Saturday, 21 June 2014

When the world went from Teslas to Edisons

The late half of 19th and the first half of 20th centuries witnessed revelations in the world of science and technology. All the technological grandeur and enigma we witness today is mainly a series of experiments carried during these few decades. Initially it was inadequacy which forced the virtuoso to employ all their mettle and fill the lacunae. Later on, the most savaging of all wars compelled mankind to come up with some of its most ingenious of inventions. That one century, literally paved the way for all that was to follow. That one century's purpose was not to result primarily in inventions that seemed like riveting epiphanies, but to create the turf for the future maestros and thinkers to score on. The world witnessed rapid progress. We moved from projectors to TVs, from cars to spacecrafts, from mechanical to electromechanical and finally electronic computers. And hold your breath from this one; the world went from wired to wireless electricity! But why is it that TVs remained the same TVs for half a century post which virtual reality came in. Why is it that we couldn't ravel to Mars for the next 4 decades. Why is it that we waited nearly a century for wireless electricity chargers. The answer is simple. The world went the Edison way!

During the original epoch, inventions came out of the need of solving problems. Take any of the Noble prizes pertaining to science and you'd see a revolution ensuing after every invention or discovery that was conferred during that time. Inventors and experimenters alike, carved new realms. In short, it was not as much about improvement as it was about exploration. None of these vagabond stalwarts had anything to lose except for another chance. The world may have really progressed afterwards, at least on a tangible level, but it were those 100 years between 1850 and 1950 that literally set the tone and paved the way. Post that  however, we were bit by the fangs of a deadly being. Commercialization!

It's true that all inventions served the purpose of tackling real life problems and to accord some providence. However, once the big honchos of the corporate giants eyed the potential profits, it was all too late. Patents were soon sold or never filed and the ravenous and rapacious corporations were quick to cling on to them. From them on, it was just about the stereotyped "return maximization" and "shareholder value creation". All the research begun to be directed through R&D departments of giant corporations which simply sought to build products that they could market, too wary to invest any extra pile of funds in new solutions. The initial inventors became rich and tasted one time fame by selling the patents. However, all the post invention deliberation and experimentation that was carried out by independent fellow scientists, was not exalted. As the intensity and magnitude of inventions became large, the pariah not so greedy scientist group went bereft of the required resources. Soon, pure research got died in the labs of a few university laboratories which get enough funding, or in the cahoots of a few large companies. The rail of tremendous unbelievable progress, was now exalted.

The Tesla Tower
While Tesla concentrated on progress and research, Edison concentrated on monetizing. Both of them represented the face of the erstwhile inventor fraternity. Two guys with very different motives. While Tesla sought intellectual accretion, Edison sought pecuniary might. While Tesla simply kept inventing and experimenting, Edison set up General Electric. While discourses on them are common and hackneyed, I'd just leave you all with one fact. Tesla was the kind of person who was ready to go to any heights for the sake of putting concepts to test, even if it meant putting all his reputation at stake. Soon after endowing the world with the wireine electric transmission system which was the provenance of all future development, Tesla soon started working on wireless electric transmission. That was the kind of insight he possessed. His only motto was continuous improvement. While he could have suggested many a improvement in the existing system and capitalize before anyone else, he sought to tread further.

Tesla's vision 
His experiments and demonstrations from 1891 and 1897 suggested how electricity could be transferred wirelessly. His giant induction capacitance methods even worked with illumination of a wireless lamp and with transmission to a range of 48 Km. Tesla suggested how a large network of industrial grade wireless electricity supply could be setup to create a global network of wireless devices. Today's wireless Internet is an example of that. Tesla even wanted the driving power to be supplied wirelessly. Tesla, the clairvoyant, envisaged how ships and buses could run without local power source, with them hopping from one power zone to another. Unfortunately, Tesla's project was halted midaway due to lack of funds. The same funds that went on to make sure the world didn't see wireless electricity for another century. His large humongous tower in Shoreham, Long Island, New York, which was sabotaged by the US govt which itself is a corporate stooge, was the last that remained of that era of selfless innovation. No matter how much we innovate today, selfless innovation is never going to come back. We'll always have profits in the back of our heads. We made the wrong choice. We made the world move on from Teslas to Edisons. 

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