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Bicycle chosen as best invention

The humble bicycle has won a national survey of people's favourite inventions.

Listeners to BBC Radio 4's You and Yours programme were invited to vote in an online survey looking at the most significant innovations since 1800.

It was an easy victory for the bicycle which won more than half of the vote.

The transistor came second with 8% of the vote and the electro-magnetic induction ring - the means to harness electricity - came third.

Interplanetary travel

Despite their ubiquity, computers gained just 6% of the vote and the internet trailed behind with only 4% of all votes cast.

People chose the bicycle for its simplicity of design, universal use, and because it is a ecologically sound means of transport.

Bicycle - 59%
Transistor - 8%
Electro-magnetic induction ring - 8%
Computer - 6%
Germ theory of infection - 5%
Radio - 5%
Internet - 4%
Internal Combustion Engine - 3%
Nuclear Power - 1%
Communications Satellite - 1%

The survey also asked participants which innovation they would most like to disinvent.

GM foods came top of the polls with 26% of the vote, followed by nuclear power with 19%.

By contrast the technology most would like to see invented was an AIDS vaccine.

Alas, plans to ship long-suffering commuters to distant planets may need to be put on hold with only 15% voting for an interplanetary commuting transport system.

Half voted water treatment and supply systems as the technology to bring most benefit to society.

Another 23% thought that vaccinations deserved the honour.

Each of the technologies were nominated by a different expert, including writer Sir Arthur C Clarke, cloning expert Professor Ian Wilmut and Professor Heinz Wolff.

Prof Wolff's praise of the bicycle held the most sway with voters which will come as a disappointment to Lord Alec Broers, this year's Reith lecturer.

His series of lectures - Triumph of Technology - prompted the vote.

In the first of these he expressed surprise at the results of a similar survey.

It too ranked the bicycle above scientific breakthroughs such as electricity generation, the jet engine, the discovery of DNA and the invention of vaccinations

Editorial Notes: Most of our technology is dependent on cheap energy, at the very least in its manufacturing. Compared to 'nature' there is almost nothing we can hold up favourably in comparison in terms of energy efficiency. The bicycle is the exception. It allows a human to travel with more energy efficiency than any other land animal. Of course one must consider the embodied energy of the bicycle and road maintenance. Nevertheless, from an energy perspective the bicycle may yet prove to be the high point of human technological achievement! -AF

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