Greatest invention/discovery in the last 500 years?

What do you consider as the “greatest” invention or discovery in the last 500 years? Something that really changed the world at its time.

I nominate two:

  1. The marine chronometer. This was/is a clock-like device which enabled sailors to determine what longitude they were at in an endless expanse of water. (you could tell your latitude from the height of the sun in the sky) In 1714, the British government offered a prize of up to 20,000 pounds to a successful inventor - which John Harrison collected 50 years later.

  2. The telegraph. This made the Pony Express obsolete instantly (it shut down two days after transcontinental telegraphy was introduced). You could now send a long-distance message instantly, rather than waiting days, weeks - even months - for it to be received.

Vaccines/antibiotics are one of the main reasons that half the population doesn’t die before their 25th birthday anymore

My first nomination is the germ theory of disease, with the discovery of penicillin as an effective antibiotic as one of the initial practical findings of the theory.

The second is AC electricity. Without that, and the power generation and transmission systems we all depend on, all the other modern technologies we use would become useless.

This was my nomination, the discovery and manipulation of electricity.

It’s a bit over 500 years ago now, but Gutenberg’s printing press produced a revolution in the way information was passed along, and probably vastly improved literacy. It preserved countless ancient works from oblivion, and probably helped numerous revolutions of various kinds. Not as immediate in its effects as electricity and the telegraph, but much more far-reaching effects

The Steam Engine – various kinds since about 1700. I think its effect on culture has been vastly overlooked. Not only did it incredibly multiply the amount of work that could be done and reduce the time for excavation, manufacturing, and harvesting, but I really do believe that we have steam power and , later, gasoline and electric power, to thank for the virtual abolition of slavery. People didn’t become more moral around the 18th century. There had always been people advocating for slave-less ways of life. But once mechanical power was available, it suddenly became practical to have civilization without harnessing huge numbers of human beings to do the grunt work necessary to support it.

That was my thought, exactly.

My thought is to say the ‘Scientific Method’. Pretty much everything else has flowed from that.

The thermos -
If you put a hot drink in one it comes out hot.
If you put a cold drink in one it comes out cold.

How does it know???

The Pill.

I would agree with the printing press but as mentioned it is out of the parameters of the OP.

Canned beer.

The OP asks about the “greatest,” which, to me, is not necessarily synonyms with “most influential.” Snarky but valid answers include internet porn, sleep meds, and the electric stove.

Most influential/significant? My vote is for the transistor. It’s the basic building block of all modern circuits and the foundation of our modern, electronically connected society. 90% of what we do today that utilizes electricity relies in some way on transistors. This in turn has make possible things like modern medical equipment and procedures which has led to revolutionized treatments, increased vehicle safety, and a plethora of other things that my caffeine-starved brain isn’t thinking of right now.

Who mentioned that it was out of the parameters? And how is it out? It did really change the world at the time, although it had a greater impact as time went on.

The 500 year part right in the subject line of the thread and the first line of the OP.

The OP in the first sentence and title. Printing press was invented in 1436, 2021-1436= 585 years

And I said it was just barely at the edge of the 500 year limit.

I thought you were suggesting something more significant.

Unless the intent was to specifically rule out the printing press, then the 500 year limit is kind of arbitrary. I mean, would we rule out Da Vinci’s invention of the ball bearing, because it was right around 1500? I’d say that 16th century and later would be eligible, so as not to quibble about 20 years here or there.

I’m thinking the greatest invention has to be something unspectacular. I’m going to put my money on the invention of calculus by Newton and Leibniz in the 17th century- it’s more or less the underpinnings of nearly all modern things that require electricity, force, etc…

The discovery of radio waves. What a fortuitous thing to discover in the same century that photography, the telegraph, the telephone, and the phonograph were invented.

Printing press was invented in 1436, that’s the 15th century. Why not allow us to go back to roman times and nominate the aqueducts? Its 86 years over the given limit.

Remember the PBS series How We Got to Now by Steven Johnson?

Six topics: Glass, Cold, Sound, Clean, Time, and Light.

Some might fall outside the 500 year limit, but the great advances he discusses are all within that time span.

I agree with the earlier mention of steam power. As used for pumping engines, it opened up the resources which would otherwise be in flooded mines. Pumping engines also contributed to sanitation as clean water could be pumped INTO cities, and effluent pumped OUT of cities. As used for other stationary engines, it hurried the adoption of the factory system. As used for steam locomotives, it opened up the interior of nations.

The dry erase board is the most remarkable.