Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Urban legends at the Volokh Conspiracy

In a post titled The Perils of Technology Predictions, Jonathan H. Adler gives his favorite "worst" prediction:

My favorite: “Television won’t be able to hold on to any market it captures after the first six months. People will soon get tired of staring at a plywood box every night,” Darryl Zanuck, 20th Century Fox, 1946.

Of course, that is a "market reception" prediction, not a technology prediction, given by someone with a vested interest, to boot.

Buried within the comment thread, one has

Oh, duh; it was in the article:
This end-of-progress view has been echoed many times, including by Charles Duell, commissioner for the U.S. Patent Office, who in 1899 said, “Everything that can be invented has already been invented.”

But, later

Ken Arromdee says:

The patent office quote is an urban legend.

**No one in the thread mentioned Lord Kelvin's statement that heavier-than-air flight was impossible. That would be an example of a bad technology prediction.

**Another bad "prediction" would be Edison's preference for DC over AC current. Late in his life, Edison said, in looking back, that the biggest mistake he had made was that he never respected Tesla or his work

**Separately, in the beginning of the movie "The Bucket List," there is a statement to the effect that the Supreme Court held in 1943 that Tesla, not Marconi, invented the concept of radio.

Within the Supreme Court opinion:

The Tesla patent No. 645,576, applied for September 2, 1897 and allowed March 20, 1900, disclosed a four-circuit system, having two circuits each at transmitter and receiver, and recommended that all four circuits be tuned to the same frequency. [... He] recognized that his apparatus could, without change, be used for wireless communication, which is dependent upon the transmission of electrical energy.

The priority date for the British Marconi patent was June 2, 1896, but, in a "first-to-invent" country like the United States, that does NOT resolve the question of "who the inventor of radio" is:

"It is well established that as between two inventors priority of invention will be awarded to the one who by satisfying proof can show that he first conceived of the invention."

The Supreme Court, in 320 US 1, did not resolve the question of "who invented the radio."

[refer to Invention of radio, but note the inconsistent wikipedia post: Tesla died of heart failure alone in room 3327 of the New Yorker Hotel, on 7 January 1943.[100] Despite having sold his AC electricity patents, Tesla died with significant debts on the books. Later that year the US Supreme Court upheld Tesla's patent number 645576,[101] in effect recognizing him as the inventor of radio.]


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