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Communications Technology

BlackBerry Predicted a Century Ago By Nikola Tesla 253

Posted by CmdrTaco
from the and-he-looks-like-david-bowie dept.
andylim writes "According to the Telegraph, the BlackBerry was first predicted more than a century ago, by Nikola Tesla, the electrical engineer. Seth Porges, Popular Mechanics' current technology editor, disclosed Tesla's prediction at a presentation, titled '108 Years of Futurism,' to industry figures recently in New York. Recombu.com has published the original Popular Mechanics article in which Tesla predicts a mobile phone revolution."
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BlackBerry Predicted a Century Ago By Nikola Tesla

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday May 04, 2010 @08:55AM (#32083720)

    Tesla was a freakin genius.

    Our entire modern world wouldnt exist without him. And he never got any credit while he was alive.

    Hell, theres STILL stuff he came up with that we have no understanding of. Yet.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday May 04, 2010 @08:58AM (#32083744)

    So the guy predicted text messaging. Impressive. But why does everything have to be a product placement nowadays?

    This case is especially stupid, since what really enables worldwide access to messaging are $20 phones.

  • Blackberry? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by whisper_jeff (680366) on Tuesday May 04, 2010 @08:59AM (#32083748)
    Not sure why this article claims he predicted the Blackberry. Maybe he predicted the iPhone. Or the Droid. Or just the generic cellphone. Or the walkie-talkie. It's nice that Blackberry is getting some face time but I don't really see the necessity to focus the article on a specific brand rather than the entire product category...
  • Blackberry Advert (Score:4, Insightful)

    by tom17 (659054) on Tuesday May 04, 2010 @09:01AM (#32083758) Homepage
    Pure Blackberry advertising to increase usage in the UK. Why should they correlate "possible to transmit wireless messages all over the world." with the BB and not, say, any phone since the mid 90's?

    Tom
  • by Abstrackt (609015) on Tuesday May 04, 2010 @09:04AM (#32083780)

    Way back in the day when I was in high school I heard Tesla predicted the Internet, using exactly that quote. There's no arguing that Tesla did a lot of amazing things but he's no technological Nostradamus, no matter how much people try to shoehorn him into the role.

  • by dave420 (699308) on Tuesday May 04, 2010 @09:07AM (#32083820)
    ... Stuff he completely refused to document or explain, making it perfectly indistinguishable from the rantings of once-great scientist who has slipped into mediocrity, or even insanity. It's strange how you think the 'stuff' he came up with, that you don't understand, is somehow noteworthy. Surely that is irrational, as you don't know what it is. It's as if you are worshipping at the altar of Tesla. You're not a conspiracy theorist, are you?
  • by Jurily (900488) <[jurily] [at] [gmail.com]> on Tuesday May 04, 2010 @09:07AM (#32083824)

    Actually, Tesla was talking about the Nokia N900, but the submitter never heard about that one.

  • by dave420 (699308) on Tuesday May 04, 2010 @09:09AM (#32083846)
    The real kicker is BlackBerry devices, and your aforementioned "any phone since the mid 90s", can't do that. Only satellite phones can do that, and I'm pretty sure RIM don't make those.
  • by SanityInAnarchy (655584) <ninja@slaphack.com> on Tuesday May 04, 2010 @09:28AM (#32084036) Journal

    Hell, theres STILL stuff he came up with that we have no understanding of. Yet.

    That stuff is either genius or failed experiments. How would you know the difference?

    Note that this article predicts both the Internet and wireless technology, but with no mention of the digital aspects. It also predicts wireless power, such that a ship could be sent across the Atlantic, powered by a single wireless power station on one side. It predicted all of this would happen in something like 5 years.

    So he was wrong about how long it would take, and he threw out at least one other idea in that article that we haven't seen happen, and have no evidence can happen.

    I like Tesla as much as anyone else, but I'm not sure how to call this one. Fuzzy, at best. I think Orwell had it closer.

  • by realityimpaired (1668397) on Tuesday May 04, 2010 @09:34AM (#32084088)

    (And I have to say, is predicting a device really that special? Communication devices already existed, and this just said, one day they'll be smaller and mobile. I'm going to predict that in the future we'll have faster computers, and they'll be smaller too.)

    You're forgetting that he said it in a day and age where most people simply didn't have a telephone line at all, and if they did have one, they usually had a party line that they shared with their neighbours. Not only did he predict that communications devices would be smaller and mobile, he also said that everybody would have one, and that they'd be networked globally. That's a fairly big leap, and while you can argue in hindsight that the writing was on the wall, it's akin to predicting netbooks in 1943.

