Cover image for ages of man issue of E&T magazine

Stone age to silicon age - What's the next big one?

Image credit: Allstar / Aardman Animations

Do you agree with our prediction for the next great age?

This is Dug from the Aardman Animation production ‘Early Man’. His Stone Age, the first of the great seven material ages, lasted millions of years. In contrast, the Plastics Age is only around a century old and environmentalists are already hoping it’s the beginning of its end. The more recent Silicon Age is barely half a century old. 

We live in a time of ever faster product cycles and accelerating development, with more technology revolutions on the horizon than ever before. The range of candidate materials that could give their name to the next great age is also wider.

In reality, it probably won’t be just one material. But we thought it would be interesting to have a guess at which material could become the next ‘big’ one. There are many strong candidates, from lithium to hydrogen and you’ll probably disagree with our choice but we think it's...this.

I saved money from my first Saturday job to buy my first ever hi-fi component. I couldn’t afford the speakers let alone one of the expensive new CD players but I loved my cassette deck and my first few home-taped TDK C90s. Luckily home taping didn’t kill music after all. CDs killed cassettes and digital recording killed studio tape. Nearly. CDs are on the wane while vinyl and even cassette sales are rising. Chris Edwards hears why musicians and studio engineers are messing around with tape once more, while Jonathan Wilson looks at the legacy of the portable four-track mini home studio launched 40 years ago.

Graph showing music releases by format and year

Music releases by year and format

Image credit: E&T / Source: Discogs

Back then, parents worried about TV addiction. There were even programmes to encourage kids to turn 'switch off your television set and go and do something less boring instead’. Today’s parental worry is digital home entertainment, from gaming to social media. We hear it’s as bad as cocaine, but is it even a real addiction? Helena Pozniak gets to the bottom of a very modern worry.

There’s a lot of innovation in this issue. Nicholas Newman profiles half a dozen of Europe’s brightest young innovators, working on everything from car batteries to medicines, but discovers it may be a myth that young people make the best innovators. Ben Heubl goes to a farm in Essex to meet four pensioners who have built the world’s first zero-carbon aluminium hydroxide reactor to produce hydrogen from waste cans.

Also in this issue, as HS2 overruns its budgets again, we examine why big engineering projects never seem to run to schedule or budget. As social media gets nastier, we ask what can be learned from how extremists exploited another media revolution, the radio, to spread their hate and violence. And as AI passes Go, we look at China's future ambitions for artificial intelligence technology.

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