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pages: 550 words: 154,725

The Idea Factory: Bell Labs and the Great Age of American Innovation by Jon Gertner

Albert Einstein, back-to-the-land, Black Swan, business climate, Claude Shannon: information theory, Clayton Christensen, complexity theory, corporate governance, cuban missile crisis, Edward Thorp, horn antenna, Hush-A-Phone, information retrieval, invention of the telephone, James Watt: steam engine, Karl Jansky, knowledge economy, Leonard Kleinrock, Metcalfe’s law, Nicholas Carr, Norbert Wiener, Picturephone, Richard Feynman, Robert Metcalfe, Russell Ohl, Sand Hill Road, Silicon Valley, Skype, Steve Jobs, Telecommunications Act of 1996, traveling salesman, undersea cable, uranium enrichment, William Shockley: the traitorous eight

The picture unit was cabled to a touch-tone telephone handset with a line of buttons to control the screen. If you wanted to make a Picturephone call at the fair—or more precisely, if you wanted to talk with the Picturephone users at other booths—you simply pressed a button marked “V” for video; after that you could either talk through the handset or through a speakerphone on the picture unit. Without question, the Picturephones were diverting. In several obvious respects, the device was less a radical innovation than an elegant melding of the established technologies of television and telephone. But it wasn’t entirely clear whether the Picturephone actually solved a problem. Some Bell Labs engineers worried about this.

But a majority said they perceived a need for Picturephones in their business, and a near majority said they perceived a need for Picturephones in their home. Would they pay for it? Here, the results were less clear. For a price of between $40 and $60 a month, for instance, only 12 percent of the couples interviewed said they would want a Picturephone in their homes. Business customers, however, seemed more amenable. Even if the cost were substantially higher—$60 to $80 a month—29 percent said they would be interested in having the device at their place of business. When the AT&T market researchers asked Picturephone users whether it was important to see the person they were speaking to during a conversation, a vast majority said it was either “very important” or “important.”

It may prove useless because of its functional shortcomings, or because it’s too expensive in relation to its modest appeal, or because it arrives in the marketplace too early or too late. Or because of all those reasons combined. The Picturephone was a mistake in judgment. The Picturephone began on a high note of optimism. “We have now received a clear go-ahead from AT&T on the Picturephone program we proposed,” Julius Molnar, Bell Labs’ executive vice president, informed the staff in late summer of 1966.30 The actual Picturephone technology was being upgraded and redesigned; instead of the egg-shaped futuristic device that had made a splash at the World’s Fair, Molnar told the staff, the set would be a “Model 2,” or Mod 2, as it was called at Bell Labs, a squarish device, designed by a renowned industrial designer, that was both more elegant and more functional.

pages: 476 words: 132,042

What Technology Wants by Kevin Kelly

Albert Einstein, Alfred Russel Wallace, Buckminster Fuller, c2.com, carbon-based life, Cass Sunstein, charter city, Clayton Christensen, cloud computing, computer vision, Danny Hillis, dematerialisation, demographic transition, double entry bookkeeping, Douglas Engelbart, en.wikipedia.org, Exxon Valdez, George Gilder, gravity well, hive mind, Howard Rheingold, interchangeable parts, invention of air conditioning, invention of writing, Isaac Newton, Jaron Lanier, Joan Didion, John Conway, John Markoff, John von Neumann, Kevin Kelly, knowledge economy, Lao Tzu, life extension, Louis Daguerre, Marshall McLuhan, megacity, meta-analysis, new economy, off grid, out of africa, performance metric, personalized medicine, phenotype, Picturephone, planetary scale, RAND corporation, random walk, Ray Kurzweil, recommendation engine, refrigerator car, Richard Florida, Rubik’s Cube, Silicon Valley, silicon-based life, Skype, speech recognition, Stephen Hawking, Steve Jobs, Stewart Brand, Ted Kaczynski, the built environment, the scientific method, Thomas Malthus, Vernor Vinge, wealth creators, Whole Earth Catalog, Y2K

One artist sketched out a fantasy of it in 1878, only two years after the telephone was patented. A series of working prototypes were demoed by the German post office in 1938. Commercial versions, called Picturephones, were installed in public phone booths on the streets in New York City after the 1964 World’s Fair, but AT&T canceled the product ten years later due to lack of interest. At its peak the Picturephone had only 500 or so paid subscribers, even though nearly everyone recognized the vision. One could argue that rather than being inevitable progress, this was an invention battling its own inevitable bypass.

