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When we look at the Iphones and Ipads around us, we sometimes wonder how we got to this point of evolution of technology. How did we go from humble folk contented with engaging in personal conversation with local neighbors to a global community equipped with the means to be internationally aware of everything around them? The story dates back to 1830, when Joseph Henry first successfully propagated an electric signal. Well, the signal was in its most basic form yet, and was no where close to the information content signals are carrying today. What Joseph Henry first established was a means of creating an electrical disturbance from a significant distance. Not until Samuel Finley Breese Morse invented the telegraph 7 years later did these signals come to mean anything to anyone. Yes, Samuel Morse, by relating a series of disturbances (dits and dahs) to the alphabet, a coding scheme popularly known as the Morse code, managed to make the disturbances understandable to the human mind. If it weren't for the telegraph, Titanic would never have had the means of calling for help to the Californian or any nearby ship during its distress. However, man is a very inefficient computing machine in practicality, and with the rate of communications being limited to the literacy of the man in charge, a receiver circuit took the humans place, and the Morse code has been swapped with a more suitable form of “dits and dahs”, one which we are more familiar with, the binary code.

The binary code surpasses the Morse code in numerous ways. The binary code does not need human judgment to identify its boundaries, which can be defined prior to coding. Binary code is also flexible to compression algorithms, which gives it an advantage in transmission bandwidth. In spite of the many advantages binary had to offer, its application to societal needs was still challenged. The reason can be summed in one word that has played as the most popular villain amongst innovations – cost. At that time, the circuitry that would process binary codes was unimaginably costly, in all senses of the word. It was costly in space. It was costly in money. It was costly in maintenance and operation (because vacuum tubes usually had bugs that would crawl in them literally and mess up computing operations, thus giving the phrase “a computer bug” a place in the dictionary). The electronics industry would have to wait 'till 1947 for digital communications to flourish, solid-state transistors being the contender that would prove competent enough to handle binary codes practically. Prior to that, the world will have to make do with Morse code and analog signals (signals that are sent “as is”, no coding, what you say is what you will hear).

We can deduce a very important point about how technology develops based on these historical facts. The rate of growth of one field of science can determine the rate of growth of another field. The growth of communications was slow because the growth of solid-state electronics was also slow.

When transistors finally gained the spotlight of the market, the whole world would never be the same again. Computing power and computing memory exploded exponentially. One of the entrepreneurs of transistors, Gordon Moore, co-founder of Intel, predicted that transistor density will double every year on chips. And until now, no one has proven him wrong. Because of smaller size, technology became portable. Because of higher computing power and higher computing memory, technology became immensely useful and indispensable. From bipolar junction transistors (BJTs), solid-state electronics moved further to complementary metal oxide semiconductor field effect transistors (smaller and badder than the BJTs). Then came the tri-gate transistor of Intel, integrated in what is marketed as the Ivy Bridge, with the highest efficiency of them all (for now). From analog AMPS (Advanced Mobile Phone System), communications moved up the evolutionary ladder to 2G, 3G, 3.5G, and 3.9G (Long Term Evolution LTE). The true 4G is yet to come, and has been announced by 3GPP 3rd Generation Partnership Project in its 10th release (LTE-A or LTE Advanced).

Just because a technology becomes old, does not necessarily mean it becomes obsolete as well. Vacuum tubes, the ancestors of solid-state transistors, are still very useful in broadcasting signals because of the applications demand for high power ratings. Copper wire is sometimes still preferred over fiber optic cables in networking due to it being cheaper and easier to handle.

The golden age of electronics and communications is far from over. The top is still elusive because of some physical restraints electronics poses. Which is why its history may one day include photonics and optical circuitry in its repertoire, a technology more compatible with the fiber optic cables being used by modern communications today.


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