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CNN Top 25 -- Innovations In Last 25 Years

Aired January 16, 2005 - 20:00   ET


CAROL LIN, CNN HEADLINE NEWS, ATLANTA: In a moment, a CNN special with Miles O'Brien. But first, a look at what's happening right now in the news.
In Washington, for example, rehearsals today for President Bush's inaugural parade. Security will be tight for the first presidential inauguration since 9/11. Six thousand officers from dozens of agencies will be providing security for Thursday's inauguration.

Now, the violence in Iraq is not keeping Interim Prime Minister Ayad Allawi from campaigning. He told Baghdad University students today he had allocated $100 million for education grants. Iraq's elections are set for two weeks from today.

In California, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has now declared a state of emergency for eight counties that suffered heavy damage in recent storms. They include Ventura County where a mudslide killed 10 people.

And a body recovered from that avalanche near Park City, Utah, has been identified as 27-year-old Shane Maixner of Sandpoint, Idaho. Searches also found clothing that could be linked to four other missing people after Friday's massive slide.

And some of Hollywood's biggest names will be winning Golden Globe Awards tonight. So we're going to have the latest on the awards and who was wearing what, coming up at 10 o'clock Eastern on CNN SUNDAY NIGHT.

I'm Carol Lin. Right now, Miles O'Brien with a CNN special. He's going to take a look back at the top 25 technological innovations that occurred over the course of CNN's 25 years.

MILES O'BRIEN, HOST, CNN SPECIAL: Twenty-five innovations that changed our lives and dialed us into a new century.

What started with the brick became the cheapest, lightest, teeny- tiniest way to stay in touch.

Plus, everything you wanted to know about you. Genetic fingerprints shaping everything from medicine to law enforcement.

Then, keeping the world's natural resources and the drive alive. A unique breed of car combining the old and the new, something borrowed and pumping fuel -- less fuel.

And a new twist on technology for the rest of our lives. We're adding it up and counting it down.

What a difference 25 years can make. In 1980, when most people heard the idea of an all-news, 24-hour TV network they laughed.

Well, as we celebrate the silver anniversary of that very idea, CNN, we pause to remember some of the more remarkable events we've all witnessed together all these years.

I'm Miles O'Brien in Washington at the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History. Welcome to the first installment of "CNN Top 25" -- a look at the top 25 technological innovations over the past 25 years.

We could try to make a list of our own, but since we're not visionaries, we left it to the real experts -- the folks at the Lemelson-MIT program, which recognizes innovators and encourages young people to invent. They compiled our list.


PROF. MERTON FLEMINGS, DIRECTOR, LEMELSON-MIT PROGRAM: We had first research done within the Lemelson-MIT program. We then went to a panel of MIT experts. Then we went to an outside panel of individuals known for their contributions to invention and innovation.

And finally, I had a small subcommittee make a final list to prepare for CNN.


O'BRIEN: And with that, we begin with innovation No. 25.


O'BRIEN: Computers and wires have always been, well, linked. But our No. 25 innovation is cutting the cord, literally. Why not, with Wi-Fi.

PROF. GENE FITZGERALD, DEPT. OF ENGINEERING, MASSACHUSETTS INSTITUTE OF TECHNOLOGY: Wi-Fi's useful because you can easily get an Internet connection without having to find a hardwire jack to plug into.

So, whether I'm in a coffee shop in a city or in a hotel lobby, just going to a company, all those locations today will have Wi-Fi access. More and more base stations are put in, as people buy more and more hubs, you'll be able to get access almost anywhere.

O'BRIEN: Wi-Fi has sure given new meaning to the term "hotspot."

And our next innovation has changed the way many of you are hearing me now.

Elizabeth Cohen with innovation 24.

ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: If you know somebody with an old hearing aid, you're probably familiar with that sound. It's called feedback, and it was one of the main problems for the four million analog hearing aid users in the early '80s.

But in recent years, these old analog hearing aids have gone the way of the typewriter, and are being replaced by much more technologically advanced hearing aids.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I can hear you clearly.

COHEN: This aid used FM wireless technology. Put the receiver on a table during a meeting, and it gathers the sound. Or hook it up directly to a radio, TV or CD player.

DR. HELENA SOLODAR, AUDIOLOGIST: We're really now at a point where technology is exploding.

COHEN: And it's not a moment too soon. The technologically savvy baby boom generation is getting older. And as it comes time for them to get hearing aids, high-tech devices are becoming increasingly popular.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I can answer the cell phone by pressing the little green button.

