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15 Influential Innovations of the Past 50 Years

Cover: Emmanuel Dunande | Getty Images

» more from The Future of Innovation: a CNBC.com Special Report

15 Influential Innovations

Innovation has come at such a dizzying pace in recent decades that it has transformed our world in ways once only imagined in science fiction. As part of our "Future of Innovation" special report, we decided to take a look at great innovations of the recent past. Compiling a definitive list turned out to be difficult, if not impossible — and almost certainly up for fierce debate. Nevertheless, we gave it a shot.

Here is our list of the 15 of the most influential inventions over the past 50 years, created using a variety of studies as reference points, including ones from Knowledge@Wharton and Popular Mechanics. We also considered other criteria: Did it improve quality of life? Did it address a compelling need or problem? Was it a fresh breakthrough with a "wow" factor? Did it change the way business is conducted? Did it spark an ongoing stream of new innovation? Did it lead to the creation of a vast, new industry?

Click ahead to see our list of the top five innovations in three fields: medicine, energy, and technology.

By Jessica NaziriPosted 19 September 2011

Cover: Emmanuel Dunande | Getty Images