Thursday, August 11, 2011

The Thursday Quote - Tim Wu

"This is also why, for example, AT&T never invented the Internet, even though it clearly had the chance."
Bell Labs and Centralized Innovation by Tim Wu, from Communications of the ACM May 2011

Do you remember the first automatic telephone answering machines that used magnetic recording tape? They hit the market when? Sometime in the 1980's, right?

What if I told you that AT&T had an operational prototype up and running and being used by an employee back in 1935?

You did not know that, did you? Here's why...
"AT&T firmly believed magnetic tape and the telephone were fundamentally incompatible technologies. The widespread usage of magnetic recording technology, AT&T believed, would lead Americans to abandon the telephone."
Here's the "AT&T never invented the Internet" quote in a wider context:

Centralized systems of innovation are excellent for certain types of research. Yet they also have, as it were, one fatal flaw, one that we can see clearly in the story of AT&T and its Bell Labs. Yes, Bell Labs was great. But at the same time, Bell Labs was never a place that could originate technologies that could, by the remotest possibility, threaten the Bell system itself. The truly disruptive technologies—those that might even cast a shadow of uncertainty over the business model—were out of the question.

This is also why, for example, AT&T never invented the Internet, even though it clearly had the chance. In the 1960s, men like scientist Paul Baran spent years trying to convince AT&T that packet-switching technologies were a step forward that would improve the network, but AT&T regarded the idea as preposterous. "Their attitude," Baran said in a later interview "was that they knew everything and nobody outside the Bell System knew anything. So here some idiot comes along and talks about something being very simple, who obviously doesn't know how the system works."

Next week: Hagoogle

1 comment:

tom s. said...

Tim Wu's book "The Master Switch" is a good read, and it makes me very nervous about the future of the internet, as some of the big players start to close things down and consolidate the hold they have.

And your blog is getting more and more interesting. Fine work Breck.