While our daughter watched us on her screen in China, we chatted leisurely about unimportant family matters. Our picture phone was exactly what everyone imagined it to be, except in three significant ways: the device was not exactly a phone, it was our iMac and her laptop; the call was free (via Skype, not AT&T); and despite being perfectly useable, and free, picture-phoning has not become common—even for us. So unlike the earlier futuristic vision, the inevitable picture phone has not become the standard modern way of communicating. First Glimpse of the Picture Phone. From Bell Telephone’s pavilion at the 1964 New York World’s Fair. So was the picture phone inevitable?

slums of New Yorker New York Times New York World’s Fair (1964) New Zealand Niebuhr, Reinhold Niepce, Nicephore Nobel, Alfred Nonzero (Wright) Norman, Donald North America North Korea nuclear power Nye, David octopuses Ogburn, William oil opportunity “Origins of Life and Evolution of the Biosphere” (James and Ellington) Osborn, Henry Out of Control (Kelly) oxcarts oxygen Pace, Norman Paleolithic rhythm paper Paradox of Choice, The (Schwartz) parasitism Paris 1900 Great Exposition in slums of patents Perrow, Charles Petrequin, Pierre phonograph photography processing of satellite physics, laws of picture phones Picturephones pixels plagues Planet of Slums (Davis) plants chlorophyll of domestication of gathering of insectivorous intelligence of Plato Poincare, Henri Poisson distribution, statistical Ponnamperuma, Cyril Popper, Karl population growth food production for of Sapiens of hunter-gatherers Malthusian limits of negative negative, future scenarios of world see also fertility rates Postman, Neil Precautionary Principle predator rhythm Priceline Priestley, Joseph printing Proactionary Principle Process Theology progress critical views of emotional unease produced by energy production in environmental costs of evolutionary historical change vs.

pages: 313 words: 95,077

Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing Without Organizations by Clay Shirky

Andrew Keen, Andy Carvin, Berlin Wall, bioinformatics, Brewster Kahle, c2.com, Charles Lindbergh, crowdsourcing, en.wikipedia.org, Garrett Hardin, hiring and firing, hive mind, Howard Rheingold, Internet Archive, invention of agriculture, invention of movable type, invention of the printing press, invention of the telegraph, jimmy wales, Joi Ito, Kuiper Belt, liberation theology, Mahatma Gandhi, means of production, Merlin Mann, Metcalfe’s law, Nash equilibrium, Network effects, Nicholas Carr, Picturephone, place-making, Pluto: dwarf planet, prediction markets, price mechanism, prisoner's dilemma, profit motive, Richard Stallman, Robert Metcalfe, Ronald Coase, Silicon Valley, slashdot, social software, Stewart Brand, supply-chain management, The Nature of the Firm, The Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith, The Wisdom of Crowds, Tragedy of the Commons, transaction costs, ultimatum game, Vilfredo Pareto, Yochai Benkler, Yogi Berra

The predicted end point of this process was a progressive disassociation of social life from real space, leading to the death of cities as the population spread out to more bucolic spots. The assumption that communications tools are (or will someday be) a good substitute for travel assumes that people mainly gather together for utilitarian reasons of sharing information. Companies have been selling us this idea since the invention of the telegraph, and AT&T’s famous Picturephone, first launched at the 1964 World’s Fair, was pitched as a way to reduce the need for travel. This reduction did not happen, not in 1964 or ever. If communication were a substitute for travel, then the effects would have shown up by now, but they haven’t. In 1978 President Carter deregulated the airlines, causing travel prices to fall, but telecommunications stocks didn’t collapse; they rose.

