In 1996, when Silicon Labs was founded, the world was a very different place. Twenty years doesn’t seem like a long time in the grand scheme of things, but in terms of technology the advancements made during this period have been staggering. Let’s take a look back at how we were using technology in 1996.
The Internet. In January 1996, there were only 100,000 websites and 16 million Internet users, worldwide. Today it’s estimated that 3.3 billion people (45 percent of the world’s population) use the Internet. According to Pew Research, as of 2015, only 15 percent of adults in the United States do not use the Internet. However, among 19-29 year olds only 3 percent do not use the Internet, while a whopping 39 percent of people over 65 still do not use the Internet.
Those few Americans that did have Internet access in 1996 spent fewer than 30 minutes per month surfing the Web. Most people used dial-up Internet connections with speeds ranging from 28.8Kbps to 33.6Kbps. AOL was the world’s largest Internet Service Provider (ISP) with more than 5 million subscribers. Yahoo! went public in 1996 – and their directory of websites was still indexed by actual human beings.
How things have changed. At the beginning of 2015, the average American Internet user spent nearly five hours a day on the Internet.
Mobile Communications. By 1996, mobile phones were starting to get smaller and smarter. This was the year that we saw design breakthroughs, such as the first clamshell phone. [see photo on left below] The movie “The Matrix” was released that year – and Neo carried a sleek phone with a sliding cover that became known as the banana phone: [see photo on right below] The term “smart phone” appeared in print for the first time in 1995. As for Silicon Labs, we were already looking into ways to improve cell phones by improving the integrated radio frequency (RF) synthesizers in phones that assigned a frequency, or channel, to each incoming call.
Mobile operating systems including Android and iOX were in their infancy. Soon, PDAs and mobile phones began to converge into a single device. The iPod made its debut five years later in 2001 – and in 1996 the first generation iPhone was still 11 long years away.
In contrast, there will be more than 2 billion smartphone users worldwide this year and they will be used in ways that were almost unimaginable in 1996. Today, smartphones have become all-purpose devices that take the place of specialized technology such as music players, e-book readers and gaming devices. In fact, our phones are now managing our lives in ways never even considered just two decades ago – from managing the automation of our home, our social media presence, monitoring our health and exercise, building new relationships and more.
Entertainment. The first DVDs were launched in Japan and began to displace VHS in consumers’ hearts and minds. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, rival manufacturers of the product initially named “digital video disc” agreed that, in order to emphasize the flexibility of the format for multimedia applications, the preferred abbreviation DVD would be understood to denote “digital versatile disc.” In contrast, it’s estimated that revenue from streaming and downloaded video will surpass physical home video this year.
Artificial Intelligence. In 1996, IBM's Deep Blue played chess champion Gary Kasparov for the first time – and lost. The following year, there was a rematch and Deep Blue won. In 2011, IBM’s Watson supercomputer succeeded in winning against the two best all-time Jeopardy champions, which required it to understand the subtleties of the language – including the silly puns – and answer quickly and correctly. In a TED talk, Ken Jennings, one of the Jeopardy champions who lost to Watson said, “I felt obsolete. I felt like a Detroit factory worker in the ‘80s seeing a robot that could now do his job on the assembly line.”
Today, we’re seeing new breakthroughs in Artificial Intelligence. As of late 2015 Google had already logged more than 1.2 million miles in its driverless cars. Also in 2015, other researchers created a self-aware version of Super Mario, called MarI/O that has the ability to learn from his experiences. MarI/O wasn't taught anything before starting the game – rather, there were simple parameters set that allow the software to learn as MarI/O has experiences.
Space Exploration. American Pathfinder began its 310 million mile mission to Mars in 1996. While its mission was expected to last only one month, the rover exceeded all estimate when it continued to operate for three months, sending 16,500 pictures and making 8.5 million measurements of the atmospheric pressure, temperature and wind speed.
In early 2006, the New Horizons mission launched. It reached and studied Jupiter in 2007, then after years of space travel, conducted a six-month-long flyby study of Pluto and its moons in the summer of 2015. Even now, New Horizons is moving deeper into the Kuiper Belt at the edge of the solar system to study the ice dwarfs there – planet-like objects with mass primarily made of ice – to gain a better scientific understanding of the origin and makeup of these mysterious bodies. Here comes the most mind-blowing thing of all: now NASA is working on a new spacecraft, Orion, to send humans to an asteroid by 2025 and to Mars in the 2030s.
We’d love to hear from you. How is a more connected world changing the way you live and work?
In the fourth post in this series we’ll take a look at how much the world of technology has changed over the past 20 years. And don’t forget to read the previous post in this series here.