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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, Sand Hill Road, Silicon Valley, Skype, Steve Jobs, Telecommunications Act of 1996, traveling salesman, undersea cable, uranium enrichment, William Shockley: the traitorous eight
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. Molnar’s goal was to field test the device in 1968 and begin a rollout of “commercial face-to-face picturephone service” soon after. A small exploratory marketing study of the Picturephone, comprising ninety-nine employees from major corporations and nonprofit institutions, was compiled at the end of 1967.
Whether or not the technological hunch behind the Picturephone was correct, Bell Labs executives could rightly point to the device as a significant feat of engineering, one that indirectly yielded not only the CCD device but a variety of new applications in integrated circuits and (during the manufacturing process) ruby lasers. 33 To some extent, there was an expectation that in preparing the Bell System for Picturephones, Bell Labs was also laying the groundwork for high-speed network services for businesses. “The switching and transmission capacity provided for Picturephone service will also enable us to move into flexible high-speed message data services which customers could use as easily as they place an ordinary call today,” Ray Ralston, the Picturephone’s engineering chief, remarked (195 Magazine, November–December 1967). Indeed, the Picturephone was able to connect with a computer and thereby provide rudimentary data to its user. 34 Julius Molnar, “Technical Program of Bell Laboratories: Talk to Department Heads,” March 2, 1972. AT&T archives. 35 One of the more curious things about Picturephones emerged from research in John Pierce’s communications science department.
By 1964, these devices, created by the engineers at Bell Labs over the course of a decade, had a trademarked name. They were known as Picturephones, and they seemed the very essence of the future. At the fair, a visitor who wanted to try a Picturephone would enter one of seven booths and sit before what was called a “picture unit.” The device was a long oval tube, measuring about one foot wide and seven inches high and about a foot in depth. Set within the oval face was a small camera and a rectangular video screen, measuring four and three-eighths inches by five and three-quarter inches. 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.
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, 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
The picture phone was imagined in sufficient detail a number of times, in different eras and different economic regimes. It really wanted to happen. 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. Yet today it is back. Perhaps it is more inevitable over a 50-year span. Maybe it was too early back then, and the necessary supporting technology absent and social dynamics not ripe.
As my wife and I gathered in our California den to lean toward a curved white screen displaying the moving image of our daughter in Shanghai, we mirrored the old magazine’s illustration of a family crowded around a picture phone. 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? There are two senses of “inevitable” when used with regard to technology. In the first case, an invention merely has to exist once.
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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, 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 scientific method, theory of mind, Turing machine, Turing test, universal basic income, Upton Sinclair, Von Neumann architecture, Whole Earth Catalog, Y2K, zero-sum game
We all await the singularity, which always seems to be just over the horizon. 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.
Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing Without Organizations by Clay Shirky
Andrew Keen, Berlin Wall, bioinformatics, Brewster Kahle, c2.com, Charles Lindbergh, crowdsourcing, en.wikipedia.org, 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, transaction costs, ultimatum game, Vilfredo Pareto, 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.
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
The point is that you cannot, or so at least it seems, have one without the other. 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. Sometimes the messiest approach is the wisest. II Generating a diverse set of possible solutions isn’t enough.
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, 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, 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. A majority of American women making themselves appear new by coloring their hair (and a small minority by surgically enhancing their faces and bodies) was a new phenomenon.