How can computers change people’s lives?

What would your life be like without computers? At home and school, in the workplace and the lab, and on the move, we rely today on buzzing information networks that would have seemed impossible twenty years ago. The rapid success of computing has changed how we live in recent decades. 

Chaos theory (1961)

Robert May FRS

When Edward Lorenz, a Foreign Member of the Royal Society, tried to predict the weather using computer models, he found that tiny changes in the starting conditions made colossal, unpredictable differences in the results. May later worked out what this idea, which became known as chaos theory, meant in biological systems.

Display technology (1972)

George Gray FRS, Peter Raynes FRS, Cyril Hilsum FRS, Peter Le Comber FRS, Walter Sper FRS

After Gray created the first stable room temperature liquid crystal materials, the team invented and developed new liquid crystal display technology and the thin film transistor technology suitable for driving them. LCDs are now ubiquitous and range in size from the very small up to the very large computer and TV screens found everywhere. More recently Richard Friend FRS, Donal Bradley FRS and Jeremy Burroughes FRS have pioneered polymer LEDs, which promise flexible displays in the future.

Optical amplifiers (1986)

David Payne FRS, Charles Kao FRS

In 1966, Kao developed optical fibres which transmitted data over large distances using light. Payne amplified these signals by incorporating the element erbium into sections of optical fibre, allowing high-volume data to travel at incredible speed.

The World Wide Web (1990)

Tim Berners-Lee FRS

Berners-Lee developed the ideas and technologies to make the World Wide Web a reality, putting a wealth of knowledge at everyone’s disposal via the Internet.

Fermat's last theorem (1995)

Andrew Wiles FRS

Computers help to crack many science mysteries, but the maths conundrum known as Fermat’s last theorem had resisted all attempts at solution for 350 years. Mathematician Andrew Wiles finally succeeded in finding a proof for the long-sought theorem, hitting the headlines in 1995.

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Sovereign Science

An exhibition to celebrate the Diamond Jubilee of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, the Royal Society's patron.

See all the discoveries.

Great British Innovation Vote

The Great British Innovation Vote is a public vote held in March 2013 to discover the nation's favourite innovation of the last 100 years. Many of the discoveries and inventions on this page are featured in the poll.