COHEN: This aid uses Bluetooth technology to connect users wirelessly to their cell phones, allowing them to both hear and talk through the hearing aid.

Thanks to digital technology, hearing aids have gotten smaller over the years, too.

DR. LAURIE HANIN, AUDIOLOGIST: There are hearing aids now that are called completely-in-the-canal hearing aids, which are very tiny -- probably the size of your thumbnail.

COHEN: And they work just as well as the clunkier ones for people with mild or moderate hearing loss.

And the traditional, larger ones have gotten a makeover, too.

SOLODAR: I'm actually speaking through the digital hearing device.

COHEN: In other words, we hooked up our microphone so that you're hearing her through a digital hearing aid -- clear sound, no feedback.

SOLODAR: Testing.

COHEN: And though it looks the same as the older hearing aids, the digital sound processors inside the hearing aid give patients much improved sound quality.

Cochlear implants are another option. Normally, sound vibrates tiny hairs in the inner ear, which then transmit sound signals to the brain. These hairs are often damaged in people with hearing loss. So, a tiny device can be surgically implanted under the scalp, bypassing the hairs completely, and transmitting sound signals directly to the brain.

No matter which hearing aid you choose, there's plenty of progress for the nearly 28 million Americans with hearing impairments.

O'BRIEN: You have reached the No. 23 item on our list of innovations. To know when it was invented, press one.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: To leave a message, wait for the tone.

O'BRIEN: In fact, voicemail was invented long before you relied on it -- 1979. These days, for most people it is an essential part of personal and business communication.

To hear the inventor's misgivings, press two.

FLEMINGS: Gordon Matthews, the inventor of voicemail, thought afterwards that he had brought something into being he wasn't sure was an entirely good thing.

And as he himself said, when I contact a company, I want to talk to a person, not a machine.

O'BRIEN: The flash of inspiration that led to innovation No. 22 made digital photography practical. Flash memory cards first started supplanting Kodachrome in 1988.

DAVID KIRKPATRICK, SENIOR EDITOR, "FORTUNE" MAGAZINE: Well, the digital camera market really could not exist without Flash memory. And an astonishing amount of Flash memory is now starting to go in cell phones.

I think the typical cell phone today has more memory in it than the original IBM PC.

O'BRIEN: And those aren't the only memorable uses for Flash. The cards also find their way into PDAs and MP3 players -- any small, portable device that needs a little more memory.

And at No. 21, our angels-on-the-head-of-a-pin innovation -- nanotechnology.

Nanotechnology has led to the tiny sensors found in airbags and, maybe one day, a fantastic voyage of tiny robots inside your system.

FLEMINGS: Some people think that we should put nanotech devices in our bloodstream to repair problems or to monitor our health. So, it wouldn't surprise me, if down the road, we see a radical improvement in human health because of the use of nanotech.

O'BRIEN: So, how many tiny little machines can dance on the head of a pin?

We'll have the answer for you, and we'll make some time for the memory. Back in a flash.


O'BRIEN: Twenty-five years ago, NASA was on the cusp of launching its first space shuttle. And there was an awful lot of talk about making a ride to space as routine as a flight across the country.

That promise was never fulfilled.

But NASA's partially reusable spacecraft is still a marvel of technology -- the most complicated machine ever to take flight -- and innovation No. 20.

When John Young straps into a space shuttle simulator, it's clear he's at home.

JOHN YOUNG, FIRST SHUTTLE COMMANDER, NASA: There are 2,000 switches and circuit breakers and event indicators in this machine.

O'BRIEN: The first astronaut to command a space shuttle mission was on the moon the day NASA got the word from Congress the space transportation system would be funded.

The idea at the time, to build a fleet of space trucks that would fly 50 or 60 times a year, and make access to space cheap.

YOUNG: Oh, that would have been great. Just couldn't do it.

O'BRIEN: Why not?

YOUNG: Well, because it turned out to cost a lot more than they thought.

O'BRIEN: NASA wanted to build a fully reusable system that might have been cheaper to fly. But the upfront price tag of $14 billion did not suit the Nixon White House.

CHRIS KRAFT, RETIRED NASA MANAGER: They said you could have half of that. And we went back to the drawing board and came up with a partially reusable machine, which you see today.

It wasn't, by the way, what the Johnson Space Center wanted to build. But it was acceptable.

O'BRIEN: So, the shuttle system as we know it was born of tight budgets, hard choices and borrowed technology from the Apollo era.

