Kennedy’s promise

In 1963 Kennedy made a promise to the American people that the US would put a man on the moon before the end of the decade. Sadly he was never there to see it happen, but his proud scientists did it. It took billions in investment, with money thrown almost recklessly at “getting it right first time” (and winning the space race versus the Russians).

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Technology breakthrough?

According to many experts, it was this huge injection of money that made several major US corporations what they are today. And it fuelled many new inventions, in a rocket-like explosion of technological development. For example, it was around this time that the ARPANET was developed as institutions tried to link up development departments. The ARPANET can be considered a predecessor of today’s Internet.

Apparently, one product of the NASA program was Teflon. Another: the Sony Walkman (of course, spacemen do need to listen to music) .

Yet it’s ironic to think that the laptop on which I’m posting this entry has more technology in it than the Apollo 11 landing module that brought Armstrong and Aldrin to our nearby heavenly neighbour. Computers at the time were bigger than whole rooms. Kennedy would have laughed at the concept of a pocket calculator. A fax? A machine that sends letters down a telephone line? No way. Yet even the fax is gradually becoming obsolete with the advent of email.

The rate of technology change is accelerating. What will further generations grow up with?

Sometimes we get pointers from technology experts. People predicted many moons ago that the nation’s roads will clog up with cars. I never believed them at the time. They proved right. Companies have ignored similar predictions – apparently Texas Instruments turned down quartz crystal technology (as a timing device). Seiko didn’t.

There is a story about a technology expert called in by a company to talk about technology change. It was the early days of silicon chips but he dared to predict that one day we would find silicon chips in all walks of life. Even hotel rooms like the one he was presenting in would be filled with silicon chip technology.

He went off on his way, but many years later returned to the same hotel room to hold yet another talk about technology. He pulled out his key – a plastic card – and slotted it into the door. Embedded in the card: a silicon chip.

Alex Woodruff

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