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From the world’s first mobile phone to smart cities and driverless cars - taking a look back at the past 50 years

(Image credit: Image source: Shutterstock/LifetimeStock)

Technology brings innovation and over the years we have seen it filter through to almost every aspect of our lives, affecting organisations both large and small, personal lifestyles, government operations and scientific and medical advancements. With this in mind, we have taken a look at how technology has evolved in the past 50 years.

It was 50 years ago, in 1968, that Apollo 8 was launched, and then less than 12 months later we saw Neil Armstrong become the first man to land on the moon taking ‘one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind’. This is still one of the most iconic moments in history and it embodies how technology enabled us to go beyond our previous limits. Although the achievements of NASA mark major significant moments, not only in terms of technology but history, we have also seen other innovations that have enabled us to enjoy today’s digital lifestyle.

One the major milestones in the IT industry was the development of the Internet, and although ideas and breakthroughs had surfaced around it’s possibilities, it was not until 1969 that the first host-to-host message was sent. We have since come a long way, with quick and instant Internet access available for almost everyone in the UK, and we are even on the cusp of 5G, which will help to support a new generation of Internet paving the way for IoT. 

Todd Krautkremer, CMO at Cradlepoint explained, “When RAND researcher, Paul Baran, set out to design a more robust, redundancy-based communications network that would enable the military to communicate in the aftermath of a nuclear attack, he had no idea he was laying the foundation of the Internet we all know and love today. Baran’s concept of separating information into packets before sending them out across a decentralised network of unmanned ‘switching’ nodes quickly led to the creation of a high-speed, digital framework for exchanging information we now call the Internet.”

“50 years on and we are witnessing the birth of another networking revolution with 5G, which is poised to be as transformative as the Internet itself. It has been less than a decade since 4G offered us wireless speeds of up to 100 megabits per second – the turning point for many data heavy technologies like music streaming and video conferencing. In no time at all, LTE Advanced Pro will be able to deliver speeds up to 10 times faster. 5G will build on this to provide network latency in the single digit milliseconds, massive connectivity for IoT and significantly longer battery life. 5G will provide the foundation for software-defined infrastructure and carrier-edge computing, and just like 4G – and the Internet before that – it will act as the springboard for an abundance of fledgling technologies, including virtual reality, remote-controlled robotics, telemedicine and autonomous vehicles."


The more widespread adoption of the Internet, although enabling us to stay always connected, has changed the way both organisations and consumers operate. IT security has always been important, but today it is driving the need for better defences. Garry McCracken, VP of Technology Partnerships at WinMagic commented on how encryption has evolved over the years. “It is really only in the last 50 years because of computers that encryption has come of age. During this time we have gone from encryption being used in mostly military and national security applications to almost every aspect of life. 

The Internet was one of the main drivers for the need for encryption. Wide spread access and use of the Internet, first for commercial transactions and then social networking, meant data was suddenly put at risk. Protecting data with standards such as the Data Encryption Standard (DES) in the 70s was a good start but advances in computer power, as predicted by Moore's law, meant something much more secure was needed long term. After a competition run by the US National Security Agency (NSA) the commercial world settled on Advanced Encryption Standard (AES) for bulk encryption for the Internet.”

Looking at other major milestones, we have also seen the creation of the first mobile phone, the introduction of debit cards and the development of the world’s first laptop. Today, in the 21st  century, we have moved beyond the first developments to a more well-defined tech driven society. We now have smart phones, digital TV, chip and pin and driverless cars. We are even heading towards smart cities and homes – where our lifestyles are connected by technology. Innovation is driving this forwards and with more resources looking at IoT, automation and robotics we are advancing. Phil White, CTO at Scale Computing added, “Innovation is the bread and butter of the technology industry – we are constantly evolving to bring new and improved ways to live and work. Unsurprisingly, this drive for innovation has led to the industry looking remarkably different today than it did 50 years ago.”

“At the forefront of this have been major developments in AI, IoT and robotics. For example, in 1968 we saw the first generation of the iconic Chevrolet Camaro Convertible, but today we are seeing the first generation of fully self-driven cars.”