Five orbiters were built, 113 flights flown so far and two vehicles and their crews lost. Not what was hoped, but not matched either.

O'BRIEN: So, there is no better mousetrap.

MARTIN WILSON, UNITED SPACE ALLIANCE: No, not in my opinion. We've been looking for many, many years for how to do it better. And, to be honest, you have to give credit to the people in the '60s and '70s who actually invented this stuff, that nobody up to this point has really come up with anything better.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Space Shuttle Orbiter 101 marked the very visible beginnings of this country's future space transportation system.

O'BRIEN: Ironically, tragically, the loss of Columbia and her crew of seven in February of 2003, has spurred on the search for a better mission, if not a better craft.

NASA is now designing a new vehicle to go back to the Moon and on to Mars.

And the shuttle, with its aging systems and hard-to-replace parts, will return to flight just long enough to finish building the International Space Station.

O'BRIEN: So, was the shuttle, in a sense, disappointing, in a sense?

YOUNG: I think it's a remarkable piece of machinery right today. I mean, it's the only thing that'll really haul a lot of the stuff, to work with right now.

O'BRIEN: It's a great machine.

O'BRIEN: When it comes to television, size does matter. And bigger is always better. Right, couch potatoes?

But as every veteran video spud knows, it used to be, the size of the screen was inversely proportional to the quality of the image.

But that was before our No. 19 innovation, high definition television, finally started coming home.

FLEMINGS: HDTV is digital, so it's less -- immune to interference. There's many more lines per inch on your television screen. The sound is much better.

O'BRIEN: And if you're going HD, you are thinking big, wide and clear as a bell. And that means LCD and plasma displays.

The pictures are gorgeous and the screens are ever so svelte -- even though the prices are not.

But worry not, potato heads, these too shall fall into the affordable range soon.

Which brings us to No. 17 on the innovation hit parade, the next cool screens that someday you've got to have -- OLEDs.

FITZGERALD: Organic LEDs are light-emitting baths made out of organic materials, like plastics, so you can bend them and squish them. And, so, the advantage of an OLED display in the future will be that you can roll them up, and then have a much smaller device when you're not using it.

O'BRIEN: Rolling in at No. 16 on our countdown, a big change in the way we get from point A to point B.

Over the past 25 years, many cars have grown larger and larger. But now, many car buyers may be taking a new, electrifying turn.

Here's Sharon Collins.

SHARON COLLINS, CNN NEWS: Have you noticed? Hybrids are hot.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I waved to a man in a Prius, and he didn't wave back.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't wave at people with the same car as me.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, we're Prius drivers. We're a special breed.

COLLINS: Celebrities drive them. Detroit is making more of them. And some believe one day, all of us will own one.

MARSHALL BRAIN, HOWSTUFFWORKS.COM: It really will evolve to the point where everyone has one, because they have a lot of advantages over just a gasoline engine.

COLLINS: In automotive terms, the word hybrid means a vehicle that uses two sources of fuel.

CHARLES STANCIL, SENIOR RESEARCHER, GEORGIA TECH: One for the wheels to make the car move, and then the other is to put energy into the device that's connected to the wheels.

COLLINS: You may be surprised to know there were several versions of the hybrid in the early 1900s. But gasoline technology advanced more quickly, and the rest is history.

However, increasing amounts of pollution from traffic like this, as well as questions about the future of oil, led some visionaries to take a second look at the hybrid.

In 1997, the Prius hit the market, and soon became wheels of choice for environmentalists, since hybrids put out less pollution.

And as gas prices inched up, consumers looked at hybrids for a different reason -- their pocketbooks. These babies can get up to 66 miles per gallon.

And now, hybrid SUVs are heading to showrooms with even sportier versions just around the corner.

But what's the future hold?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Space, the final frontier.

COLLINS: OK, maybe that's a little farfetched. But it is conceivable to think the hybrid could one day power your house.

BRAIN: They have this electric generator built into them. So you imagine people plugging their houses into their cars, their car being able to supply power in emergency situations.

COLLINS: Some researchers say this crop of hybrids is just a bridge to far more advanced technology that would use hydrogen and electricity. A car that could go hundreds of miles on a tank and emit water instead of pollution.

But consider this. Any vehicle that weans the world from oil could have implications that stretch far beyond the simple design of a car.

O'BRIEN: In the beginning they were clunky.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This thing weighed 27 pounds, but it was portable because it fit under the airline seat in front of you.

O'BRIEN: It was more like a suitcase than computer. Please be sure your carryon luggage is properly stowed.

