How cutting edge technology makes the familiar better

New innovations inspired by old ideas


I'm amused by the different answers I get when I ask people what certain terms mean to them.  One example is “cutting edge” technology which is a term often used interchangeably with “state of the art” technology. So what does it mean to me? Let me take an extreme position (which I'm sure will elicit some comments/challenges). To me, it describes a product or other thing that is at the highest level of development of what is currently available. This is different than “breakthrough” which describes something that didn't previously exist that is a radical departure from the past.

For example, outwardly the jet airliner has little changed since the original Boeing 707. An airliner still has wings, a fuselage, control surfaces, and carries passengers and crew from airport port to airport. But obviously a modern Boeing 787 is far more advanced than its ancient predecessor. It has more advanced, fuel efficient engines. It is made of lighter weight, stronger materials. It has far more advanced control systems requiring a smaller flight crew to keep the aircraft flying. Thus it can be said that the 787 is cutting edge while the 707 is obsolete.

A desktop computer can be described the same way. Outwardly a 10 year old desktop that runs on Windows XP, has about two gigs of RAM, and an 80 gig hard drive looks about the same as a modern version running on Windows 8.1, with eight gigs of RAM, and a terabyte worth of hard drive space. The more modern computer is cutting edge because its technology is more recent and it can run quicker, more efficiently, and using the most up to date software.

Leaving out changes in style, a 30 year old car looks about the same as a 2014 model. Both are a conveyance with four wheels and, usually, a front seat and a back seat. Both have a steering wheel, and accelerator pedal and brake pedal. But the modern car is made of more advanced, light-weight materials, has a more fuel efficient engine (which is no longer necessarily of the internal combustion kind) and is likely to have a digital dashboard rather than one with an analogue display system.

Cutting edge technology, in short, is something by which the familiar becomes better. The beauty of it is that the edge in cutting edge is always advancing. What is cutting edge today will not be so much tomorrow.

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