From Bakelite to Bots: The Evolution of Synthetic Products

A big part of my working life is spent looking at data sets – data that has been synthetically created, and it got me thinking about the evolution of all things synthetic…

Synthetic products (or human-made) have a rich and intriguing history. The invention of Bakelite, the first synthetic plastic, by Leo Baekeland in 1907 marked the beginning of the synthetic product era. Bakelite, made from phenol derived from coal tar, paved the way for a plethora of now-common synthetic plastics such as polystyrene, polyester, PVC, polythene, and nylon (and before I hear howls of derision, yes I am aware that these inventions are not particularly eco-friendly).

Whatever we think of them these days, synthetic products have gained widespread acceptance due to their adaptability, longevity, and cost-effectiveness. Synthetic oil, for example, is a preferred alternative to traditional oil because it is more durable and resistant to degradation. Another example of a synthetic product that has been widely adopted is nylon. It was the world’s first fully synthetic fibre, introduced at the New York World’s Fair of 1939-40, and quickly became a huge success, selling 64 million pairs of nylon stockings for DuPont in their first year alone. Today it’s still widely used in fabrics, upholstery, sports articles, instrument strings, and automotive parts. Recent advancements in synthetic products (like our synthetic data) are changing the face of various industries. Synthetic images of biologically accurate crop and weed plant species can be used to train agricultural AI solutions, leading to increased efficiency, adoption of new technology by farmers, and improved crop production.

In conclusion, from Bakelite to synthetic data, synthetic products have revolutionized our lives and continue to play a significant role.