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Innovation and the Bell Labs Miracle - The New York Times

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As manufacturing has increasingly moved out of the United States in the past half century, it has likewise taken with it a whole ecosystem of industrial knowledge. But in the past, this knowledge tended to push Bell Labs toward new innovations. Kelly believed that freedom was crucial, especially in research. Some of his scientists had so much autonomy that he was mostly unaware of their progress until years after he authorized their work.

When he set up the team of researchers to work on what became the transistor, for instance, more than two years passed before the invention occurred. He told the engineer he was going to Europe in the meantime. In sum, he trusted people to create. And he trusted them to help one another create. But so was putting them into the everyday mix.

In an era before cubicles, all employees at Bell Labs were instructed to work with their doors open. Saddled with a difficult problem, a new hire there, an anxious nobody, was regularly directed by a supervisor toward the guy who wrote the book. Some young employees would quake when they were told to ask a question of famous mathematicians like Claude Shannon or legendary physicists like William Shockley.

Kelly talked fast and walked fast; he ran up and down staircases. But he gave his researchers not only freedom but also time. Lots of time — years to pursue what they felt was essential. Nobody had to meet benchmarks to help with quarterly earnings; nobody had to rush a product to market before the competition did.

But what should our pursuit of innovation actually accomplish? By one definition, innovation is an important new product or process, deployed on a large scale and having a significant impact on society and the economy, that can do a job as Mr. It can describe a smartphone app or a social media tool; or it can describe the transistor or the blueprint for a cellphone system.

The differences are immense. One type of innovation creates a handful of jobs and modest revenues; another, the type Mr. The conflation of these different kinds of innovations seems to be leading us toward a belief that small groups of profit-seeking entrepreneurs turning out innovative consumer products are as effective as our innovative forebears.

History does not support this belief. The teams at Bell Labs that invented the laser, transistor and solar cell were not seeking profits. They were seeking understanding. Yet in the process they created not only new products but entirely new — and lucrative — industries. And it would be absurd to return to an era of big monopolies. But to consider the legacy of Bell Labs is to see that we should not mistake small technological steps for huge technological leaps.

Perhaps it is not even the best way. Revolutions happen fast but dawn slowly. The cover photograph last Sunday with an opinion essay about Bell Labs and its contributions to scientific and technological innovation was published in error. The photograph had been incorrectly labeled in the studio of the photographer, Elliott Erwitt. Also, a timeline with the essay incorrectly attributed a distinction to Bell Labs, based on information from the Web site of its corporate successor, Alcatel-Lucent.

In , Bell Labs gave the first demonstration of long-distance transmission of three-channel high-fidelity stereo sound — not the first transmission of stereo sound. Tell us what you think. Please upgrade your browser.

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You are already subscribed to this email. Correction: March 4, The cover photograph last Sunday with an opinion essay about Bell Labs and its contributions to scientific and technological innovation was published in error. In , Bell constructed a new building close by at 35th Street N. After the invention of the telephone, Bell maintained a relatively distant role with the Bell System as a whole, but continued to pursue his own personal research interests.

Bell Telephone Company, the first telephone company, was formed a year later. It later became a part of the American Bell Telephone Company. This included everything from telephones , telephone exchange switches, and transmission equipment.

In , Bell Laboratories was developed to better consolidate the research activities of the Bell System. The first president of research at Bell Labs was Frank B. Jewett who stayed there until By the early s, Bell Labs engineers and scientists had begun to move to other locations away from the congestion and environmental distractions of New York City, and in Bell Laboratories headquarters was officially relocated to Murray Hill, New Jersey.

Of these, Murray Hill and Crawford Hill remain in existence the Piscataway and Red Bank locations were transferred to and are now operated by Telcordia Technologies and the Whippany site was purchased by Bayer [15]. The largest grouping of people in the company was in Illinois , at Naperville - Lisle , in the Chicago area, which had the largest concentration of employees about 11, prior to Since , many of the former locations have been scaled down or closed.

The Holmdel site , a 1. The mirrored-glass building was designed by Eero Saarinen. In August , Somerset Development bought the building, intending to redevelop it into a mixed commercial and residential project. A article expressed doubt on the success of the newly named Bell Works site [16] however several large tenants had announced plans to move in through and [17] [18].

In , the laboratories invented an early example synchronous-sound motion picture system, in competition with Fox Movietone and DeForest Phonofilm. In , Bell Labs physicist Walter A. Shewhart proposed the control chart as a method to determine when a process was in a state of statistical control. Shewhart's methods were the basis for statistical process control SPC : the use of statistically based tools and techniques to manage and improve processes.

