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Information Technology - How it started and where it goes


Information Technology (IT) has been around for many centuries - basically as long as people have been around because information technology is a technical form of communication.

IT might have started with the use of language and simple picture drawings known as petroglyphs usually carved in rock (such as found at Twyfelfontein in Namibia). Slowly, the first alphabets developed and became more popular as people could write down information (first on wet clay and then on paper made out of papyrus). This was when the first books (scrolls) came about and libraries were built to store the written information. During this period the first numbering systems developed and it was a logical step to do something with them. So the first calculator - the abacus - came into existence as a first sign of information processing. From about the 14th century - the so called mechanical age - we can find connections between our current technology and its ancestors. It was a time of inventions, new technologies and explosion of interests. There was the slide rule, an analog computer used for multiplying and dividing, and the famous Difference Engine, developed by Charles Babbage, which tabulated polynomial equations using the method of finite differences.

The 18th century saw the age of electromechanical inventions and the telegraph came into existence in the early 1800s. From then on it all went fast - very fast! The telephone connected people since invented by Alexander Graham Bell in 1876 and the first radio was developed by Guglielmo Maraconi in 1894 - all of which were extremely crucial emerging technologies that led to big advance in the information technology field.

In May 1941, Konrad Zuse developed the first programmable computer and is often regarded as the inventor of the modern computer. Soon after, he realized that programming in machine code was too complicated and developed the first high-level programming language Plankalkül (Plan Calculus).

Why bother at all to look back?

As we can see, the modern information industry was born with the first giant calculators digitally processing and manipulating numbers and then expanded to digitize other, mostly transaction oriented activities such as airline reservations. But until the 1980s, all computer-related activities revolved around interactions between a person and a computer and that did not change when the first PCs arrived on the scene as they have been simply a mainframe on your desk.

The next leap in information technology only occurred when PCs were connected to each other via Local Area Networks (LANs) - where Ethernet became the standard - and then long-distance via Wide Area Networks (WANs). Up to that time you could digitally create a memo but you still had to print it and make paper copies. Computer networks and the greatest invention since sliced bread - email - made the entire process digital.

The next phase in the evolution of Information Technology came with the invention of the World Wide Web (commonly mislabeled as "the Internet"). While computer networks took IT from the accounting department to all corners of the company, the World Wide Web took IT to all corners of the globe connecting millions of people. Interactive conversations and sharing of information among these millions replaced and changed broadcasting and drastically increased (again) the amount of data created, stored, moved and consumed. In 2016 mobile browsing overtook desktop browsing for the first time not least because of the ever increasing "connectivity" and the ever shorter charging times of battery packs who can sustain function for a full day.

The latest phase in the evolution of IT and the quantitative and qualitative leap in the growth of data was made possible by "The Cloud" - a new way to deliver IT and connecting billions of devices quantifying everything and sketching the future of IT.

Our future looks very promising with a lot of technologies waiting to find wide use. 

  • Machine learning and AI will be useful for automation purposes
  • Blockchain will help secure data security and privacy
  • The importance of data security will only grow
  • Artificial intelligence, big data, robotics, and IoT (Internet of Things) will be used to build more robust smart assistance, self-driving cars, and other innovations

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