And we'll be right back.


O'BRIEN: Advanced batteries take charge on the 15th spot on the list of innovations that have changed our lives. Without the rechargeable power of nickel metal hydride and lithium ion batteries, cell phones, laptops and camcorders wouldn't be as efficient.

First available in the '90s, these powerhouses pack a longer service life and a greater charge capacity than their predecessors.

Cashing in at No. 14 is the automated teller machine. The ATM has revolutionized the way people deal with money.

FLEMINGS: Today, I never go to the bank. The ATM is there waiting for me morning, noon and night. The timesaving, the convenience is wonderful.

O'BRIEN: Even though the world's first ATM was installed at London's Barclay Bank in 1967, the real gold rush for cash machines hit almost 30 years later, when the ban on customer surcharges was lifted.

Today, there is one ATM for every 296 people in the U.S. according to one study.

FLEMINGS: We're now entering a period of the next generation of ATM. It will be faster, more powerful and do more things.

O'BRIEN: Airbags deploy at No. 13 on our list. When airbags first came on the scene, they were a source of controversy and concern. Would they cause more injuries than they were designed to guard against?

These days the debate is muted, but not entirely settled. The government says 16,000 people are alive today because of airbags.

That said, airbags are also blamed for about 250 deaths.

FLEMINGS: We still have problems with having children protected by airbags. And those are some problems we still have to overcome.

O'BRIEN: In 1986, Mercedes-Benz became the first automaker to offer airbags as standard equipment. Chrysler led Detroit into the airbag era two years later.

In 1991, the government stepped in, mandating driver-side airbags for all cars.

FLEMINGS: In the beginning, airbags were only frontal airbags. Now we have the side bags, and we have bags in the back.

O'BRIEN: Drive safely. And that is not hot air.

A strand of hair or a single drop of blood. That could be all it takes to solve a crime, find a lost loved one or even save a life.

It's all thanks to innovation No. 12. Here's Mike Brooks.

MIKE BROOKS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It's more than the theme of the hit television show, "CSI." It's the ultimate question.

And the answer lies in our DNA.

But unlocking the mysteries of our individual genetic makeup was impossible until Sir Alec Jeffreys, a professor at the University of Leicester in Britain, literally stumbled onto the key.

PROF. SIR ALEC JEFFREYS, DEPT. OF GENETICS, UNIVERSITY OF LEICESTER, UNITED KINGDOM: I discovered DNA fingerprinting entirely by accident. We were just having fun, asking some really vague, basic and simple questions about human DNA, the genetic material and how it varied from one person to another.

O'BRIEN: The discovery of the first genetic fingerprint -- the identification of those specific differences in our DNA that makes us individuals -- took place in this lab at 9:05 a.m., on September 11, 1984.

JEFFREYS: Well, it was an exciting moment, and it was a rare moment in science. I mean, science is usually a slow, irksome sort of business of two steps forward and about one-and-three-quarters steps back.

This was the exception.

O'BRIEN: Professor Jeffreys' eureka moment was indeed revolutionary, changing many aspects of science forever.

PROF. STEPHEN WARREN, EMORY UNIVERSITY SCHOOL OF MEDICINE: Probably most importantly right now is, it allow us to really identify what are the genes that would influence common diseases?

O'BRIEN: And DNA fingerprinting is not just for humans. At zoos, like the one here in Atlanta, genetic fingerprinting has been used to establish paternity.

Understanding and identifying close family relationships, especially among endangered species can, in addition to other things, help reduce inbreeding and promote genetic diversity.

As for where DNA fingerprinting may lead us in the future, ...

WARREN: DNA fingerprinting in the future will allow for what we call personalized medicine, where an individual comes in and we can take some of their blood, analyze their DNA, see what kind of disorders they might be prone to.

O'BRIEN: Ultimately, DNA fingerprinting may not only help us live longer and healthier lives, but may also lead to a better understanding of who we are as individuals, and how we directly relate to the natural world around us.

How we relate to machines sure has changed over the past quarter century. Up next, we'll take a look at the silicon revolution inside and out.


O'BRIEN: Welcome back to "CNN Top 25." We're counting down the top 25 innovations of the past 25 years. I'm Miles O'Brien.

And just about every innovation on our list has in some way, shape or form benefited from the relentless pursuit of making things smaller, and yet more powerful.

In fact, in the computing world there's a rule of thumb called Moore's Law, which holds that computer processors will double in capacity roughly every 18 months. And that law has held true for the past 25 years, which brings us to innovation No. 11.