pages: 339 words: 94,769

Possible Minds: Twenty-Five Ways of Looking at AI by John Brockman

AI winter, airport security, Alan Turing: On Computable Numbers, with an Application to the Entscheidungsproblem, artificial general intelligence, Asilomar, autonomous vehicles, basic income, Benoit Mandelbrot, Bill Joy: nanobots, Buckminster Fuller, cellular automata, Claude Shannon: information theory, Daniel Kahneman / Amos Tversky, Danny Hillis, David Graeber, easy for humans, difficult for computers, Elon Musk, Eratosthenes, Ernest Rutherford, finite state, friendly AI, future of work, Geoffrey West, Santa Fe Institute, gig economy, income inequality, industrial robot, information retrieval, invention of writing, James Watt: steam engine, Johannes Kepler, John Maynard Keynes: Economic Possibilities for our Grandchildren, John Maynard Keynes: technological unemployment, John von Neumann, Kevin Kelly, Kickstarter, Laplace demon, Loebner Prize, market fundamentalism, Marshall McLuhan, Menlo Park, Norbert Wiener, optical character recognition, pattern recognition, personalized medicine, Picturephone, profit maximization, profit motive, RAND corporation, random walk, Ray Kurzweil, Richard Feynman, Rodney Brooks, salary depends on his not understanding it, self-driving car, sexual politics, Silicon Valley, Skype, social graph, speech recognition, statistical model, Stephen Hawking, Steven Pinker, Stewart Brand, strong AI, superintelligent machines, supervolcano, technological singularity, technoutopianism, telemarketer, telerobotics, The future is already here, the scientific method, theory of mind, Turing machine, Turing test, universal basic income, Upton Sinclair, Von Neumann architecture, Whole Earth Catalog, Y2K, you are the product, zero-sum game

In a sense, computers have already taken over, facilitating virtually every aspect of our lives—from banking, travel, and utilities to the most intimate personal communication. I can see and talk to my grandson in New York for free. I remember when I first saw the 1968 movie 2001: A Space Odyssey, the audience laughed at the absurdly cheap cost of a picturephone call from space: $1.70, at a time when a long-distance call within the U.S. was $3 per minute. However, the convenience and power of computers is also something of a Faustian bargain, for it comes with a loss of control. Computers prevent us from doing things we want. Try getting on a flight if you arrive at the airport and the airline computer systems are down, as happened not so long ago to British Airways at Heathrow.

pages: 326 words: 106,053

The Wisdom of Crowds by James Surowiecki

AltaVista, Andrei Shleifer, asset allocation, Cass Sunstein, coronavirus, Daniel Kahneman / Amos Tversky, experimental economics, Frederick Winslow Taylor, George Akerlof, Howard Rheingold, I think there is a world market for maybe five computers, interchangeable parts, Jeff Bezos, John Meriwether, Joseph Schumpeter, knowledge economy, lone genius, Long Term Capital Management, market bubble, market clearing, market design, Monkeys Reject Unequal Pay, moral hazard, Myron Scholes, new economy, offshore financial centre, Picturephone, prediction markets, profit maximization, Richard Feynman, Richard Feynman: Challenger O-ring, Richard Thaler, Robert Shiller, Robert Shiller, Ronald Coase, Ronald Reagan, shareholder value, short selling, Silicon Valley, South Sea Bubble, The Nature of the Firm, The Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith, The Wisdom of Crowds, Toyota Production System, transaction costs, ultimatum game, Yogi Berra, zero-sum game

It’s a familiar truism that governments can’t, and therefore shouldn’t try to, “pick winners.” But the truth is that no system seems all that good at picking winners in advance. After all, tens of thousands of new products are introduced every year, and only a small fraction ever become successes. The steam-powered car, the picturephone, the Edsel, the Betamax, pen computing: companies place huge bets on losers all the time. What makes a system successful is its ability to recognize losers and kill them quickly. Or, rather, what makes a system successful is its ability to generate lots of losers and then to recognize them as such and kill them off.

Drunk: How We Sipped, Danced, and Stumbled Our Way to Civilization by Edward Slingerland

agricultural Revolution, Alexander Shulgin, Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic, Burning Man, collective bargaining, coronavirus, Covid-19, COVID-19, delayed gratification, Deng Xiaoping, disruptive innovation, Drosophila, experimental economics, germ theory of disease, global pandemic, Google Hangouts, hive mind, invention of agriculture, John Markoff, knowledge worker, land reform, lateral thinking, lone genius, meta-analysis, Picturephone, placebo effect, post-work, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Silicon Valley, Skype, social intelligence, Steve Ballmer, Steve Jobs, Steven Pinker, Tragedy of the Commons, WeWork, women in the workforce

Why Skype Didn’t Eliminate Business Travel In 1889 Jules Verne predicted that the “phonotelephote”—essentially a dedicated videoconferencing device that he imagined would become commonplace by the year 2889 (!)—would make business travel obsolete.34 We didn’t have to wait a thousand years. Videoconferencing became a real technology in 1968 with AT&T’s “Picturephone.” The advent of Skype and other videoconferencing technologies in the mid-2000s brought phonotelephotes into every home that had access to a decent internet connection. Each new advance in remote teleconferencing capacity is accompanied by renewed predictions of the demise of business travel. Yet the fact is that, at least until the global Covid-19 pandemic hit in 2020, business travel has done nothing but steadily increase.

