Looking at modern computers, it is hard to imagine early machines built back in the 1950s. Being about 6.500 pounds in weight and costing approximately half a million US dollars, they used so much electric power that it was enough to supply ten houses. Nevertheless, at that time, computers were already capable of performing more operations per second than any other machine or a human. Today, the computer is a common commodity available in a variety of sizes and price categories. In only half a century, computers went from rare and expensive to available technology that defines the lives of billions of people on the planet. This became possible through the invention of the transistor, a small semiconductor, which became a centerpiece of modern technology: from satellites to coffee machines. The invention of transistors had a great impact on the society and economy. It started the information and communication revolution and laid a pathway for technological improvement in all dimensions of life, making it more safe, comfortable, and efficient.
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The invention of transistor took place in 1947 in the US at Bell Telephone Laboratories carried out by a number of engineers and scientists that were led by John Bardeen, Walter Brattain, and William Shockley (Nelson). The initial intention of the research and engineering process was to support the development of long-distance telephony. At the time, the US telephone company, American Telephone & Telegraph (AT&T), was seeking ways to design a system that could allow anyone on the planet to connect to any other person anywhere (Nelson 552). However, the transistor was initially used to build a hearing aid device, the commercial product created in 1953 (Nelson 553). Nevertheless, the aim to connect people through technology was achieved. Decades later, transistors allowed people throughout the world to connect and communicate at a level that had never been possible before.
The first transistor was of a palm size; it was a small metal piece of cylindrical form with no need to be warmed up to produce action (Gertner). It was very different from its predecessor, the vacuum tube, a bulky thermionic triode that made the development of radio technology, television, telephony, sound recording, and early computers possible. However, being made largely from glass, it was very fragile, inefficient, and unreliable. Vacuum tubes were incorporated in manufacturing of the first commercial computer. Over 18.000 vacuum tubes defined its size, weight, and electricity consumption. The machine, which occupied several big rooms, needed a significant portion of time and energy to heat up and boil out electrons in thousands of vacuum tubes; hence, it produced a lot of heat waste (Nelson 553). The machines based on vacuum tubes required so much electricity that it was economically inefficient to use them.
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The invented transistor was capable of doing the same job the vacuum tube was engaged in. It was more durable, smaller, and it required much less energy to complete the task. It played a great role in improving the existing audio and communications technologies such as stereo, radio, and telephone oscillators. For instance, selling rates of transistorized radio the Regency TR-1 (the cost of which was $49.99) had been increased rapidly, making it one of the fastest-selling retail products on the market in 1954 (Gertner). It contained only four transistors.
Then, the transistors were not yet seen as a primary technology to develop computers. To produce transistors specifically tailored to digital devices, the manufacturers had first to figure out best design, material, and production practices. The breakthrough in production occurred with the beginning of oxide use in silicon wafers. It allowed the creation of chips by placing multiple transistors together. Since the 1950s, semiconductor technology has been improved drastically, and the cost of transistor manufacturing has dropped from $90 to virtually nothing (Gertner), which opened the way for a digital revolution in all spheres of human life.
The industry of electronics has faced significant shift. The digital age began and brought change into ways people were working, learning, playing, communicating, and leading their daily lives. It is hard to imagine a sphere of life, which has not been turned over since the incorporation of transistors into technology. The transistors have developed and multiplied into various kinds and forms; however, they still constitute the majority of modern devices. They are found in most technical equipment throughout homes, schools, hospitals, streets, roads, and even in outer space. They took the development of technology to a new and exciting level.
In 1965, Gordon Moore, the co-founder of Intel, published a paper which mentioned a so-called Moore’s Law. It has been serving as a reflection for extraordinary technological improvements that the world has faced in several decades. The law stated that the possible number of transistors on a chip would double in every 24 months. Moore’s Law has proven to be true throughout forty years since it was published. The increasing number of transistors on a silicon chip has allowed the latter to accomplish more by carrying out a higher number of operations at higher intensity. Therefore, practically any technological improvement depends largely on the ability of engineers to increase density of a chip. This is what has been driving the digital revolution during the past decades, while also increasing competition for better and faster technology between businesses and industrial players. As soon as industries discovered the impact that technology could have on their profit and performance, they realized the necessity to compete for the best devices and contribute to the technological development and research (Twist). Therefore, since the invention of a transistor, the economic development experienced a shift in focus, from extensive to intensive one and more efficient use of resources.