Shrinking in at number 11 on our list, MEMS, you heard me, MEMS, micro-electro-mechanical systems.

PROF. MORTON (ph) FLEMINGS: That long technical word means just what it says. They're small. They're mechanical and they're electrical and they're combined all in a system on a tiny little chip.

O'BRIEN: MEMS are used in ink jet printers, disposable blood sensors and much more. FLEMINGS: One of the most important applications of MEMS today is in the device that senses when you're about to have an automobile accident and deploys the airbags.

O'BRIEN: Today, everybody wants something smaller, faster, better. This emerging technology can also make it cheaper and for that, MEMS the word. Tiny radio transmitters can bring a lost dog home, allow you to breeze through a toll booth and may one day get under your skin. Ali Velshi never does that as he brings us innovation number 10.

ALI VELSHI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It gets you through the toll booth without stopping. It lets you into your office without keys and it lets you fill your tank without a wallet. Simple, convenient technology. A microchip with an antenna exchanges data with a receiver used in radio waves. The receiver converts the waves into digital information which is then passed onto computers. Unlike bar codes, you don't have to see RFID tags to scan them. The sturdy tiny microchips can be implanted inside virtually anything, like goods on a store shelf.

RICHARD SAMSON, FUTURIST & DIR. OF ERANOVA INSTITUTE: You don't have to scan it. You don't even have to worry where the RFID tag is because it's only as big as a grain of sand.

VELSHI: So small that for years, they've been implanted in pets to get them back to their owners when they're lost. Now the FDA has approved an implantable chip for humans. In an emergency, it would give health care workers access to this, a patient's files. I've got one of those chips implanted in me, so if I were unconscious and rushed to a hospital that used the technology, they'd just scan my arm and a number would come up linking them to my medical records.

Now this is only approved for health care in the United States, but some privacy advocates are worried about other possible uses and misuses. But widespread adoption of RFID in people or on products is still a few years away. By the end of the year however, every new U.S. passport will contain an RFID tag.

There is one issue. There is no uniform standard for the technology.

SANJAY SARMA: We've got tags on each one of those cases.

VELSHI: It's a problem MIT's Sanjay Sarma (ph) is working on.

SARMA: My goal for RFID standards, indeed all standards, is for as many people as possible, hopefully the whole world, to agree on one of two standards and to use them, make them better.

VELSHI: Better and cheaper. Bar codes cost a fraction of a cent. Basic RFID tags still cost more than 10 cents a piece. That means for now, RFID tags are likely to be used on pallets of goods, rather than on individual items. But RFID does have some big backers, like the Department of Defense, which is ordering its major supplies to tag deliveries with RFID and Wal-Mart too. All shipments to the giant retailer's warehouses will soon require RFID tags on them.

Both of these developments will help drive the cost of the technology down. If the trend continues, buying everyday items could soon be as simple as picking them up and walking out of the store.

O'BRIEN: Say cheese to the number nine innovation on the list, digital photography. By eliminating film processing, digital cameras have developed a whole new kind of picture taking and memory making.

PROF. GENE FITZGERALD, DEPT. ENGINEERING, MIT: I can take pictures, as many as I want, anytime I want and I can edit them right there on the fly. I can have my pictures there with me instantaneously.

O'BRIEN: Spinning in at number eight are digital disks, CDs, CD- ROMs and DVDs. Launched by Sony in 1982, CDs quickly became the musical storage medium of choice. Versatile, durable, portable and digitally clear.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The CD very quickly replaced the records that we used to have and quickly replaced floppy disks for computers because of the very large storage that they have and the CDs led to DVDs which are really very similar, except contain much more information.

O'BRIEN: As much as 26 times more information. DVDs took the market by storm, becoming the medium of choice for home movie buffs, faster than you can say VHS.

FLEMINGS: The kids can watch a movie any afternoon in the back seat of an automobile or when we go on an airplane. The accessibility of these movies is -- and of other forms of entertainment -- is so much greater.

O'BRIEN: And now with DVD recorders and burners in many homes, it won't be long before the VCR and the VHS tape go the way of the turntable and vinyl records. The wheels of progress just keep on turning.

But things do move a little faster than we sometimes realize. It wasn't too long ago that one of my kids asked me, what's a typewriter dad? Well, they do know what this thing is and they know enough to tell dad to stop using it when he comes home. Daniel Sieberg tells us why these devices become number seven on our list of innovations.

