Was there only one real invention in the last 100 years?

No, of course not. However it appears that this statement isn’t as outlandish as it seems. There are basic things that form the basis for other things.  Think about the digital computer. It used to be the size of a warehouse, filled with vacuum tubes and did the same amount of work as you do today in your Blackberry or Iphone. Maybe less. Ok, we made it smaller, faster, but is there a real difference?

The same can be said of airplanes, automobiles, television, telephones, record players, stoves, fridges, lawn mowers, coffee makers, eye glasses, and the like. Have there been, however any real “breakthrough” inventions in the past 50 years. You know, things that really affect how we as a society goes about our business?

You might bring up the internet.  And yes, being able to log on to millions of other computers from your living room is a great change in our ability to find and share information. But is it an invention, or an application of another invention that had to happen before this one. See the problem.

A writer was musing the other day if there would be any visionary inventions (like the airplane, the automobile, the telephone, the computer chip) in this century. Something that would change the world as we know it.

I think these things are had to codify. You have to wonder if the folks at Bell Labs that came up with the transistor really thought about what it would mean a mere 50 years later. They knew that they had a breakthrough technology, but did they think everyone on the planet would be carrying 10,000  in their pocket in just a few short decades. Did the Wright Brothers see Jumbo Jets or Benz see autobahns.

I don’t think people start with a pile of silicon and envision an iPad. People envision cell phones (remember two way wrist TV’s in Dick Tracy) or Nuclear Power (say hi to Jules Verne.) But I wonder if Oppenheimer read 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and then decided to become a nuclear physicist.

Vision is a funny thing. They say necessity is the mother of invention. I would amend that slightly. I would say that the market is the mother of invention. Airlines and larger and faster airplanes came about because the market demanded them. Cell phones were important in Britain because the landline phones were unreliable. Those transistors were made smaller, faster, cooler, and the like, because the market hungered for phones that worked, computers you could put under your arm, and cameras that were always at the ready.

So with that in mind, what will the market want next?  I’m thinking about it. Are you?

JVH

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