Ancient Technology & History

Ancient examples of technology

Archeologists have discovered ancient technologies which have left scientists awestruck with their precision and efficiency. A few of these inventions are groundbreaking to an extent that they seem impossible to be recreated in modern times with modern technologies. These technologies shed light on the previous socio-cultural aspects of our ancestral societies. 

Antikythera mechanism

This ancient technology was discovered on the Greek island, Antikythera in 1901 by divers who were in search of sponges. The Antikythera mechanism, a 2000-year-old analog computer, had functional gears and it resembled a clock. It is discovered that the ancient invention was also utilized for transportation as it could “replicate the motions of the heavens.” This technology was not any larger in size than mantel clocks at our homes. Unlike displaying time like our modern-day clocks, the Antikythera mechanism used to display “celestial time” by using celestial bodies are guides.

Automatic doors

Automated doors came under the spotlight in 1931 and were considered as symbols of the “modern age”. However, this invention had already been made by the Greeks in 1 AD.

Brass vessels were used as a place to light a fire which generated enough heat to create a buildup of atmospheric pressure to open the door. This vessel used to simultaneously pump water in attached containers which would then act as weights to ensure that the door was kept open. These doors had a functioning similar to that of a hydraulic system.

These ancient doors, however, were not efficient in terms of time, rigid in use, and not user-friendly. Hence were not as popular as automated doors in modern times.  

Houfeng Didong Yi: The earthquake detector in ancient times 

2,000 years ago, the Houfeng Didong Yi, a seismoscope was discovered in ancient China. It was the first effective earthquake detector discovered in history. It was invented by Zhang Heng who was an engineer, scholar, astronomer, artist, and scientist.

The Houfeng Didong Yi could detect earthquakes as far away as hundreds of kilometers. The device was shaped in the form of a jar and consisted of eight tube-like projections on the exterior, with eight corresponding toad-shaped projections at the base. Each of these toad-shaped projections represented a direction taken by the seismic wave while traveling. To demonstrate the direction of the earthquake, the Houfeng Didong would drop a ball in a toad according to the direction of the seismic wave.

Aeolipile: The ancient steam turbine

The Aeolipile was invented by the engineer and mathematician, Heron of Alexandria. This technology functioned like a steam turbine in ancient times. It was a hollow sphere that was mounted in a manner that enabled it to turn on tubes that provided the sphere with steam from a cauldron. The steam would then evaporate from hollow tubes resulting in the device revolving at high speeds.

Although it was an efficient device, it did not progress any further from being a novelty device. It was difficult to obtain fuel for keeping the device operational over long periods of time.

Zimbabwe’s digital economy

Zimbabwe’s digital economy

It is no news to anyone that Zimbabwe has a money problem. From the late 90s until 2009, the Zimbabwe dollar reached a state of hyperinflation, which reached its peak in 2008 at 11,200,000%. This episode became infamous for the printing of notes with huge numerical values, such as the 100 trillion Zimbabwe dollars note.

In order to try to solve this problem, in 2009 the Zimbabwe government abolished the Zimbabwe dollar and announced that multiple foreign currencies would take its place in the country, including the US dollar, the British pound, the euro, the South African rand, and the Botswana pula.

However, the crisis had taken its toll, and loss of faith in financial institutions led people to hoard cash instead of storing their money in bank accounts, and the economic crisis strongly damaged their economy, leading to more imports than exports, along with other problems. Read more articles: Cloud Engineer

As a result, it didn’t take long for cash to dry out in the country. The government tried to counteract that by issuing bond notes linked to the US dollar, but it also went short. And in time, inflation started to return.

So, how could they deal with this shortage of cash? By going cashless.

Cashless?

Having no cash is different from having no money. Financial insecurity and economic instability, along with the use of the more stable US dollar, led people to hoard cash, that is, physically store their money, when having the option.

However, banks don’t really keep all of the money they store in cash format, especially when it is in a foreign currency. As people desperately tried to take their money off banks, the reserves drained. So now it is very difficult to get cash, but many people still keep money in their balance in bank accounts, and some even in foreign banks, while others store the cash they have in their houses and in safes.

As such, there isn’t a lot of cash circulating, and electronic payment became the dominant form of payment, both by bank cards and mobile phones.

The app EcoCash became the main payment service, used by individuals and companies alike. But not without its disadvantages: there are many tariffs involved in using money with it. As a result, it is common to see places using different prices for different methods of payment, with US dollar cash still being the favored option.

Does it work?

Zimbabwe is definitely not the best example of how a cashless society could work. The transition to mostly digital payments was very quick and violent, a result of a years-long economic crisis which still isn’t over. It does, however, show that it can work, and can work virtually anywhere.