CHARLES HOUSE, DIR., SOCIETAL IMPACT OF TECH: So we were driving along in China about seven or eight years ago, 150 miles from any major city on the way to Sheong (ph) and the driver's pager went off. He held it up to the light and he says, ah Cisco stock, up 5/8. We were just flabbergasted.

DANIEL SIEBERG, CNN CORRESPONDENT: How far we've come from the days when personal computing meant being chained to your desk by a beige behemoth. Intel's Chuck House was part of the revolution that added new meaning to the personal part. HOUSE: And HP's president, Bill Hewlett had the idea, why can't I put the transcendental function machine, which sold for $5,000 and was the size of probably a 30-lb. box on your desk, why can't I put that in my shirt pocket?

SIEBERG: By the early 1980s, the industry had started on a path to mobility, looking for a design that combined function with practicality. Maybe something measured in ounces, not pounds.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is the Osbourne (ph) one. This is the first, actually the initiation of portable computing. This thing weighed 27 pounds but it was portable because it fit under the airline seat in front of you. This is the first laptop ever to be made. This is the grid, 1981, was the year that they put this idea together. It weighs about 10 pounds, cost $6,000 when it was new, so it wasn't in the price points that we enjoy these days. And it was used by NASA.

SIEBERG: Not every attempt took off. In fact, many were sent to the trash pile. Apple's Newton for example, had fans, but still didn't make it.

DONNA DUBINSKY, DIRECTOR, PALMONE: You can see that the Newton is rather large as a starting point, so as a pocketable device it's not all that practical. All these early products, the problem was, is they were big. They were expensive. They were slow and probably most critically, they did not communicate well with your PC.

SIEBERG: Dubinsky steered the team that eventually put Palm in your hand, after stumbling through a few versions.

DUBINSKY: The big breakthrough here was thinking about the hand held as a companion to the PC, as opposed to a stand alone PC.

SIEBERG: And perhaps the best example is the Blackberry. It's a double edged device. On the upside, you can get your e-mail everywhere you go. On the downside, well, you can get your e-mail everywhere you go.

HOUSE: To realize that what these really do is empower humans, because it really enables them to be more creative and more resourceful and more able to be effective.

SIEBERG: These days, gadgets are on the go everywhere you look, combining multiple functions into one. They've become an extension of ourselves, personalized and powerful. It's where many of us are headed, always connected on a portable scale.

O'BRIEN: Stay connected to this program or else you'll never know what's at the top of the list, although I bet you can guess.


O'BRIEN: If you're married, you know just how fun it can be for a couple to venture into unfamiliar territory. Now just for the record here, I should point out, it is never ever warranted to stop and ask for directions, ever, OK, honey? Now fortunately there's some technology that has come to the rescue, to keep us on the straight and narrow and out of the doghouse.

Getting lost is something so common in America it's even worked its way into popular culture. Take the Griswald's in "National Lampoon's Vacation" for example.

FROM WARNER BROTHERS: I don't think dad knows where he's going.

Thank you Russ.

You're lost.

O'BRIEN: Yet the ultimate solution for the directionally challenged has found its way to number six on our list, global positioning system or GPS.

FLEMINGS: GPS was first used in the military in the 1960s and later developed for use in airplanes and boats. GPS helps us as travelers to know where we're going, helps us as hikers to help us get home again. It helps us as sailors to find our way through stormy weather. It will soon help us as parents to know where our children are when we put them up properly.

O'BRIEN: Delivering its way to number five, e-mail.

DAVID KIRKPATRICK, SENIOR EDITOR, FORTUNE MAGAZINE: Communication is what drives human society and e-mail has enhanced communication more than any technology that preceded it I think.

O'BRIEN: The first ever e-mail was sent in 1971 by Ray Tomlinson (ph) over Arpanet (ph), ancestor to the Internet and that @ sign. Well, you can lay credit for it at his doorstep.

FLEMINGS: Ray Tomlinson picked the @ sign just because looking at his typewriter, it seemed to him a reasonable thing. He was sending the e-mail to someone at another computer so he stuck it in the address and sent it off.

O'BRIEN: From e-mail to the way it's delivered. At number four on our list, fiber optics.

KIRKPATRICK: If it wasn't for fiber optics, we wouldn't be able to communicate instantly over the Internet with anyone on the planet. We wouldn't be able to have inexpensive global phone calls. Fiber optic cables have been strung under ever ocean, across every continent and they carry an astonishing amount of digital data on essentially pulses of light.

