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Posts Tagged ‘Bell Labs

“Progress means getting nearer to the place you want to be. And if you have taken a wrong turn, then to go forward does not get you any nearer.”*…

Earlier (Roughly) Daily posts have looked at “Progress Studies” and at its relationship to the Rationalism community. Garrison Lovely takes a deeper look at this growing and influential intellectual movement that aims to understand why human progress happens – and how to speed it up…

For most of history, the world improved at a sluggish pace, if at all. Civilisations rose and fell. Fortunes were amassed and squandered. Almost every person in the world lived in what we would now call extreme poverty. For thousands of years, global wealth – at least our best approximations of it – barely budged.

But beginning around 150-200 years ago, everything changed. The world economy suddenly began to grow exponentially. Global life expectancy climbed from less than 30 years to more than 70 years. Literacy, extreme poverty, infant mortality, and even height improved in a similarly dramatic fashion. The story may not be universally positive, nor have the benefits been equally distributed, but by many measures, economic growth and advances in science and technology have changed the way of life for billions of people.

What explains this sudden explosion in relative wealth and technological power? What happens if it slows down, or stagnates? And if so, can we do something about it? These are key questions of “progress studies”, a nascent self-styled academic field and intellectual movement, which aims to dissect the causes of human progress in order to better advance it.

Founded by an influential economist and a billionaire entrepreneur, this community tends to define progress in terms of scientific or technological advancement, and economic growth – and therefore their ideas and beliefs are not without their critics. So, what does the progress studies movement believe, and what do they want to see happen in the future?

Find out at: “Do we need a better understanding of ‘progress’?,” from @GarrisonLovely at @BBC_Future.

Then judge for yourself: was Adorno right? “It would be advisable to think of progress in the crudest, most basic terms: that no one should go hungry anymore, that there should be no more torture, no more Auschwitz. Only then will the idea of progress be free from lies.” Or can–should– we be more purposively, systemically ambitious?

* C. S. Lewis

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As we get better at getting better, we might recall that it was on this date in 1922 that the United States paid tribute to a man instrumental in the progress that Progress Studies is anxious to sustain, Alexander Graham Bell…

There were more than 14 million telephones in the United States by the time Alexander Graham Bell died. For one minute on August 4, 1922, they were all silent.

The reason: Bell’s funeral. The American inventor was the first to patent telephone technology in the United States and who founded the Bell Telephone System in 1877. Though Bell wasn’t the only person to invent “the transmission of speech by electrical wires,” writes Randy Alfred for Wired, achieving patent primacy in the United States allowed him to spend his life inventing. Even though the telephone changed the world, Bell didn’t stop there.

Bell died on August 2, 1922, just a few days after his 75th birthday. “As a mark of respect every telephone exchange in the United States and Canada closed for a minute when his funeral began around 6:30 p.m. Eastern Standard Time,” Alfred writes.

On the day of the funeral, The New York Times reported that Bell was also honored by advocates for deaf people. “Entirely apart from the monumental achievement of Professor Bell as the inventor of the telephone, his conspicuous work in [sic] behalf of the deaf of this country would alone entitle him to everlasting fame,” said Felix H. Levey, president of the Institution for the Improved Instruction of Deaf Mutes.

In fact, Bell spent much of his income from the telephone on helping deaf people. The same year he founded the Bell Telephone System, 1880, Bell founded the Volta Laboratory. The laboratory, originally called Volta Associates, capitalized on Bell’s work and the work of other sound pioneers. It made money by patenting new innovations for the gramophone and other recorded sound technologies. In 1887, Bell took his share of the money from the sale of gramophone patents and founded the Volta Bureau “as an instrument for the increase and diffusion of knowledge relating to the Deaf,’” writes the National Park Service. Bell and Volta continued to work for deaf rights throughout his life.

Volta Laboratory eventually became Bell Laboratories, which was home to many of the twentieth century’s communication innovations.

Smithsonian

source

“Any sufficiently advanced technology is equivalent to magic”*…

In the 1930s, ATT was rolling out dial phones to the American public…

This short subject newsreel was shown in movie theaters the week before a town’s or region’s telephone exchange was to be converted to dial service. It’s extremely short—a little over a minute, like a PSA. The film concisely explains how to use a dial telephone, including how to dial, how to recognize dial tone, and how to recognize a busy signal…

For a look into the then-future (the now present), fast forward just over 50 years, to the early 90s and to ATT’s predictions…

More in ATT Tech Channel.

[TotH to @BoingBoing for a pointer to the first video]

* Arthur C. Clarke (a 1976 interview with whom is in the Tech Channel trove)

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As we ponder progress, we might send , ATT-related birthday greetings to Robert Woodrow Wilson; he was born on this date in 1936.  An astronomer, he detected– with Bell Labs colleague Arno Penzias– cosmic microwave background radiation: “relic radiation”– that’s to say, the “sound “– of the Big Bang…. familiar to those of old enough to remember watching an old-fashioned television after the test pattern was gone (when there was no broadcast signal received): the “fuzz” we saw and the static-y sounds we heard, were the “relic radiation” being picked up.

Their 1964 discovery earned them the 1978 Nobel Prize in Physics.

 source

“You can never be overdressed or overeducated”*…

So many choices…

Take online courses from the world’s top universities for free. Below, you will find 1,700 free online courses from universities like Yale, MIT, Harvard, Oxford and more. Our site also features collections of Online Certificate Programs and Online Degree & Mini-Degree Programs

From Open Culture (@openculture), “1,700 Free Online Courses from Top Universities.”