“Similarly, in 1968, a modern data centre with primary storage consisting of racks and racks of tape drives wouldn’t even hold a candle to the computational power we all possess in our smartphones today. Now we are starting to see micro data centres, powering edge computing, enabling smart cars and in the future smart cities to make more accurate and informed decisions. It is important to remember that to achieve these awe-inspiring advances, huge innovations had to be made behind the scenes. Data storage may be less glamorous than the self-driving car it enables, but without it these technology advances wouldn’t be possible. Today IT has come a long way and virtually everyone is touched by it in some form.”

The trend of AI

Neil Stobart, VP of System Engineering at Cloudian also looked at the trend of AI adding, “AI is the slow-burn success story of IT. Over the past fifty years, it has moved from the realm of science fiction to virtual assistants that are part of our daily lives. The foundation that makes it possible is data. Training an AI system requires massive, instantly accessible datasets. For example, Tesla is teaching cars to drive with 1.3 billion miles of driving data, occupying many petabytes of storage capacity. And these capacity needs will only grow as algorithms begin generating data of their own, and then sharing data with other systems.”

“All of this demands new data storage solutions to accommodate not only the vast amount of data, but also the real-time, instantaneous access needed to simulate thought, and the search capability required to make sense of vast information stores. Managing this amount of data wouldn’t have been possible 50 years ago. For the next 50 years we will need storage without limits.”

Arguably, one of the reasons for the widespread adoption of IT has been the dramatic reduction in cost. As technology becomes more affordable it has become accessible. To put this into perspective, although smart phones today can seem expensive, especially if the cost is forked out for upfront, the first commercial portable phone made by Motorola cost $3,995. Jon Lucas, Director at Hyve Managed Hosting noted, “When IBM launched its first hard disk drive in 1956, its state-of-the-art storage solution offered 5MB of capacity and weighed in at over a ton. Today, if you visit the PC World website, the smallest capacity flash drive you can buy is 16GB, will cost you less than £6 and fit easily in the palm of your hand.”

“In essence, that tells the story of data storage in the last 50+ years: it’s a technology that has seen massive progress in technology, capacity, and is available today as a highly diverse range of products from a huge number of vendors. From the biggest data centres to individual home users, our collective need to hang on to data has created one of the most important hardware markets on the planet.”

“Until it breaks, we all take it for granted. But at the business end of the storage spectrum, that can be a hugely expensive problem. 50 years ago, storage needed a lot of human intervention to keep it running, and although storage today is just a part of a much more complex IT environment, many businesses still attach huge value to the role people still play in the delivery and management of their storage.”

In addition to the business advantages, technology has enabled us to become more productive, efficient and advance in areas such as genomics, scientific research and patient treatments. Paul Parker, Chief Technologist - Federal and National Government at SolarWinds, explained, “A few decades ago, "technology” in the NHS was all about medical devices, whereas now it revolves around digital infrastructure and systems, supporting key functions such as online patient/doctor services and data sharing between GP surgeries, hospitals, and the Private Healthcare Information Network.” These advancements have enabled the NHS to treat patients quickly and more effectively. With a digital system in place, more actions are automated freeing up quality time.

We've come a long way

Parker adds, “According to our IT Trends Report, currently over half (58 per cent) of public sector organisations surveyed (including the NHS) felt that their IT systems were not performing optimally. This suggests that there is potential to amalgamate the last 50 years of innovation into a more cohesive IT environment. With successful monitoring, IT teams will be able to draw from a bigger digital picture to help keep these services online, reliably delivering quality patient care 24/7.”

Whether we are looking at AI, robotics, Internet connectivity or consumer devices technology has come a long way over the years. We have moved from the first mobile phone and laptop to a world that is connected by IT. Innovation is driving our advances and in the next 50 years we will see this continue to fuel more major influential creations.

Todd Krautkremer, CMO, Cradlepoint (opens in new tab)
Garry McCracken, VP of Technology Partnerships,
WinMagic (opens in new tab)
Phil White, CTO,
Scale Computing (opens in new tab)
Neil Stobart, VP of System Engineering,
Cloudian (opens in new tab)
Jon Lucas, Director,
Hyve Managed Hosting (opens in new tab)
Paul Parker, Chief Technologist - Federal and National Government,
SolarWinds (opens in new tab)
Image source: Shutterstock/LifetimeStock

Jon Lucas is the co-founder and director of Hyve Managed Services. With 20 years in the IT industry, Jon has been director since 2001.