6 High-Tech Inventions You Never Realized Are Stupidly Old
There isn't really such a thing as a great "new" idea -- just tedious R&D projects that failed repeatedly until somebody finally got them to work. Every iPhone and Echo contains the blood, sweat, tears, and profanity of countless frustrated nerds. And depending on how far back you go, you might find that a recent invention is in fact a very old one that people previously gave up on. For example ...
Cryptocurrencies Died Out A Decade Before Bitcoin
Critics are right to scoff at digital currencies as a volatile fad liable to fail and devour your investment. The concept has crashed and burned before. The first e-money debuted way back in the early '90s, but never made it past 2000, making it roughly both as successful and memorable as Saved By The Bell: The New Class.
Fear of and disgust toward banks are as old as banks themselves, which is what inspired David Chaum to invent "DigiCash" in 1992. It was a long time in the works. Chaum became a small-time tech curiosity, at least for a year or two. Stories about him in magazines like Wired gave the tech-savvy fantasies about untraceable cash movements as a part of Chaum's advocacy for financial privacy.
What could go wrong? Pretty much everything. It was a decade too early, Chaum's currency failed to connect with a viable market, and the company went bankrupt in 1999. It might still be too early. For all its name recognition, Bitcoin is still facing hurdles to true success -- namely, a lack of merchants who are trusting enough to accept it. Who could have seen that coming?
Related: Support Charity, Win Bitcoin
50 Years Before "The Cloud," We Had Multics
Back in the 1960s, "the cloud" was simply referred to as a "compatible time-sharing system," which allowed users to borrow the same gargantuan machine. Back then, computers like an IBM 7090 cost around $3.5 million, and took up a room the size of a basketball court. So MIT-based Multics came up with a solution: a single mainframe servicing businessmen, Wall Street types, and super competitive yacht-racing handicappers alike. Truly, it was the domain of gentlemen.
Programmers and engineers who relied on CTSS back in the old days thought of it as a boring utility, like a power outlet or a water faucet, so it operated for a respectable 31 years before modern advances in graphics and processor hardware rendered it obsolete. The model is now revived as the cloud -- a new name for the same exact idea that has been in use since 1969.
Related: The Year That We Had 15 Months
3D Movies Were Released (And Ignored) In The Silent Era
Depending on who you ask, 3D films are either migraine-inducing nightmares or the future of filmmaking. Well, at least one of those opinions is wrong. They're the past, around since movies didn't have sound. 3D tech is remarkably unchanged since then, the only real difference being the switch from film to digital. The same twin-camera recording system and double projector setup used in Avatar was refined by Harry K. Fairall and Robert F. Felde for the 1922 motion picture The Power Of Love. It was the technological blockbuster of its time, albeit with fewer blue eight-foot-tall cat people.
It would seem that the people of 1922 were about as fond of those dumb glasses as we are today. The Power Of Love wasn't so powerful, and it's since been lost. After the initial hoopla, the gimmick mostly faded into obscurity, overshadowed by the introduction of sound and then color. 3D movies: disappointing fans for 97 years.
The First Computer Dating Service Was Started In The '50s
If you've been relying on the algorithms of OkCupid, eHarmony, and Match.com to find your soulmate, we regret to inform you that people have been trying to find the perfect dating formula for about as long as we've had computers. The first versions of the idea can be traced back to a 1959 Stanford project involving a five-ton computer and punch cards. This is the first and only time punch cards have ever got someone laid.
Harvard students, quick to notice its profitability, were the first ones to monetize loneliness -- an idea quickly adapted by Indiana University students and dubbed "Project Flame." The concept was especially popular on campuses, debuting a few years before sexual liberation was a big thing. Questionnaires were fed into a computer, which crunched the data and paired off people based on compatibility criteria.
By the second half of the 1960s, the idea caught on, and computer dating bureaus sprang up around the world. In the late '60s, Project TACT was set up in New York City to cater to snobbish singles, predating EliteSingles by a good 30 years. By 1969, ads for computer dating agencies popped up in Life, not only presaging dating sites, but also sponsored content.
Downloadable Games Are Older Than You Are
Mattel's 1979 Intellivision console was significant, if only for one reason: It was designed for people unable or unwilling to go to a store to buy game cartridges. You could order and pay for it on the phone without even getting off your love-beaded beanbag chair, marking the beginning of a glorious tradition of gaming addicts stealing their moms' credit card info.
Starting in 1981, you could install a special device called a PlayCable, which connected your console to a coaxial TV cable to get games instantly (at least by 1981 standards). After hooking it up and finishing off War And Peace, gamers had the entire Intellivision catalog at their sweaty little fingertips. Competition proved stiff, but even with legit titles like Super Mario Bros. and Pac-Man on their roster, the Intellivision was doomed. It was dead by 1991, mostly due to the technical limitations of the weak PlayCable memory cartridge. And we are all the worse for it, as none of the current consoles sport faux-wood paneling.
Nazi Scientists Successfully Built An Early Version Of Skype
Before 1936, video phones were the stuff of sci-fi fever dreams, and what few experiments did toy with the idea all ended in abysmal failure. That year, however, Germany unveiled a working model in time to show off to the rest of the world during the 1936 Olympics, itself a gigantic vanity project to demonstrate the staying power of the "thousand-year" Reich.
Fernsehsprechstellen, literally translated as "TV stations," offered folks the chance to talk to someone face-to-face via a TV screen, as long as they were connected to another video-phone system in the German Reichspost network. It was then completely ignored, as the Nazis diverted their technological attention to, um ... other projects. The only proof it existed was found buried in an obscure museum. For once, Stanley Kubrick was actually behind the times.