Beyond technological advances: “50 Social Innovations that Changed the World”

After reading The Atlantic‘s recent list of the 50 greatest inventions, one reader sends in a list of the most important social innovations. Here is the top 10 – in chronological order:

50 Social innovations that changed the world more or less in chronological order.  Rank order in top 10 shown in [ ]

1. Irrigation that
2. created a structured bureaucracy, land measurement and administration in Egypt and Mesopotamia
3. mathematics [3]
4. creation of nations as workable structures
5. empires based  on bureaucracy and military discipline
6. writing, instructions could be sent over distance – Incas used knots [1]
7. written rules and laws – the lawyers and courts as independent
8. alphabet [11]
9. agriculture and and animal husbandry skills that could be recorder and spread
10. history as peoples myths and lessons…

One could argue that these social skills made other technologies possible. It provided a social infrastructure. Imagine trying to large social groups without bureaucracy. While it often gets a bad name today, you couldn’t have the Roman army or city-states or the modern welfare state without bureaucracy.

I’m a little surprised that language isn’t included here – writing makes it but perhaps language predates the beginning of this list. It is also intriguing that economics and political science make the end of the list – perhaps this betrays the opinions of the author but few other academic disciplines make the list.