A personal fave: MIT’s “Gödel, Escher, Bach: A Mental Space Odyssey.”

[image above: source]

* Oscar Wilde

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As we hit the e-books, we might recall that it was on this date in 1922 that the United States paid tribute to the man instrumental in the technology that enables on-line education, Alexander Graham Bell…

There were more than 14 million telephones in the United States by the time Alexander Graham Bell died. For one minute on August 4, 1922, they were all silent.

The reason: Bell’s funeral. The American inventor was the first to patent telephone technology in the United States and who founded the Bell Telephone System in 1877. Though Bell wasn’t the only person to invent “the transmission of speech by electrical wires,” writes Randy Alfred for Wired, achieving patent primacy in the United States allowed him to spend his life inventing. Even though the telephone changed the world, Bell didn’t stop there.

Bell died on August 2, 1922, just a few days after his 75th birthday. “As a mark of respect every telephone exchange in the United States and Canada closed for a minute when his funeral began around 6:30 p.m. Eastern Standard Time,” Alfred writes.

On the day of the funeral, The New York Times reported that Bell was also honored by advocates for deaf people. “Entirely apart from the monumental achievement of Professor Bell as the inventor of the telephone, his conspicuous work in [sic] behalf of the deaf of this country would alone entitle him to everlasting fame,” said Felix H. Levey, president of the Institution for the Improved Instruction of Deaf Mutes.

In fact, Bell spent much of his income from the telephone on helping deaf people. The same year he founded the Bell Telephone System, 1880, Bell founded the Volta Laboratory. The laboratory, originally called Volta Associates, capitalized on Bell’s work and the work of other sound pioneers. It made money by patenting new innovations for the gramophone and other recorded sound technologies. In 1887, Bell took his share of the money from the sale of gramophone patents and founded the Volta Bureau “as an instrument for the increase and diffusion of knowledge relating to the Deaf,’” writes the National Park Service. Bell and Volta continued to work for deaf rights throughout his life.

Volta Laboratory eventually became Bell Laboratories, which was home to many of the twentieth century’s communication innovations.

Smithsonian

source

“We shape our tools, and thereafter our tools shape us”*…

 

Bell Labs engineer Billy Klüver working on Oracle (1965), a collaboration with Robert Rauschenberg

Since it was first set-up in 1907, Bell Labs has been at the forefront of scientific invention. During its peak, work undertaken at the labs led to the invention of the laser and the transistor, the birth of information theory and the creation of C, S and C++ programming languages, which form the basis of coding today. Bell Labs has been awarded a total of eight Nobel Peace prizes and every Silicon Valley start-up or global conglomerate has mined the mythology around its unique ability to foster new ideas for clues as to how one research laboratory could consistently turn out such an array of successful technologies…

During the 1960s and 1970s… Bell Labs turned the research centre into a playground for the likes of John Cage, Robert Rauschenberg and most of New York’s Lower East Side art scene…

The extraordinary tale of EAT (Experiments in Art and Technology), engineer Billy Klüver’s attempt to “make technology more human”– at “How AT&T shaped modern art.”

Then, by way of sampling the results, check out “9 Evenings,” a 1965 project exploring avant-garde theatre, dance and new technologies. Artists John Cage, Lucinda Childs, Öyvind Fahlström, Alex Hay, Deborah Hay, Steve Paxton, Yvonne Rainer, Robert Rauschenberg, David Tudor and Robert Whitman each worked with a Bell Labs engineer to create an original performance.

(AT&T is, of course, long gone; but Bell Labs lives on as part of Nokia– and EAT continues.)

* Marshall McLuhan

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As we celebrate collaboration, we might email elegantly and creatively designed birthday greetings to Douglas Carl Engelbart; he was born on this date in 1925.  An engineer and inventor who was a computing and internet pioneer, Doug is best remembered for his seminal work on human-computer interface issues, and for “the Mother of All Demos” in 1968, at which he demonstrated for the first time the computer mouse, hypertext, networked computers, and the earliest versions of graphical user interfaces… that’s to say, computing as we know it, and all that computing enables.

 source

 

Written by (Roughly) Daily

January 30, 2018 at 1:01 am

…It tolled for us…

From the folks at Lucent, a nostalgic music video celebrating the contributions of Bell Labs– a facility unique in America history.  The nation’s premier research facility for several decades, it was the hatching ground of radio astronomy, the transistor, the laser, information theory, the UNIX operating system, and the C programming language; work completed there earned six Nobel Prizes.

With the breakup of ATT in 1984, stewardship of the Lab passed to Lucent, and the role of Lab began to change.  By August of 2008, Alcatel-Lucent announced that it was puling out of basic research altogether, to focus exclusively on more immediately marketable applications; the Bell Labs celebrated in the video is gone.

But its gifts to knowledge and society survive.  Indeed, it’s surely fair to observe that, without work done there, it wouldn’t be possible to for your correspondent to be pelting readers with daily missives via the internet.

As we listen to the background noise of the universe (for the discovery of which, Arno Penzias and Robert Wilson of Bell Labs won the 1978 Nobel Prize in Physics), we might take a celebratory trip in honor of Thor Heyerdahl, the Norwegian  explorer and anthropologist who became famous for his Kon-Tiki  Expedition in 1947 (though he went on many others as well); he was born on this date in 1914…  He once responded to an interviewer, “Borders? I have never seen one. But I have heard they exist in the minds of most people.”

Thor Heyerdahl

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