Human Ingenuity Demolishes Historical Barriers – But Not All

Alan Finkel writes for Cosmos Magazine:

When accepted limits are broken, I am astonished. Often what I thought were hard limits turn out to be the limits of our collective imagination, not the imposition of physics.

Surprisingly, this demolition of apparently immovable limits happens often. Here are a few examples from my lifetime. See if you can think of a few of your own.

When I studied electrical engineering, it was generally accepted that copper telephone wires couldn’t carry electrical signals that oscillated faster than about 5,000 cycles per second. That was good enough for voice signals, but made for very slow digital communication. As a rule of thumb, you could expect to transfer twice that rate as bits of data and, indeed, for a long time 9.6 kilobits per second was the standard.

But with the advent of new signal-processing techniques for modems, more sophisticated error-correction algorithms and circuitry improvements at telephone exchanges and distribution nodes, digital communications over the copper telephone network became progressively faster.

Today’s high‑speed data modems deliver download speeds of 10 megabits per second – 1,000 times faster than what I naively understood would be the upper limit of the ordinary copper telephone wires.

READ MORE…

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