Inventing Something New
Sometimes I think about what it would have been like to be born hundreds or thousands of years ago, when so much of our taken-for-granted world was yet-to-be-invented.
Would you have been able to grasp the concept of gravity? The number zero? Basic geometry? What would it have taken for such a breakthrough?
Up until the late 19th century, technology seems to have advanced quite slowly. Innovations where largely physical and each new scientific consideration could create thousands of new products or technologies. From my (admittedly limited) perspective, improvements were few and far between.
It’s long baffled me that innovation and invention have accelerated so fast since then. We had the 1870s discovering the telephone and alternating current. Within 30 years, we had the radio, automobile, airplane, submarine, photography, and dozens of other huge improvements. How many things were invented between 440 A.D. and 470 A.D.?
Now flash forward to 1970: what major inventions have happened since then? TONS! You can see from this Wikipedia Timeline of Invention that the last century has competed with most any other period from our past.
So why is it so hard to invent something new? Because new creations require a substantial knowledge of the current technology, a process for developing and testing your work, and the resources to make it happen. Invention isn’t necessarily an epiphany: it’s a slow trudge through failure to find success.
Grad school is a great place to start inventing: you’re acquiring the knowledge, have access to tremendous tools, and a funded Ph.D. program will pay you to do it. It’s not a perfect scenario, but it’s an opportunity that’s hard to find elsewhere.
This line of thinking inevitably leads me to the future; what might be invented in the next 5, 10, 50, or 100 years? And what can I contribute?