June 04, 2004


The best innovation of the past 20 years is ... the smoke alarm?

Next came the mobile phone, which was judged a ground-breaking innovation by 61% of respondents.

In third place in the poll of 1,961 adults was the microwave oven, with 52%.

The SMH doesn’t say so, but these were the results of a British survey. Britain being famous for people calling the fire brigade on their mobile phone after a microwave has exploded. Because they’re cooking a smoke alarm.

Posted by Tim Blair at June 4, 2004 04:45 AM

Oi! I heard that!

Posted by: a brit at June 4, 2004 at 04:52 AM

They can be eaten? I'll be damned.

Posted by: Fred at June 4, 2004 at 04:59 AM

A smoke alarm is the greatest innovation? There must be a lot of fires in Britain....or the average level of imagination has gone down.

Posted by: The Real JeffS at June 4, 2004 at 05:06 AM

I live in a part of rural england where we still point to the skies in fear and wonderment at the 'Great Metal Birds' that make a terrible roar'

Posted by: Ross at June 4, 2004 at 05:07 AM

I wonder if they've heard of the Internet© in England?

Posted by: Walllace at June 4, 2004 at 06:02 AM

And.....I hate to tell them, but the Smoke Alarm has been around a lot longer than this last 20 years.

Posted by: Wallace at June 4, 2004 at 06:03 AM

Fred: compared to most British cooking a smoke alarm would be quite tasty.

Posted by: Mike at June 4, 2004 at 07:00 AM

20 years? The microwave oven was invented in the fifties (by James Lovelock of Gaia fame, incidentally). I'm surprised they didn't mention Ponsonby and Smythe's patent spat-polishing device.

The main statistical finding I draw from this survey is that most people are deeply, deeply thick.

My vote goes to polyurethane coatings on the inside of beer cans so you don't get that tooth-tingling rush of instant Alzheimer's every time you crack a tinnie.

Posted by: David Gillies at June 4, 2004 at 07:37 AM

i'm fairly partial to the Guiness in cans that injects CO2 or something when you open it. Cool. Plus the beer still tastes pretty darn good. Best invention since, well since pop-top cans, anyway.

Posted by: JorgXMcKie at June 4, 2004 at 07:45 AM

Actually, I think they're right on the smoke alarm. In my opinion, to be regarded as innovative it has to bring something significantly new to the table. A smoke alarm qualifies; cell phones don't (wireless is a natural progression). Microwaves, laser eye surgery, DNA testing, and MP3 players rate; long-life light bulbs, digital cameras, and DVD players don't.

That's not to say that they aren't great inventions, just that I don't consider them innovative.

Posted by: david at June 4, 2004 at 07:53 AM

Come on, everybody knows that it's the ATM. Remember when, if you wanted money, you actually had to go to a bank?

Posted by: Dave at June 4, 2004 at 07:54 AM

In the top 10 "must-haves" smoke alarms are joined by air bags, ABS brakes, DNA crime testing, and the long-life, low-energy light bulb.

Rounding out the top ten was the wet blanket.

Posted by: Sean M. at June 4, 2004 at 08:52 AM

So, no votes for...
'the blog'
'reality television'
'the third umpire'
'hip hop / rap / etc'
'deep ambient-trance-garage-retro-drum&bass'
'personalised ringtones'... or is that just Rolf Harris and his Stylophone?

Hey Ross, I was born in that part of England. A big yellow ball appeared in the sky one day and we all threw stones at it till it went away and the rain came back.

Posted by: Albert Tatlock at June 4, 2004 at 09:22 AM

The cheap handgun. Useful for population control, demographic adjustment (depending on where you decide to sell them) and a useful social safety valve for people who might otherwise development a real political sense.

Hey, it's been working in LA for years...not to mention Detroit, New York, Boston... doesn't seem to work as well in Texas since people who work for the money to buy guns buy better guns...

Posted by: richard mcenroe at June 4, 2004 at 09:26 AM

For me the greatest inventions of the last 20 years are the catapult and the battering ram. When I was a kid, high walled fortifications were virtually impenetrable to infantry or cavalry. But now, thanks to miracle of siege engines, instead of having to starve them out (which can take months) you simply make a breach in their walls and -presto!- rush in and sack the city.

It's a great time saver.

Posted by: Harry Hutton at June 4, 2004 at 11:25 AM

As usual, the answers are all male-centric. Obviously, the greatest invention was the tampon. It has the added benefit of multiple uses, such as polishing boots and plugging holes in boats. Top that.

Posted by: Rebecca at June 4, 2004 at 12:20 PM

Rebecca: good ones, but also used as a substitute shell dressing to treat wounds.


Posted by: J.M. Heinrichs at June 4, 2004 at 01:04 PM

#1) Pay-at-the-pump gas stations
#2) the Web

In that order

Posted by: brian at June 4, 2004 at 01:07 PM

comments preview

and online cinema bookings

Posted by: ilibcc at June 4, 2004 at 01:39 PM

And here I am, thinking about sliced bread and frozen pizza, instead of all those other great innovations: beer in cans, the INTERNET, cheap weapons, and tampons. Talk about being behind the power curve.

Posted by: The Real JeffS at June 4, 2004 at 02:00 PM

Wasn't this the plot of Time Bandits?

Posted by: Kenny at June 4, 2004 at 02:16 PM

Ross, you see those Great Metal Birds too! I thought it was just me, thank God I am not alone.

Posted by: JohnJo at June 4, 2004 at 06:28 PM

Carbon Monoxide detectors with snooze alarms.

Posted by: Ron Hardin at June 4, 2004 at 08:53 PM

Microwave popcorn in previously un-popcornlike flavors such as Cinnabon and Jalapeno.

Posted by: ushie at June 5, 2004 at 04:08 AM

Best invention of 20 years?

100% of men surveyed: the TV remote

100% of women surveyed: what's a TV remote?


Posted by: SteveMG at June 5, 2004 at 07:52 AM