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Top 25: Technological breakthroughs

Advances in computers, entertainment and science top list
Living in a "wireless world" has revolutionized modern life more than anything else, according to the CNN list.



Technology (general)
Science and Technology
Space Exploration
Video Games


Do you have a personal computer in your home?


1) Wireless world
2) Defense technology
3) Alternative fuel vehicles
4) Biotechnology
5) Computers
6) Lasers
7) Genomics
8) Global finance
9) Processors
10) Digital storage
11) Space
12) Fiber optics
13) Satellite TV & radio
14) DNA testing
15) Video games
16) Biometrics
17) Energy and water savers
18) Scanning tunneling microscopes
19) Batteries
20) E-baggage
21) Remote controls
22) Animal cloning
23) Manufacturing technology
24) The big picture
25) Weather technology

(CNN) -- Advances in technology have done much to change the way we live and communicate over the past quarter century, but no breakthrough has revolutionized life as much as the advent of the "wireless world," according to a panel of experts assembled by CNN to pick the top 25.

In 1980, telephones were stuck to walls, facts were found in books and people had to browse shelves in a record store if they wanted to buy the latest music. Now, access to all of that and more is found by just reaching into our pockets.

"For a long time people have thought of information as being a destination," says Scott Shamp, director of the New Media Institute at the University of Georgia.

"You had to go to a book, you had to go to a library, you had to go to a shaman. ... But now, with new mobile technology and wireless technologies, information is turning into a companion."

In the Information Age having immediate access to data is fundamental to progress. In some cases the advances are serving to overhaul industries at a lightning-fast pace.

The Internet allowed tech-savvy music lovers to force changes in the way the music industry does business. Text messaging over cell phones has made written communication more immediate.

Having a computer in almost every home in America was instrumental to this massive technology shift -- ranking No. 5 on the list.

Now, having computer access in homes is not quite enough. We want to use these tools everywhere. Wireless hot spots have popped up in cafes, airports, universities -- even whole city blocks.

And just as computer use worldwide is exploding, the brains behind them -- the processors -- are getting smaller. Computer chips made the list at No. 9, and today a chip that you can balance on your fingertip can hold massive amounts of data.

This ability to store (No. 10) tons of information in cell phones or digital cameras allows us to keep our smart technology portable.

But even as our technology is getting faster and smarter, so is the e-baggage (No. 20) that comes with it.

When the Internet age dawned, the World Wide Web looked a bit like Eden. Not a sneaky snake in sight. Today, however, we are mired in problems caused by things like online scams and viruses -- traps aimed at taking down your computer and sometimes even your identity.

An entire industry meant to curb e-baggage and protect consumers has formed in reaction to this threat.

Scripting your entertainment experience

Technological advances have also transformed the entertainment industry.

Satellite television and radio (No. 13) give consumers more choices. The development of the remote control (No. 21) allows viewers to tailor their own experiences.

Video game technology has made great strides. In the early 1980s, the first wave of video games' popularity was in full swing with a little yellow Pac Man gobbling dots on a computer screen.

Today, the $10 billion a year industry produces realistic games that invite players into fantasy worlds, sports and even wars.

The hunger for bigger and better screens with which to watch the tailored programs or new video games is being met with technological improvements. Advancements made to our television and movie screens -- such as plasma TV, HDTV and IMAX -- made the list at No. 24.

Leapfrogging into the future

Many life-altering innovations in the past quarter-century were made in scientific laboratories. Researchers decoded the genetic makeup of many organisms (No. 7), which led to advances in biotechnology (No. 4) -- the science of manipulating an organism's genetic material.

DNA testing and forensic science (No. 14) made it possible to reunite an unidentified baby with his parents after the Asian tsunami. Law enforcement officers said it helped them crack the 30-year-old BTK serial killer case.

Amazing new technologies are changing the way crimes are investigated and solved, although this science is still not as immediate as many prime-time crime television shows make it seem.

Biometrics, the science of digitizing information such as fingerprints or facial features for accurate identification, and animal cloning join the ranks at Nos. 16 and 22, respectively.

Making advances

Higher fuel prices sparked more interest in alternative fuel vehicles (No. 3), and so far hybrid vehicles curry the most favor with the growing number of consumers willing to pay more for their cars to save money on fuel. Hybrid vehicles are those that use at least two power sources, typically gasoline and electricity.

As low-tech as it may seem, the compact fluorescent light bulb is doing a great deal to revolutionize quality of life. It is one of the most successful energy and water conservation devices developed to date; others include low-flow toilets and showerheads. Together they rank No. 17.
The widespread use of computers in the home logged in at No. 5 on the top breakthroughs of the past 25 years.

In manufacturing, robots build some things faster and cheaper than human hands. Technologies such as computer aided design and computer aided manufacturing make it possible for someone to build prototypes of devices or parts using a mouse and a keyboard. These advancements make the list at No. 23.

At No. 12, advances in fiber optics -- very thin strands of glass that transmit light and data much more efficiently than wires and cables -- not only improved the quality of voices transmitted over phone lines but also made high-volume phone traffic possible.

From banking to shopping to investing, technology and the Internet are transforming the way we conduct our global banking and financing, and our experts ranked this shift at No. 8 on the list.

"Really this has been a story about convenience," said Jim Smith, executive vice president of consumer Internet products at Wells Fargo.

"You can see everything from your checking account and savings account ... to home equity loans, mortgages, credit cards. Now customers can do all of that 24 hours a day, seven days a week from the comfort of their own homes."

Breakthroughs in defense technology (No. 2) changed the face of warfare. Smart bombs are guided to their targets by satellites. Robots are used to disarm roadside bombs in Iraq and to search out caves in Afghanistan.

Although laser technology (No. 6) was patented in 1960, it took years before it found practical applications in medicine and CD and DVD recording and playback.

In space exploration (No. 11), the Hubble telescope has allowed us to peer into galaxies more than 12 billion years away. Unmanned spacecraft have landed on Mars.

Rounding out the top 25 are advances storage batteries (No. 19), weather prediction (No. 25) and the development of microscopes called STMs -- scanning tunneling microscopes (No. 18) -- that allow scientists to see minuscule images like a fly's face in 3-D.

Stay tuned as CNN continues to celebrate its 25th anniversary by unveiling other top 25 lists through 2005.

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