What five technologies have made our lives easier, better, and more efficient? Hard to choose, right? Well, inspired by the next tech advancement, Intel smart TV, we've done it for you. First up: that spectacle of wonder, the mighty telescope.

For a long, long time people have been trying to gain access to the stars, if for no other reason then to explain our own precarious position in this ever expanding universe. Early telescopes were little more than fancy eyeglasses that magnified objects a short distance away, but over the centuries they have become essential tools used for everything from maritime navigation to the attempted investigation of our alien brethren.

Who knew that the Dutch, best known for inventing ice skates, fairy tales and fancy coffee shops, can also take credit for initially developing the telescope? In 1608 three spectacle makers (as in makers of eyeglasses, not Guy Debord) constructed the first refractive optical telescope. Just a year later, in 1609, our main man Galilieo Galilei improved upon the design and built a model that was able to magnify objects about 30 times. He is credited with first observing lunar craters and the orbiting moons of Jupiter. Without him, none of us could ever have been creeped out and/or inspired by the man in the moon!


Since Galilieo, several advancements to telescopes have been made. Here is a quick look at some of pretty nifty ones:

Really, Really Big Telescopes

The longest moving, refracting telescope in the world is housed at the Archenhold Observatory in Berlin, Germany. At 21 meters long with a 68 centimeter diameter lens, this 114-year-old relic remains a modern marvel. Bonus fact: the Archenhold Observatory was the location of Einstein's first lecture on his theory of relativity.


Portable Telescopes

John Dobson, founder of the Sidewalk Astronomers, spent 23 years living in a Hindu monastery and secretly building telescopes. Eventually, after being caught sneaking out of the compound to show neighborhood kids his inventions, he was told he had to choose between being a monk and the stars. He chose his telescopes and is now credited as the main developer of the portable model. You can find plans to build your own Dobsonian telescope here.

Online Telescopes

WorldWide Telescope is web tool that allows your computer to function as a virtual telescope. It compiles signals and imagery from both ground- and space-based telescopes and brings them right to your desktop. And here's another type of interoffice stargazing.

Alien-Finding Telescopes

Go catch us some Greys! SETI@home is a group of alien watchdogs that connect online and help in the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI). You can participate in the experiment by heading here and downloading free software that acquires and analyzes radio telescope data. Alternately, you can head to alien hunter mecca, the Arecibo Observatory, in sunny Puerto Rico. Tell Fox Mulder and James Bond we said, "Yo, what's up?"

Where would humankind be without telescopes? And we'll be asking ourselves that same question about Intel smart TV sooner than later, because the combination of Internet and television is surely the next in line in the Smartest Advancements in Technology all-time rankings.

Tune in later this week to see what the next revolutionary and utter indispensable item in the Smartest Advancements in Technology Series is. Hint: it's not for the claustrophobe.

And click here to find out more about Intel smart TV: where Internet meets television.