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For societies, the impact of the transistor invention was first felt through easier communication. First, it became possible to call anyone on the planet at any time. Then, the computers started to shrink in size. From huge, heavy, and energy-consuming machines which occupied several rooms, they turned into personal computers resting on desks of an increasing number of people. The use of transistors allowed the price of computers to decline; therefore, it became a common commodity in many households and offices. An increasing number of transistors on a single chip made the constant rise of computer processing power possible, causing individuals and businesses to rely increasingly on the operations within the extensive capabilities of a computer.
Nowadays, microchips and microprocessors with thousands of transistors are found in practically any technology in our lives. One of the major technologies they enable to exist is the Internet, the global network, which instantly connects people regardless of their geographical position. More than 3.5 billion people have access to the web today, and this number is continuously growing. The impact it has on the world is its bringing people closer together and making any information instantly available. The Internet is a major force of globalization and integration. In addition, it changes the patterns of life of many, having an impact on working and personal life of people, on their connections within the society, and on communication with others. There also have been major sociocultural changes signified by a shift from collective to individual consciousness. For many people, the Internet has been a platform for discovering and reinforcing their own interests and sharing ideas as well as searching for like-minded individuals and shaping new communities, which had never existed before the web era.
The invention of a transistor, its vast development and application in technology and engineering has also made an impact on jobs. A number of new jobs emerged in the labor market. For instance, the jobs in computer programming and software engineering are increasingly popular nowadays. In 2016, jobs in software engineering were ranked as the second most popular choice of all college graduates in the US. Moreover, the number of software development jobs is expected to grow by 17% by 2024 (Kauflin). However, many jobs had disappeared too. The work that used to be done by a human is now done with the help of a computer or another digital device. This happens in a variety of occupation spheres, from accounting to medicine.
Machines have an increasingly good capability of doing manual labor. Modern technological devices are already able to perform some cognitive operations. The outlook for potential automation of even more jobs is widespread and happens to be a subject of many studies. In 2013, the researchers concluded that almost a half of workers in the US were under the risk of being replaced by a machine. In particular, most workers in such spheres as transport and logistics, office support, sales and services were said to face the highest possibility of computerization. The studies have also concluded that the main determinant of the automation possibility is whether the work is routine or not (‘Automation and Anxiety’). Nevertheless, the future of the labor market remains unclear. Some people are afraid of bursting unemployment, the others are looking forward to life where one does not have to contribute a significant time to work and perform routine tasks in particular. However, the necessity of finding balance between human labor and machinery is already seen on the horizon.
The current age is signified by the rapid technological development, availability of information, integration of cultures and economies, and globalization. We live in the Information Age enabled by the invention of a little transistor. Without the latter, reaching the current level of development would never be possible. Unlike its predecessors, the vacuum tubes, the transistors were small and economically efficient. The implication of transistors into a variety of devices has stimulated growth in production and innovation of a considerable scale of existing products and has served as a ground for development of new and ‘smarter’ technologies by multiplying the number of transistors and integrating them into chips and microprocessors.
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The transistors have stimulated a number of inventions since 1950s. They are the core components of most machines at the present time. The impact that their invention had on the society and economy is outstanding. People gained the possibility to limitless communication and information flow; while businesses turned to intensive production, investing into science in search of cheaper and more efficient ways of using resources and produce. The invention of a transistor has significantly changed most of systems we rely on. Education does not depend on the institutions predetermined, created, and regulated by the government. Moreover, the schools and universities may not necessarily be physically attainable now. Healthcare was immensely improved with the development of technology. Deeper understanding of human bodies and biology was acquired. Such complex phenomena as human brains or DNA are now extensively studied with the help of computing technologies. Safety is also constantly improved through the application of machines. The present time may be the best time to be alive yet in history because of the improvements we may experience due to technology development.
Scientists and engineers who originally worked on the development of a transistor reached their initial goal of improving connection between people through long-distance telephony. Interestingly enough, several decades later, the same invention had enabled a new level of connection and communication, boosting it to a global level through computing and the Internet. Moreover, the doors to many improvements in various spheres of human life were opened. The invention of transistor is one of the most important events in history as it has put a genuine spin on human development.