Emerging Technologies

From the world wide web to AI: 11 technology milestones that changed our lives

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The world wide web is a key technological milestone in the past 40 years. Image: Unsplash/Ales Nesetril

Stephen Holroyd
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Emerging Technologies

  • It’s been 40 years since the launch of the Apple Macintosh personal computer.
  • Since then, technological innovation has accelerated – here are some of the most notable tech milestones over the past four decades.
  • The World Economic Forum’s EDISON Alliance aims to digitally connect 1 billion people to essential services like healthcare, education and finance by 2025.

On 24 January 1984, Apple unveiled the Macintosh 128K and changed the face of personal computers forever.

Steve Jobs’ compact, user-friendly computer introduced the graphical user interface to the world, marking a pivotal moment in the evolution of personal technology.

Since that day, the rate of technological innovation has exploded, with developments in computing, communication, connectivity and machine learning expanding at an astonishing rate.

Here are some of the key technological milestones that have changed our lives over the past 40 years.

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1993: The world wide web

Although the internet’s official birthday is often debated, it was the invention of the world wide web that drove the democratization of information access and shaped the modern internet we use today.

Created by British scientist Tim Berners-Lee, the World Wide Web was launched to the public in 1993 and brought with it the dawn of online communication, e-commerce and the beginning of the digital economy.

Despite the enormous progress since its invention, 2.6 billion people still lack internet access and global digital inclusion is considered a priority. The World Economic Forum’s EDISON Alliance aims to bridge this gap and digitally connect 1 billion people to essential services like healthcare, education and finance by 2025.

1997: Wi-Fi

The emergence of publicly available Wi-Fi in 1997 changed the face of internet access – removing the need to tether to a network via a cable. Without Wi-Fi, the smartphone and the ever-present internet connection we’ve come to rely on, wouldn’t have been possible, and it has become an indispensable part of our modern, connected world.

1998: Google

The launch of Google’s search engine in 1998 marked the beginning of efficient web search, transforming how people across the globe accessed and navigated online information. Today, there are many others to choose from – Bing, Yahoo!, Baidu – but Google remains the world’s most-used search engine.

2004: Social media

Over the past two decades, the rise of social media and social networking has dominated our connected lives. In 2004, MySpace became the first social media site to reach one million monthly active users. Since then, platforms like Facebook, Instagram and TikTok have reshaped communication and social interaction, nurturing global connectivity and information sharing on an enormous scale, albeit not without controversy.

Most popular social networks worldwide as of January 2024, ranked by number of monthly active users
Facebook still dominates the social media world in 2024. Image: Statista

2007: The iPhone

More than a decade after the first smartphone had been introduced, the iPhone redefined mobile technology by combining a phone, music player, camera and internet communicator in one sleek device. It set new standards for smartphones and ultimately accelerated the explosion of smartphone usage we see across the planet today.

2009: Bitcoin

The foundations for modern digital payments were laid in the late 1950s with the introduction of the first credit and debit cards, but it was the invention of Bitcoin in 2009 that set the stage for a new era of secure digital transactions. The first decentralized cryptocurrency, Bitcoin introduced a new form of digital payment system that operates independently of traditional banking systems. Its underlying technology, blockchain, revolutionized the concept of digital transactions by providing a secure, transparent, and decentralized method for peer-to-peer payments. Bitcoin has not only influenced the development of other cryptocurrencies but has also sparked discussions about the future of money in the digital age.

2014: Virtual reality

2014 was a pivotal year in the development of virtual reality (VR) for commercial applications. Facebook acquired the Oculus VR company for $2 billion and kickstarted a drive for high-quality VR experiences to be made accessible to consumers. Samsung and Sony also announced VR products, and Google released the now discontinued Cardboard – a low-cost, do-it-yourself viewer for smartphones. The first batch of Oculus Rift headsets began shipping to consumers in 2016.

2015: Autonomous vehicles

Autonomous vehicles have gone from science fiction to science fact in the past two decades, and predictions suggest that almost two-thirds of registered passenger cars worldwide will feature partly-assisted driving and steering by 2025. In 2015, the introduction of Tesla’s Autopilot brought autonomous features to consumer vehicles, contributing to the mainstream adoption of self-driving technology.

Cars Increasingly Ready for Autonomous Driving
A majority of new cars will feature some level of autonomous driving by 2025. Image: Statista

2019: Quantum computing

A significant moment in the history of quantum computing was achieved in October 2019 when Google’s Sycamore processor demonstrated “quantum supremacy” by solving a complex problem faster than the world’s most powerful supercomputers. Quantum technologies can be used in a variety of applications and offer transformative impacts across industries. The World Economic Forum’s Quantum Economy Blueprint provides a framework for value-led, democratic access to quantum resources to help ensure an equitable global distribution and avoid a quantum divide.

2020: The COVID-19 pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic accelerated digital transformation on an unprecedented scale. With almost every aspect of human life impacted by the spread of the virus – from communicating with loved ones to how and where we work – the rate of innovation and uptake of technology across the globe emphasized the importance of remote work, video conferencing, telemedicine and e-commerce in our daily lives.


How is the World Economic Forum creating guardrails for Artificial Intelligence?

2022: Artificial intelligence

Artificial intelligence (AI) technology has been around for some time and AI-powered consumer electronics, from smart home devices to personalized assistants, have become commonplace. However, the emergence of mainstream applications of generative AI has dominated the sector in recent years.

In 2022, OpenAI unveiled its chatbot, ChatGPT. Within a week, it had gained over one million users and become the fastest-growing consumer app in history. In the same year, DALL-E 2, a text-to-image generative AI tool, also launched.

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