that wind power is all the rage now are still busy re-discovering what old man Jacobs discovered in the 30′s — like downwind machines will have blade failures due to metal fatigue.

    Genetically modified plants? Hmmm. How far back did were we growing triticale in large scale? The late 1940′s?

    Little wonder we’re in such dire straits in American business today, if this is what passes for recognizing innovation at Wharton.

  8. carmen101 says:

    Besides microfinance I don’t see a financial innovation here. (ATMs are really a technological innovation, like a combo of telecommunications and computer science, or for short, information technology.)

    How come these Wharton dudes didn’t include CDS, CDO, CDO squared, Option ARM, etc? What other financial innovations are out there that missed the list?

  9. seattledave says:

    Maybe instead of Business School professors, they should’ve asked professors who actually have studied and achieved in an academically rigorous area: hard science, engineering, social sciences. I took business classes at two highly rated universities. They were ridiculously easy, so I am not surprised to see that about half the listed items pre-date the 1979 threshold.

  10. larry says:

    I’d like to quibble more over dates and when technologies were developed vs. widespread adoption, etc. but I’m electrical/computer engineer guy.

    I’d bump mobile phones to number one, if only the sheer numbers of them. Once the cost came down, everyone who could afford one got one. The village may not have clean water, proper sewage or reliable power, but they’ll have cell phones.

  11. ashpelham says:

    I think the motivation behind naming the Internet as #1 is that, while networking technologies existed beforehand, the Internet itself, as it currently stands, is quite different, and much more user-friendly/widespread than the old ARPAnet was. I have no idea what that is/was anyway. I’m 33, and I’ve never heard of it. Not disagreeing it’s existance, as I am aware that the US Military had some type of computer networking framework WAAAAY before America Online came around! :D

    One more thing: The Internet made the computer/pc more accessible as well for people. While computers/pc were part of society and were gaining in their strength and usability, the Internet really made the world a smaller place. So, to me at least, the Internet certainly is number 1. As a former football player, I could make an argument for pre-wrap as among the greatest innovations as well :D.

  12. Rogue Medic says:


    I’ve never used the pre-wrap, that you link to, but gauze under the tape has been in use for a long time. Wouldn’t that do the same thing? In a similar vein, how old is moleskin?

  13. dsawy,

    w/this: “Little wonder we’re in such dire straits in American business today, if this is what passes for recognizing innovation at Wharton.”

    Of Course.

    IOW, it’s been the Failure of Finance not to recognize the Economics of Engineering that has, so greatly, lop-sided our Accounts..