British technological innovations – more than class, buildings and tea!

I overhead an American saying,

“We are all grateful for the British people, we love their class, their buildings, their tea.”

Yes, we know, you have Silicon Valley, Bill Gates and and Apple, but there’s far more to the UK than class, buildings and tea.  The UK has contributed plenty to tech and innovation – and we continue to innovate.  Here’s just some things we’d gently like to remind our US cousins about:

 

Telephone

Not in the form, we know it today, but the grandpa of the smartphones we have today is credited to Alexander Graham Bell’s name. However, On February 14, 1876, at the US Patent Office, US woman Elisha Gray’s lawyer filed a patent caveat for a telephone on the very same day that Bell’s lawyer filed Bell’s patent application for a telephone – so it’s fair to say there is some contention over which country can claim full bragging rights.

Whoever you credit, since that first invention back 1876, the rest is history. The telecommunications industry has evolved beyond recognition, and continues to evolve, both in terms of the devices used and the networks that carry the signals.  Each year spawns a new generation of phones, each of them with new functions and features to make the user experience more enjoyable – not to mention a global communications network powering business innovation worldwide.

Bell’s invention was also the base of the entertaining gadget we have in our pockets nowadays – far beyond a mere device for communication. These days, the phone is no longer restricted to voice calls, with emails, social media, cameras and of course, is now also an entertainment tool, used for example, to watch a movie, read a book, play racing, puzzle, casino games, etc.

 

Television

If we define the word “television” as the broadcast of moving images, John Logie Baird, a Scottish engineer and innovator, one of the inventors of the mechanical television, is most famous for being the first person to demonstrate a working television on 26 January 1926 to the press and scientific community.  Just under a century later, would he recognise his creation?

These days, televisions come in almost every size and form. You can have TVs that are small or big, flat or curved, with a multitude of dimensions – though most less bulky than Baird’s original design. Almost every home now has at least one, though many have several and the tech now means we even have TVs 8K resolution – and some designed to be used outdoors,  with big screens being used for advertising as well as an entertainment device. The variety of modern TV devices is so wide, there is something for everyone – and channels are streamed worldwide, bringing hit series like ‘The Money Heist’ or ‘Keeping up with the Kardashians’.   And it all started in the UK, with a Scottish engineer.

 

Fax machine

This invention is not so popular in the 21st century, now we can e-mail all the documents with incredible speed – but it powered businesses effortlessly for a few decades in the late 20th Century before email took over. The prototype of the machine that we call today ‘fax’ was invented by Scots engineer and clockmaker Alexander Bain, who was awarded a patent in 1843 for a machine able to make a copy of an image via transmission. It’s still used in some UK councils, and hospitals – but slowly but surely, email is taking over.  However, it remains one of the best inventions of the 19th century.

 

World Wide Web

Without British computer scientist Tim Berners-Lee, maybe you wouldn’t be here reading this article. He was the person who placed the basics of the  Internet known today. Of course the first internet page looked very different, there were only text and hyperlinks, no images, no fonts, and no GIFs. Today the internet has a whole other meaning for us. It’s mostly used for entertaining purposes, not only to gather information. You can watch any kind of movies, play online strategy games, card games or casino games like blackjack.

Back then in 1989, he was working at CERN when he came up with the idea of creating a global network that gave information to the people and invented the World Wide Web, also known as WWW. But he wasn’t just the person that invented and executed the whole thing but he also designed the first web browser. He is a really talented person who is still alive.

 

Computer

Charles Babbage, an English gentleman with many talents, was an astronomer, mathematician, inventor, engineer, and philosopher. But Babbage’s artwork is his work in the field of mechanical computers without any doubt. He began working on the invention in early 1822. The invention is called “difference engine” and “analytical engine”, it was a big machine able to make mathematical calculations.

A couple of hundred years later the codebreakers at Bletchley Park (try to Google them and see the magic) built the world’s first electronic computer that was programmable. The machine was designed by Tommy Flowers, an English engineer with the help of the brilliant Alan Turing, an English mathematician.  The machine was put in work by early 1944 when it was used to decrypt Axis communications. It didn’t have any memory to store programs, but it had cool flicking switches and altering the wiring through plugs. The machine was huge, and had the size of a whole room.

Of course, things have evolved.  Back in the early 1980’s, larger businesses would have one computer, with a handful of skilled operators.   Flip forward to 2020.  You’ll find one on most desks, and most homes have at least one (the Editor of UK Tech News has 9).  And of course, we know, the US is the home of Google, Facebook and Amazon – but the UK is still here and still contributing.

It’s not just home tech either, the first artificial intelligence blood test, pioneered by a British company, ClinspecDX, will accelerate the detection of brain cancer and allow the early treatment that saves lives, while Great Ormond Street is pioneering the use of VR in paediatrics.  The Tech Nation report highlights the huge contribution the UK is making to tech globally, now in 2020.

We really do appreciate Silicon Valley with it’s tech hub, but don’t forget about the UK’s contributions to the tech world.  Maybe you can spare us a thought when you play games on your phone.