O'BRIEN: Thinking differently is what it takes to get to number three on our list with the PC. Before the iMac or the iPod, there was the Apple II personal computer. Developed by two guys named Steve in a car: Jobs and Wozniak quickly became geek legends.

FITZGERALD: Apple sold most of their computers to hobbyists in the initial phase and eventually, when software for business was put on the Apple, that's when business really started to grow.

O'BRIEN: Yet even Jobs and company could not have envisioned what was to come.

KIRKPATRICK: There are just so many things that flow from the PC's invention and the fact that it became a mass product. That has enhanced communications across society, both inside the United States and globally in a way that no product before ever did.

O'BRIEN: Nearly everyone these days seems to have a cellular telephone, except my 10-year-old daughter and the answer is still no. As a matter of fact, one quarter of humanity now carries a mobile phone and that has changed the way we communicate. We are in touch in ways we have never been before but in many ways, we may have lost the art of face to face communication. To talk a little bit about some of these consequences, we're joined by the director of the Smithsonian's Lemelson Center here at the National Museum of American History, Art Molella. Art, good to have you with us.


O'BRIEN: There's a whole generation of people who don't know anything about phone lines any more. It's all mobile. What does that mean for our society?

MOLELLA: It's amazing how quickly that happened by the way, too, that we've made this transition. I think number one, it means that we're capable of making these transitions, but I think it signifies it changed the world as well. I think the phone with land lines really suited the time that it grew up in, when we were urbanizing. Cell phone, I think suits the global world.

O'BRIEN: It's not just voice communication. We're talking about so much else. There's so much information that literally is carried in our pockets, our purses or on our belt. Where does it end?

MOLELLA: It's hard to say because we're just watching this convergence right now. You're suddenly seeing the cell phone converging now with the computer of course as a mini computer in the cell phone, with the Internet, with video, with audio, digital cameras. Pretty soon the cell phones will surpass digital cameras. What's coming next? It's probably going to be implanted in us and maybe connected to our brain. Who knows.

O'BRIEN: Wow. All right. Well, thanks for the face to face conversation. Art Molella, appreciate it.

MOLELLA: A pleasure.

O'BRIEN: All right. Let's get some more on this. For that, we turn to Erica Hill.

ERICA HILL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: In the 1970s, two companies saw a future in mobile phones. AT&T envisioned a world connected by car phones. Motorola thought otherwise.

MARTIN COOPER, CELL PHONE INVENTOR: The only way that we could prove this to the world, the car telephone was obsolete, ancient technology, was to actually build a cellular telephone that could be held in your hand and where you would have to be anywhere.

HILL: On April 3rd, 1973, Motorola's Martin Cooper made the first portable cellular phone call.

COOPER: People around us, sophisticated New Yorkers gawking at the concept of a person making a phone call with no wires, just walking down the street.

HILL: Ten years later, the brick, as the first cell phone was affectionately known, hit the masses. Weighing in at one pound with a hefty $3500 price tag. Today's phones weigh 3 ounces or less, are often free and according to the cellular telecommunications industry association, are used by nearly 60 percent of the U.S. population. But they're not just for talking anymore. These gadgets serve as PDAs, digital cameras and gaming devices.

MARSHALL BRAIN, HOWSTUFFWORKS.COM: The cell phones we carry now are roughly equivalent to desk top computers from maybe 15 years ago.

HILL: Plenty of power and applications, but perhaps most important technology has yet to be created. No more dropped calls, fuzzy connections or dead zones, a cell phone that works with as much clarity and consistency as a land line.

SUZANNE KANTRA, POPULAR SCIENCE: The primary function of phone, it really comes down to, does it make and receive phone calls and if it doesn't do that well, anything that you're adding to that is not going to make any difference.

HILL: It's all about simplicity.

BRAIN: Prior to cell phones, you always had the kind of range to talk to other people. Now you have the communicator on your person and we all want to communicate. That's a basic human click (ph) so that's why they've become so popular.

HILL: For many, it's also part of their identity. In 2003, the FCC allowed users to keep their mobile number even when changing service providers.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So what's cool about number portability is, you can basically get a number at birth (INAUDIBLE) and that number will just follow you for the rest of your life.

HILL: What else will or won't come with that number in the future? Developers have had that answer from the beginning.

COOPER: Even back in 1973, when we knew what that telephone would be like, and that telephone would be a device that was perhaps in your ear or behind your ear or perhaps under your skin. It's just there when you need it.