This was the origin of the modern quality movement, including Six Sigma. In , a Bell team headed by Herbert E. Ives successfully transmitted long-distance line television images of Secretary of Commerce Herbert Hoover from Washington to New York. In the thermal noise in a resistor was first measured by John B. Johnson , and Harry Nyquist provided the theoretical analysis; this is now termed Johnson noise.

During the s, the one-time pad cipher was invented by Gilbert Vernam and Joseph Mauborgne at the laboratories. Bell Labs' Claude Shannon later proved that it is unbreakable. In , a foundation for radio astronomy was laid by Karl Jansky during his work investigating the origins of static on long-distance shortwave communications. He discovered that radio waves were being emitted from the center of the galaxy.

In and , experimental high fidelity, long playing, and even stereophonic recordings were made by the labs of the Philadelphia Orchestra , conducted by Leopold Stokowski. In , the vocoder , an electronic speech compression device, or codec, and the Voder , the first electronic speech synthesizer , were developed and demonstrated by Homer Dudley , the Voder being demonstrated at the New York World's Fair.

Bell researcher Clinton Davisson shared the Nobel Prize in Physics with George Paget Thomson for the discovery of electron diffraction , which helped lay the foundation for solid-state electronics. In the early s, the photovoltaic cell was developed by Russell Ohl. The British wartime codebreaker Alan Turing visited the labs at this time, working on speech encryption and meeting Claude Shannon.

Shewhart , W. Edwards Deming , Harold F. Dodge , George D. Edwards , Harry Romig, R. Jones, Paul Olmstead, E. Paterson, and Mary N. In , the transistor , probably the most important invention developed by Bell Laboratories, was invented by John Bardeen , Walter Houser Brattain , and William Bradford Shockley and who subsequently shared the Nobel Prize in Physics in In , Richard Hamming invented Hamming codes for error detection and correction.

For patent reasons, the result was not published until It built in part on earlier work in the field by Bell researchers Harry Nyquist and Ralph Hartley , but it greatly extended these. Bell Labs also introduced a series of increasingly complex calculators through the decade. Shannon was also the founder of modern cryptography with his paper Communication Theory of Secrecy Systems.

In , William Gardner Pfann revealed the method of zone melting which enabled semiconductor purification and level doping. The s also saw developmental activity based upon information theory. The central development was binary code systems.

Efforts concentrated more precisely on the Laboratories' prime mission of supporting the Bell System with engineering advances including N-carrier, TD Microwave radio relay , Direct Distance Dialing , E- repeaters , Wire spring relays , and improved switching systems. Maurice Karnaugh, in , developed the Karnaugh map as a tool to facilitate management of Boolean algebraic expressions.

In , the first modern solar cell was invented at Bell Laboratories. New greedy algorithms developed by Robert C. Prim and Joseph Kruskal , revolutionized computer network design. In , the laser was first described, in a technical paper by Arthur Schawlow and Charles Hard Townes. In December , Ali Javan and his associates William Bennett and Donald Heriot successfully operated the first gas laser , the first continuous-light laser, operating at an unprecedented accuracy and color purity.

In , the electret microphone was invented by Gerhard M. Sessler and James Edward Maceo West. Also in , John R. Pierce 's vision of communications satellites was realized by the launch of Telstar. In , the Carbon dioxide laser was invented by Kumar Patel. In , Penzias and Wilson discovered the cosmic microwave background , for which they were awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics in Frank W.

Sinden, Edward E. Zajac, Kenneth C. Knowlton, and A. Michael Noll made computer-animated movies during the early to mids. Ken C. The first digital computer art was created in by Noll. In , Orthogonal frequency-division multiplexing OFDM , a key technology in wireless services, was developed and patented by R.

In , Molecular beam epitaxy was developed by J. Arthur and A. Cho ; molecular beam epitaxy allows semiconductor chips and laser matrices to be manufactured one atomic layer at a time. In , Dennis Ritchie and Ken Thompson created the computer operating system UNIX for the support of telecommunication switching systems as well as general purpose computing.

From to , Aaron Marcus , the first graphic designer involved with computer graphics, researched, designed, and programmed a prototype interactive page-layout system for the Picturephone. Smith , for which they were awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics in The s and s saw more and more computer-related inventions at the Bell Laboratories as part of the personal computing revolution.

In , Dennis Ritchie developed the compiled programming language C as a replacement for the interpreted language B which was then used in a worse is better rewrite of UNIX. In , A. Michael Noll invented a tactile, force-feedback system, coupled with interactive stereoscopic computer display. In , an improved task priority system for computerized telephone exchange switching systems for telephone traffic was invented by Erna Schneider Hoover , who received one of the first software patents for it.

In , Optical fiber systems were first tested in Georgia and in , the first single-chip bit microprocessor , the Bellmac 32 A was demonstrated. It went into production in This technology evolution dramatically reduced floor space needs. The new ESS also came with its own diagnostic software that needed only a switchman and several frame technicians to maintain.