Of course, Zimbabwe is not the only country that is going cashless. Sweden, for example, has been rapidly transitioning to fully cashless transactions during the last few years, and has now been relying mostly on the app Swish, the result of a cooperation between major Swedish banks and the Central Bank of Sweden. A much more orderly transition.

In Sweden, however, what is preventing them from becoming fully cashless is that cash is still available. Older people, especially the ones from rural regions of the country, are more resistant to the change, especially if they aren’t used to smartphones, and as such still prefer to use cash.

Also, being a government-backed project really helps the transition process. Zimbabweans do not have a lot of choice regarding the method of payment: it is either EcoCash, which is the most requested method, bank cards, or foreign cash. And all of them have really high drawbacks: high tariffs, insecurity, and scarcity.

Even if other similar fintechs were to appear, it would have to face the lack of economic security in the country, a steep competition with EcoCash, and difficulty getting people to adopt it, considering the low confidence in this sector of the economy.

Still, it had one fortunate, surprising side-effect: using less cash means there is one less form of transmitting the COVID-19 during the pandemic. Not to say the country isn’t struggling with it, considering its economic crisis, but it could possibly have been much worse otherwise.

Digital Life in Estonia’s unique use of Technology: e-banking & i-voting

Meet Estonia’s digital life

Since the fall of the Soviet Union and Estonia’s independence, the Estonian government has been heavily investing into the digital world, in order to not only make their citizen’s lives easier and faster, but also to attract foreign investment and improve the country’s economy.

Although, from the outside, that may seem like nothing new, Estonia’s approach to it is very innovative. The country has been moving out from “pen and paper” bureaucracy into streamlined digital processes based on the internet, through a governmental program called e-Estonia. At the time of this writing, the official e-Estonia website states that 99% of state services are now online.

Let’s see what this is all about.

Digital bureaucracy

One of the main advantages that that initiative gives to citizens is the ability to deal with governmental and private bureaucratic procedures much more rapidly and without the need to leave your home. Everything can be done using the internet.

This began in 1996 with the creation of the first e-Banking system, which is now much more widespread worldwide thanks to financial technology startups, which was then followed by systems for the government decision process (e-Cabinet meeting), tax declarations (e-Tax board), mobile parking payment (m-Parking), digitization of healthcare systems and medical history (e-Health and e-Prescription), ID card (e-ID), among many others. Everything is working everyday, 24h per day.

As a result, you get an extremely fast and transparent system which centralizes all information about you, and you can both check it out or allow companies to access it with just a few clicks. All of this powered by e-Estonia’s x-Road (a distributed data system) and blockchain technology (for cybersecurity).

i-Voting

One of the most revolutionary services they provide is probably i-Voting. The i-voting service gives Estonian citizens the ability to cast votes in Estonian parliamentary elections from anywhere in the world. The person just has to be an Estonian citizen. The Estonian government states that votes have already been cast from over 110 countries, for both national and local parliamentary elections (as they have a parliamentary government). 

This doesn’t mean that they have scrapped in-person voting. It is still available and many people use it. They estimate that only about 44% of citizens use i-Voting. But the voting process is anonymous in both cases.

The i-Voting system also comes with some advantages. Other than being able to vote anywhere you are, you are also free to change your mind at any time you want. If you decided that you no longer want to vote for the candidate you voted, you can just vote again, and the system will overwrite your previous vote, as long as you do so within the election period.

Although the system still isn’t used to institute some form of direct democracy, it already showcases the power of technology to aid governments and to make everything quicker and easier.

e-Residency

However, the most revolutionary technology implemented by e-Estonia is definitely e-Residency. If you don’t have citizenship in a European country and want your business to enter the European market, then this is the solution for you. Read more articles: Cloud Engineer

The e-Residency service is a government-backed solution that allows any person from outside of Estonia to become a “digital citizen” of Estonia, that is, an e-Resident. Although this isn’t exactly full citizenship (meaning it doesn’t come with political rights and such), it gives you the right to start and run a company in Estonia, meaning it gives you access to the entire European market.

Even better, e-Residency is fully integrated with other services from e-Estonia and follows the same philosophy: you can do everything online. You can run your entire business, open bank accounts, pay taxes and more without ever setting foot on Europe, while also enjoying an entire ecosystem of people and companies which developed around this niche.

Although Estonia is the first country to take this huge step towards being 100% digital, we can expect that, following their success, other countries will probably follow their steps in the near future, allowing our lives to become much quicker, efficient and interconnected.