    And there's a few things that Tesla got wrong in his prediction... he said that it would be possible and easy for a single tower to control millions of devices from thousands of miles away. In reality there's millions of cell towers in the world, and each may have a few thousand phones on it at a maximum. There's a few orders of magnitude difference there.

  • by d3ac0n (715594) on Tuesday May 04, 2010 @09:58AM (#32084362)

    And there's a few things that Tesla got wrong in his prediction... he said that it would be possible and easy for a single tower to control millions of devices from thousands of miles away. In reality there's millions of cell towers in the world, and each may have a few thousand phones on it at a maximum. There's a few orders of magnitude difference there.

    Can you really say he got it wrong though? Also note that he was talking about devices "no bigger than a wristwatch". My Palm Pre is significantly larger than a wristwatch, as are ALL mobile phones, smart or otherwise.

    Perhaps it is more correct to say that his vision hasn't been fully fulfilled yet, but that we are, for the first time, able to fully comprehend what he was talking about.

  • by Lumpy (12016) on Tuesday May 04, 2010 @10:05AM (#32084450) Homepage

    Any persons predictions will come to fruition if given enough time.

    I predict the world will end in a fiery death. And I am right, simply wait around a few billion years to witness the sun eating our planet.

    Predictions of flying cars will come to life the second that they can perfect the auto flying system. Because everyones worse nightmare is the current crop of idiots on our highways, piloting a "flying car" in 3 dimensions.

  • Partially right (Score:2, Insightful)

    by OneAhead (1495535) on Tuesday May 04, 2010 @10:08AM (#32084484)

    Reading the New York Times column as reproduced on recombu.com, it seems that Mr. Tesla was more interested in the wireless transmission of power, and that he saw the wireless transmission of speech, pictures and other data as a trivial side-effect. His article implicitly seem to address the question: how to give a handheld device enough power so that it can transmit radio signals that have a practical range, and his answer is wirelessly transmitted power. This is somewhat ironic because his obsession with wireless power transmission is what caused friction with his financiers and made him be in debt for most of his later life. His wireless power transmission plans were never realized in a practical way; nowadays, people would find them laughable because they would incur enormous transmission losses and there would be concerns about the health effect of having ultra-high-intensity radio waves all over the place. And even without the technical hurdles, it would be hard to force people to pay for the power they use... Powering handheld communication devices was ultimately made possible possible by advances in battery technology, energy-efficient electronics, and sensitive receiving stations placed at a very high geographic density (aka. cellular networks), reducing the powered needed to transmit signals. That said, there are some contemporary applications of wireless transmission of power, but most of them are low-power short-range, or use different technologies than the ones proposed by Tesla. The most interesting ones are devices that dissipate stray radio waves to prolong their own battery life; I believe Nokia has been toying with this technology. Tesla did predict something in those lines, although he envisaged using natural sources of radio waves.

    Of course, the incorrect parts of Tesla's prediction doesn't make the correct part any less impressive.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday May 04, 2010 @10:29AM (#32084810)

    I think Ericsson and Siemens also deserve a lot of credit.

  • by QuantumLeaper (607189) on Tuesday May 04, 2010 @11:39AM (#32085990) Journal
    It was stolen, since Alan Kay will always be a researcher who would rather have his innovations used. Alan Kay used to work for Apple and told Steve his he should increase the size of the iTouch and could rule the world. The Apple Newton could be consider a Dynabook v1, with the iTouch being v2 and the iPad being version 3 of Alan's dream computer. Also after Alan left Xerox Parc, he went to work for Apple in 1994, he is currently heading the institute he founded.
    Here is Alan's view on the iPad... http://www.tomshardware.com/news/alan-kay-steve-jobs-ipad-iphone,10209.html [tomshardware.com]
  • by Bing Tsher E (943915) on Tuesday May 04, 2010 @12:00PM (#32086296) Journal

    Edison invented the modern Research and Development lab.

    And he was very successful in commercializing his invention.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday May 04, 2010 @12:05PM (#32086384)

    His prediction was for central switching stations

    Which basically accurately describes the idea of the radio telephone--a telephone with some connection over radio, but switched at a central station, i.e. like phone service of the time. Early taxi-cab radio systems worked similarly, except frequencies were manually switched by the operator. Automatic cellular handover would be the next logical step....

    He may have indeed realized this, but dummed it down for the audience of 1909 Popular Mechanics. In the same few paragraphs, he also predicts the idea of radio facsimile--an idea not realized until almost 15 years after the article.

