Bell Labs

I just finished reading The Idea Factory by Jon Gertner, a loving, mostly oral history of Bell Laboratories. Not only is the list of innovations (as complied by the Wikipedia page) including the transistor, the laser, the charge-coupled device (CCD), information theory, the UNIX operating system to come out of Bell Labs amazing,but it is important to remember that this was a part of a private corporation. Back when AT&T was a government regulated monopoly, the labs could rely on an uninterrupted flow of funding for applied and basic research. While modern tech companies are loathe to spend money on open-ended research that may or may not provide tangible profits decades hence, Bell Labs was charged with finding the technology that would support the national phone system as it rapidly expanded to provide “universal connectivity” for all citizens. It may not be an exaggeration to say that Bell Labs invented the information age, since it is hard to imagine the internet enjoying the widespread appeal that it has without the bandwidth and computing power made possible by transistors and fiber optics connections. Yet, Bell Labs was also sowing the seeds of its own demise.

 

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Author: lnemzer

Assistant Professor Nova Southeastern University

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