Laughlin and Daniel C. Tsui ; they consequently won a Nobel Prize in for the discovery. In , the first photoconductive antennas for picosecond electromagnetic radiation were demonstrated by Auston and others. This type of antenna became an important component in terahertz time-domain spectroscopy.

In , Karmarkar's algorithm for linear programming was developed by mathematician Narendra Karmarkar. Bell Telephone Laboratories, Inc. The 5ESS Switch was developed during this transition. In , laser cooling was used to slow and manipulate atoms by Steven Chu and team. Gay and Brian Kernighan at Bell Laboratories.

Also in , Bell Laboratories was awarded the National Medal of Technology "For contribution over decades to modern communication systems". Also, the Radiodrum , an electronic music instrument played in three space dimensions was invented. In , TAT-8 became the first transatlantic fiber-optic cable. Bell Labs in Freehold, NJ developed the 1. Arthur Ashkin invented optical tweezers that grab particles, atoms, viruses and other living cells with their laser beam fingers.

A major breakthrough came in , when Ashkin used the tweezers to capture living bacteria without harming them. He immediately began studying biological systems and optical tweezers are now widely used to investigate the machinery of life. In , the quantum cascade laser was invented by Federico Capasso , Alfred Cho , Jerome Faist and their collaborators. Also in , Peter Shor devised his quantum factorization algorithm.

The operating system Inferno , an update of Plan 9, was created by Dennis Ritchie with others, using the then-new concurrent programming language Limbo. A high performance database engine Dali was developed which became DataBlitz in its product form. In , the smallest then-practical transistor 60 nanometers , atoms wide was built. In , the first optical router was invented.

It was the first known case of fraud at Bell Labs. In , Jeong H. On 1 December , the merged company, Alcatel-Lucent , began operations. This deal raised concerns in the United States, where Bell Laboratories works on defense contracts. In December , it was announced that the former Lucent Bell Laboratories and the former Alcatel Research and Innovation would be merged into one organization under the name of Bell Laboratories.

This is the first period of growth following many years during which Bell Laboratories progressively lost manpower due to layoffs and spin-offs making the company shut down for a short period of time. As of July , however, only four scientists remained in physics research, according to a report by the scientific journal Nature.

On 28 August , Alcatel-Lucent announced it was pulling out of basic science, material physics, and semiconductor research, and it will instead focus on more immediately marketable areas, including networking, high-speed electronics, wireless networks, nanotechnology and software. His stated charter was to return Bell Labs to the forefront of innovation in Information and communications technology by focusing on solving the key industry challenges, as was the case in the great Bell Labs innovation eras in the past.

In , Eric Betzig shared the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for his work in super-resolved fluorescence microscopy which he began pursuing while at Bell Labs in the Semiconductor Physics Research Department. In , Arthur Ashkin shared the Nobel Prize in Physics for his work on "the optical tweezers and their application to biological systems" [35] which was developed at Bell Labs in s.

The Turing Award has been won four times by Bell Labs researchers. The Murray Hill campus features a square foot exhibit, the Bell Labs Technology Showcase, showcasing the technological discoveries and developments at Bell Labs. The exhibit is located just off the main lobby and is open to the public.

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. This section needs additional citations for verification. Please help improve this article by adding citations to reliable sources. Unsourced material may be challenged and removed. Bell Laboratories logo, used from until American Institute of Physics.

Retrieved 9 June Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis. Retrieved January 2, Bell: Alexander Bell and the Conquest of Solitude. National Historic Landmark summary listing. National Park Service. Archived from the original on Retrieved Washington D.

Archived from the original on 12 May Alexander Graham Bell, A Life. The Telephone Enterprise. Nokia Bell Labs. Bell Labs Reporter. The Idea Factory. New York: The Penguin Press. Manufacturing the Future. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Bayer buys Alcatel-Lucent site in Hanover Twp". The Hanover Eagle. Retrieved 21 May The New York Times.

Retrieved September 29, July 10, Retrieved October 10, April 10, The Turing Guide.

Serving as the global headquarters of Bell Labs, the Murray Hill complex occupies acres in central New Jersey, within easy access of international airports. Bell-labs - Found 10k + Employees, 1 Phone Numbers and 0 Emails. Bell Labs company research & investing information. Find executives and the latest company news.

Other subsidiaries Manufacturing Western Electric. Coaxial cable Fiber-optic communication Optical fiber Free-space optical communication Molecular communication Radio waves Transmission line. Received the Turing Award jointly with Robert Tarjan in for fundamental achievements in the design and analysis of algorithms and data structures. American Telephone and Telegraph Company.

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