A back catalogue of ideas

When we look in to the works of some of our great inventors such as Leonardo da Vinci, Charles Babbage, Nikola Tesla or even authors like Isaac Asimov, you have to ask “have we thought of everything we will ever need?”

This particular train of thought was sparked as I read a BBC article about Charles Babbage’s difference engine. This machine’s memory would be equivalent to around 675bytes, or just over half that of Sinclair’s ZX81, released in 1981. A later proposal by Babbage called for 20KB of storage. The machine’s clock speed would work out at around 7Hz, compared to the ZX81’s 3.2MHz – and this was all designed circa 1835. The fastest computers of today deliver 10-petaflops of computational performance per second – so time moves on but I have to ask if all of our ideas been realised?

Assuming not raises another question – where is the “back catalogue” of ideas that we’ve not been able to deliver on yet? And are we just waiting for the materials science to catch up? Every day I read something new is appearing, usually though it’s smaller, faster, cheaper rather than brand new and in achieving these attributes becomes more consumable and available to a wider population. The humble mobile phone is one example – with wireless telephony invented by a Kentucky Farmer called Nathan B Stubblefield as long ago as 1907!

Another example comes to mind that of wireless power, Nikola Tesla demonstrated this circa 1896 and only now is it close to reality with technology demonstrators that we would recognise with contact changing mats and wireless monitors.

So as material science brings many of these crazy ideas in to the realm of possibility it would be great to see companies returning to the dusty archives in patent offices (or company intellectual property offices) and reviewing what they have, to see if it old ideas are now possible. On the flip side we have to avoid squabbles over patents (the “Nortel patent wars” are just one example) – it’s much more preferable that something tangible is realised rather than arguing in a court of law.

Really it’s not just about the way we will do things but how we already do things today. Just because we worked out how to crack a nut with a sledge hammer doesn’t mean we shouldn’t go back and examine the original “nut cracker” invention to see if the material science allows us to accomplish the task more effectively and to greater benefit to society.

I’ll leave you with two questions:

  1. Which is the greatest invention that we’ve realised so far: the wheel; paper and the written word; the Internet; or something else?
  2. What idea that you have heard of is still to be realised in our World today? (“Beam me up Scotty”)