The Craft: How Freemasons Made the Modern World by John Dickie

anti-communist, bank run, barriers to entry, Boris Johnson, British Empire, cuban missile crisis, ghettoisation, glass ceiling, Isaac Newton, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Mahatma Gandhi, offshore financial centre, Picturephone, Republic of Letters, Rosa Parks, South Sea Bubble, The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere, white flight, women in the workforce

Held in Flushing Meadows Corona Park in Queens over two April-to-October seasons in 1964 and 1965, it attracted 51.6 million people–equivalent to more than a quarter of the American population. Visitors could watch the first colour TV at the RCA Pavilion. Or ride a gleaming new model called the Mustang at the Ford pavilion. Bell Telephones brought their ‘Picturephone’. Formica built a World’s Fair House on the site: this seven-room home made every conceivable use of plastic, including wipe-clean walls inside and out. Sweets were factory-made before spectators’ eyes in the Chunky Candy Corporation Pavilion. Walt Disney’s ‘Audio-Animatronics’–talking robots–amazed all comers when they were deployed in several pavilions.

pages: 486 words: 150,849

Evil Geniuses: The Unmaking of America: A Recent History by Kurt Andersen

affirmative action, Affordable Care Act / Obamacare, airline deregulation, airport security, always be closing, American ideology, American Legislative Exchange Council, anti-communist, Apple's 1984 Super Bowl advert, artificial general intelligence, autonomous vehicles, basic income, Bear Stearns, Bernie Sanders, blue-collar work, Bonfire of the Vanities, bonus culture, Burning Man, call centre, Capital in the Twenty-First Century by Thomas Piketty, Cass Sunstein, centre right, computer age, coronavirus, corporate governance, corporate raider, Covid-19, COVID-19, creative destruction, Credit Default Swap, cryptocurrency, deindustrialization, Donald Trump, Elon Musk, ending welfare as we know it, Erik Brynjolfsson, feminist movement, financial deregulation, financial innovation, Francis Fukuyama: the end of history, future of work, game design, George Gilder, Gordon Gekko, greed is good, Herbert Marcuse, High speed trading, hive mind, income inequality, industrial robot, interchangeable parts, invisible hand, Isaac Newton, James Watt: steam engine, Jane Jacobs, Jaron Lanier, Jeff Bezos, jitney, Joan Didion, job automation, John Maynard Keynes: Economic Possibilities for our Grandchildren, John Maynard Keynes: technological unemployment, Joseph Schumpeter, knowledge worker, low skilled workers, Lyft, Mark Zuckerberg, market bubble, mass immigration, mass incarceration, Menlo Park, Naomi Klein, new economy, Norbert Wiener, Norman Mailer, obamacare, Peter Thiel, Picturephone, Plutocrats, plutocrats, post-industrial society, Powell Memorandum, pre–internet, Ralph Nader, Right to Buy, road to serfdom, Robert Bork, Robert Gordon, Robert Mercer, Ronald Reagan, Saturday Night Live, Seaside, Florida, Second Machine Age, shareholder value, Silicon Valley, Social Responsibility of Business Is to Increase Its Profits, Steve Jobs, Stewart Brand, strikebreaker, The Death and Life of Great American Cities, The Future of Employment, The Rise and Fall of American Growth, The Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith, Tim Cook: Apple, too big to fail, trickle-down economics, Tyler Cowen: Great Stagnation, Uber and Lyft, uber lyft, union organizing, universal basic income, Unsafe at Any Speed, urban planning, urban renewal, very high income, wage slave, Wall-E, War on Poverty, Whole Earth Catalog, winner-take-all economy, women in the workforce, working poor, young professional, éminence grise

.”*2 A week later a TV series set one hundred years in the future, The Jetsons, premiered in prime time, and three months after that the president spoke at the groundbreaking ceremony for the U.S. pavilion at the New York World’s Fair, which he said would show the world “what America is going to be in the future.” And so it did. My most vivid memory of my tenth year was a trip to Chicago, my first to a big city, and the afternoon we spent at the Museum of Science and Industry, where I had a long-distance Picturephone conversation with a stranger at the Bell System’s World’s Fair pavilion in New York City. General Motors’ fair pavilion was called Futurama. General Electric’s, called Progressland, had been designed by the Disney Company, and Walt was at that moment dreaming up his masterwork in Florida, the Experimental Prototype City of Tomorrow, EPCOT.