O'BRIEN: We're down to one last item on the list. Can you guess what it is? It should be conspicuous for its absence and I'll give you a hint. This old thing here is sort of like its grandfather. The answer in a moment. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: OK kids let's gather round the flat panel display. It's time for us to reveal our top innovation of the past 25 years. Our story begins in the BC area, that's before computers like these started coming home. Back in those days, chat rooms had furniture, spam was canned meat, eBay was pig Latin for a pollinating insect and computers looked like this.

ARPA's (ph) goal of linking together computers was called logically, ARPA net. It was the first mile marker on the information superhighway.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's the first computer that was connected to the Internet. The thing was the size of a refrigerator.

O'BRIEN: But before ARPA net could begat the Internet, someone had to come up with a way for all these computers to communicate.

VINTON CERF, SR. VICE PRES., TECHNOLOGY STRATEGY: The problem is, they have all these different kinds of nets. How we hook them together.

O'BRIEN: Vin Cerf and Robert Kahn led the team that did it. The language, transmission control protocol and Internet protocol, TCPIP for short. And it's mile marker number two.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: TCP and IP are the rules the two computers use when they talk to each other through various cables which make up the Internet.

CERF: Think a little bit about what we know about postcards for a moment. We use these things called packets that electronically move through the network store (ph) in a forward way. They behave just like postcards do.

O'BRIEN: The Internet works by chopping things up. No matter what their size, into tiny little pieces. It would be like sending this big long book page by page, by ripping out those individual pages, getting a postcard, gluing them to the postcard, stamping them, and then dropping them individually in the mail, which means of course they could arrive in any random order. Because I knew that, I took the precaution of numbering each and every page so that I could collate the book back together and because I wasn't certain every postcard would arrive, I sent a full set of duplicates. IP is the postcard, CCP is the system of sequencing, duplicating and resorting. Without it, the Internet as we know it, couldn't exist.

But something else had to happen to make it possible to simply order this book on Amazon and that brings us to Internet milestone number three. Jim Bernerslee (ph) worked at the European particle physics lab called Cern. He set out to make the Internet experience more intuitive.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Wouldn't it be nice if actually all the information out there were in a sort of, what you see is what you get, form?

O'BRIEN: Bernerslee solution, the worldwide web.

CERF: Jim was working on this very quietly at Cern, but the real stunner for the worldwide web came from the National Center for Super Computer Applications somewhere around 1992 when Marc Andreesen and Eric Minner (ph) released a version called Mosaic.

O'BRIEN: That moment must have really triggered a lot of thought about bringing it to the mass.

CERF: Absolutely. In fact it was at that point only when I think industry fully appreciated the potential of the Internet.

O'BRIEN: Andreesen and his team at the University of Illinois Champaign-Urbana rolled out Mosaic in 1993. Mosaic ultimately morphed into Netscape. I ran into Mark in those heady early days.

MARC ANDREESEN, FOUNDER OF NETSCAPE: (INAUDIBLE) first of all why people are drawn to the Internet, because of the availability of resources like this, but also what it can do with Internet as a medium.

O'BRIEN: The web browser is major milestone number four. It made learning to drive on the information superhighway a heck of a lot easier.

Are you amazed that it has become what it has become. It's much more than a technological revolution. It's a social revolution.

CERF: Communities of interest can form anywhere in the world and discover each other through the worldwide web and then use all the other media to communicate with each other and that's the sociological power.

O'BRIEN: And what's the next milestone for this sociological powerhouse? Tim Bernerslee, now at MIT sees an even smarter web.

BERNERSLEE: We're looking at getting the data out there on the web which is really not very accessible. It's not accessible to even approach it as data (ph). We're looking at getting that data onto the web in a form that's portable (ph) by machines.

CERF: More and more things will be on the net, more devices will be Internet enabled, kitchen appliances, mobile phones, automobiles so we will find ourselves surrounded and imbedded in a network environment. We will be festooned with equipment that's Internet enabled.

O'BRIEN: And Vin Cerf isn't satisfied with mere global domination. He's hard at work with NASA to make sure outer space is Internet enabled. Perhaps some day, it will be the galactic wide web.

CERF: We'll see what happens in the next 25 years won't we?

O'BRIEN: Let me be the first to ask you to join us then as we take a look at the top 25 innovations of the next 25 years. Until then, that's it for this edition of CNN TOP 25. Join us next month as we look at the top 25 medical stories of the past quarter century. I'm Miles O'Brien. From the Smithsonian's national museum of American history, thanks for joining us.


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