In our modern, connected, high speed world, it’s easy to take a lot of things for granted. We travel across our continent in a couple of hours. We look at pictures from across the universe, communicating with robots exploring other planets. The answer to any question we have is a quick google search away. We can talk instantaneously to almost anyone on the planet, no matter where they are.
It wasn’t always this way. In older times, even one hundred years ago or more, it would take weeks, if not months, to travel across the United States. If someone didn’t live in your town, you would never see them. The thought of pressing a button on a box that fits in your in your pocket and speaking face to face with someone on the other side of the world wasn’t even science fiction, it simply wasn’t imaginable.
This is the point of Breakthrough: The Ideas that Changed the World, a new series debuting on PBS on April 17th. Breakthrough looks at the technologies that underpin our daily existence, and shows us how we got here, going all the way back to the beginning, to when these technologies were first imagined. The Airplane begins its story 1000 years ago, with a man who attached wings to himself and threw himself off a mountain, the first step in Humanity’s quest for flight (it didn’t end well). From there it takes us to Leonardo Da Vinci, and his designs for human powered flight, all the way through the Wright brothers and modern jet engines, stopping along the way for the stories of the pioneers that got us here, the discoveries, some of which seemed insignificant at the time, that built off each other until air travel became just another fact of life, taken for granted.
The Smartphone takes us back to the first long-range communications, Roman soldiers with torches and an elaborate, alphabet-based code, through Samuel Morse’s tragic story and Hedy Lamarr’s genius contribution to encrypted wireless networks, all the way through the latest developments, miniature computers that can correspond directly with our brains. The stories are fascinating, and clear, you don’t need to be an engineer to understand what each presenter is talking about.
Narrated by Patrick Stewart, the series is also visually striking. Animations illustrating different developments are beautiful. And it’s grounded in the stories of people, the people who took leaps of faith and imagination, who brought us the world we enjoy today. It’s worth a watch for anyone who looks at the world around us and wonders how we got here. Your curiosity will be rewarded.
Breakthrough: The Ideas that Changed the World debuts Wednesday, April 17th at 10:00 p.m. on KIXE Channel 9.