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This is an interesting topic.|
Generally, I'd say it was the printing press and Arabic numerals that had the greatest impact. The printing press allowed knowledge to be stored and reproduced easily. So things that were learned and known could be distributed widely and could last beyond the lives of their authors/ inventors.
Arabic numerals (0, 1, 2, 3...) were a HUGE improvement over Roman numerals (I, II, III, IV...). Many people recognize the name Roman Numerals, but they don't realize that it means the numbers used by the people who gave the West democracy, the senate, and the architecture found in many government buildings. If we used Roman Numerals as much as Roman Civil Law, we would be in very deep trouble. Anyway, we use the Arabic number set which has a zero, a base-ten foundation, and a place value (one with three zeros is a thousand, one with two zeros is one hundred compared to Roman system where there's no place value).
Some people also cite the system of copyright and patent, which protects intellectual property and encourages invention.