  • Stupid Humans (Score:3, Insightful)

    by morgauxo (974071) on Tuesday May 04, 2010 @01:04PM (#32087528)
    It's not just that the tendancy to worship someone. There's that that tendancy to choose a devil as well. It's human nature to always find a good vs evil struggle in something. Tesla and Edison both contributed greatly to the technological world we enjoy today. Yes, Tesla was a little insane. Yes, Edison was a businessman. Yes, they didn't like each other. They still both made great contributions. Without them progress would have been delayed. Someone would no doubt have made their discoveries but it would have been some time later. I couldn't say if it would be a long or short time but given most major inventions and discoveries in history have at least a little controversy as to who was actually first my bets are on shorter. Still, the other discoveries and inventions which built on there's would also be delayed. We would probably be living in a world equivalent to 1 to 3 decades in the past.
  • Not only did J.P. Morgan suppress Tesla's most revolutionary work (by halting the flow of money)...

    That's like saying the lead investor suppressed Pets.com by halting the flow of money to it.

  • by Mindcontrolled (1388007) on Tuesday May 04, 2010 @01:50PM (#32088238)
    Come on... Ours is a welcoming creed, this is just to show that even the hillbillies are welcome! Seriously, I am making a weak joke there - do I need the olde english nazis on my arse for that? It's not even my first language. Relax and bask in the sparking glory of St. Tesla!
  • by iwbcman (603788) on Tuesday May 04, 2010 @03:30PM (#32089636) Homepage
    After having read about Tesla's demoing of remote controlled(wireless) submarine which used digital logic for navigation at he 1896 World Fair in Chicago(IIRC), I went to the head of the Physics department at the University of Louisville(circa '89), to ask him what he thought about Tesla's contributions. The man looked at me with a straight face and declared that Tesla was a raving lunatic who had contributed nothing. That day I dropped out of my Electrical Engineering major. I figured that if the supposedly brightest minds in our department were a) so utterly ignorant b) so obnoxiously arrogant and c) whose imaginative capacities were dwarfed by common ants, that I had nothing to learn from them. Haven't looked back once in all the years.

    It would not be utterly misguided to view the history of electrical engineering in the last 100 years as the attempt to document and render reproducible that which Tesla intuitively grasped and understood.

    I didn't bother mentioning to the man that if it wasn't for that raving lunatic who had contributed nothing that he would a) be working in a room powered by candlelight or b) that we would have DC power generators on every city block providing electricity .....At the rate we are going we will still need another 100 years to catch up to where Tesla was 100 years ago....He managed to pull these things off *without* a body of knowledge composed by millions of people working together, around the world, for the last 100 years-without modern theories, without modern equipment, without decent funding, etc.

    And our geniuses of today nitpick and dismiss what Tesla did, because we are oh so much smarter nowadays, give me a friggin break...

  • by Attila Dimedici (1036002) on Tuesday May 04, 2010 @05:58PM (#32091530)

    Wow, the number of distractive (e.g. straw-man) fallacies in that little comment, is astonishing. ^^

    He specifically talks about handheld devices “not bigger than a [wrist]watch“ (last paragraph of the first column), used for communication. Which is exactly what mobile phones are. The BlackBerry that was stated in the title of the /. story, is a mobile phone. QED.

    Really, I didn't realize that Blackberrys could be used as communication devices when they were thousands of miles from the nearest cell tower (which he also talks about in the article).

  • by AK Marc (707885) on Tuesday May 04, 2010 @08:42PM (#32092880)
    The man looked at me with a straight face and declared that Tesla was a raving lunatic who had contributed nothing.

    And he was right.

    That day I dropped out of my Electrical Engineering major. I figured that if the supposedly brightest minds in our department were a) so utterly ignorant b) so obnoxiously arrogant and c) whose imaginative capacities were dwarfed by common ants, that I had nothing to learn from them.

    Yes, you were smarter as a freshman than the sum of all the professors in your college. At least you and Tesla had something in common.

    He had patents on things that couldn't see use for 50+ years. He worked on things to commercially unviable that he died a pauper with no one willing to fund anything he did. The only lasting contribution is a crap character to insert in movies like The Prestige and alternating current (though use of AC predated Tesla, his improvement of the application of it catapulted it ahead). All the rest is myth and failed (either scientifically or commercially) experiments.

    When the world is united under one socialist government (like, say, the Federation from Star Trek) then we'll dust off his wireless power distribution where no one can ever be metered and it's available everywhere. It works great, but it costs to make it work, and you can't tell who's using it, so it has to be done pretty much at a global socialized scale. And despite the ravings of the Tesla nutjobs, it's well understood tech that just hasn't had a lot of research because it's so obviously uncommercial.

    That Tesla put his curiosity above the ability to put food on his plate is what the nutters cling to showing his greatness. Everyone else on the planet points to it as the reason he became irrelevant.

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