Technology moves forward, and the world continues to spin. In college we learned of the birth of solid-state electronics with the Shockley Diode and the first transistors. This to our professors was the advent of solid-state electronics and was deemed as the birth of modern electronics. This seminal moment was new and disruptive, that began a new generation of technology.
But this did not come on its own, … although it came out of a vacuum.
Vacuum tubes were invented by Sir John Ambrose Fleming in 1904 and much of the functionality of solid-state electronics was initially worked with tube technology. The Analog Age gave rise to the Digital Age.
Earlier, in the Edison labs, one of Edison’s inventors noted an anomaly when adding a third electrode to his lighting experiments. The third lead, that was not part of the incandescent circuit, glowed blue. This cooler lead had current flowing to it from the heated positive lead. Edison noted it, patented it, but did not understand it. Later Fleming determined that this phenomenon allowed AC current going between the incandescent leads to be converted to direct current going to the cool third lead. Discovered was a means to convert alternating current to direct current: the concept of a diode was born. The age of oil lamps gave rise to the age of light.
Everything has its precedence. Everything will have its successor.
The First Industrial Revolution was the world of mechanization, of using steam and water to induce movement in heavy machinery.
The Second Industrial Revolution was the streamlining of mechanization and the use of electricity and assembly lines to allow mass production.
The Third Industrial Revolution began the world of electronics, computers and automation, and derived the Digital Revolution.
The Fourth Industrial Revolution is now upon us and is described as the advent of cyber systems that bring seamless data to all aspects of our lives. The adage that information is power has taken on deeper and more significant meaning.
As an engineer we are taught that technology is good. Science is pure, and its outcome is discovery. The concept of good or evil in technology is misleading and it is only the politicians and mercenaries that subvert knowledge for gain or destruction.
But as one grows older, realization hits that technologists are the stewards of what they create. Edward Teller became the architect of the Hydrogen Bomb, a project that was opposed by many of the proponents of the Manhattan Project. Rabi wrote “Since no limit exists to the destructiveness of this weapon, its existence and knowledge of its construction is a danger to humanity as a whole.”
We know that technology moves us forward. We know that cyber solutions have the capacity to move us into a new age. But we have the obligation to act as the agents of our work. We should see the direction that technology takes us and in paraphrasing the use in medicine, … our priority is to first do no harm.