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Technological Genius Is Timeliness, Not Inspiration 255

Posted by Soulskill
from the better-to-be-lucky-than-good dept.
Hugh Pickens writes "Ezra Klein has an interesting essay in the Washington Post about 'simultaneous invention,' where technology advances to the point that the next step is obvious to multiple people at once, and so they all push forward with the same or similar inventions. While the natural capabilities of human beings don't change much from year to year, their environments do, and so does the technology and store of knowledge they can access. 'The idea of the lone genius who has the eureka moment where they suddenly get a great idea that changes the world is not just the exception,' says Steven Johnson, author of Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation, 'but almost nonexistent.' Consider Adam Goldberg's CU Community, created in 2003 at Columbia University, a social network that launched first and had cooler features than Facebook, with options for pictures and integrated blogging software. Klein writes, 'Zuckerberg's dominance can be attributed partly to the clean interface of his site, partly to the cachet of the Harvard name and partly to luck. But the difference between Mark Zuckerberg and Adam Goldberg was very small, while the difference between what Mark Zuckerberg could do and what the smartest college kid in 1999 could do was huge. It was the commons supporting them both that really mattered.'"
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Technological Genius Is Timeliness, Not Inspiration

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  • Obvious corollary (Score:5, Insightful)

    by grantek (979387) on Monday October 11, 2010 @07:45PM (#33864494)

    This is one of the reasons software patents are stupid, why patent trolls exist, and why the patent system in general needs cutting down.

    • by rolfwind (528248) on Monday October 11, 2010 @08:14PM (#33864738)

      Patent trolls exist because we went from owning implementations to owning ideas. What if Thomas Edison went through 10,000 different materials for filaments just to find the right one and then ran against some patent troll who said "Give me $$$, I own the idea of a filament!!!" Most ideas aren't very useful when run up against initial reality, it's the work done to overcome those obstacles that is useful.

      The patent office tries to act almost like a branch of zoology, except instead of classifying and categorizing animals, they do it with ideas. And they just aren't very good at it and the government never will be with centralized planning of this sort. IMO, the more advanced society gets, the more obvious the 18th/19th century character of the patent office becomes and that it's not sustainable. It may be like keeping the booster rockets attached to the shuttle of society, long after it cease helping us get off the ground.

      • It could work. (Score:5, Insightful)

        by khasim (1285) <brandioch.conner@gmail.com> on Monday October 11, 2010 @08:20PM (#33864774)

        But the patent office would have to require a WORKING prototype of whatever you're trying to patent.

        The biggest problem is that the patent office will now accept patent applications for items that do not exist. This allows companies to block other inventors by having a patent filed prior to the inventor inventing the invention.

        • by sjames (1099)

          It used to, and it still should.

          I can understand that somethings need protection while investors pool funds to actually build a thing, so perhaps the working model should be deferred for a short time BUT until you produce one, you can't go to court and if you don't produce one by the deadline, the patent officially never existed. In the case of software, that deadline should be QUITE short since there is little capital investment needed to at least demo the concept.

          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by PopeRatzo (965947) *

            I can understand that somethings need protection while investors pool funds to actually build a thing

            Why do you believe that?

            • by sjames (1099)

              I'm mostly acknowledging a potential objection. Honestly, for example if someone wanted to demonstrate a new confinement method for hot fusion I could imagine it might cost more than $10 to get a working prototype together.

      • by zQuo (1050152) on Tuesday October 12, 2010 @01:55AM (#33866502)
        Yes, implementations are where the hard work is. The idea is worth very little (unless one patents the idea and tries to sue everyone who wants to make something).

        Software copyright already gives plenty of protection and it protects only implementations of an idea. The Phoenix BIOS that overthrew IBM's monopoly of the PC and allowed PC clones to exist (to everyone's benefit) had to surmount copyright protections only, and Phoenix had to spend *a lot* of money to surmount copyright. This is from wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phoenix_BIOS [wikipedia.org]

        With the success of the IBM PC in 1983, Phoenix decided to provide an IBM PC compatible ROM BIOS to the PC market. A licensable ROM BIOS would allow clone PC manufacturers to run the same applications, and even the MS-DOS that was being used by IBM. However, to do this Phoenix needed a strategy for defense against IBM copyright infringement lawsuits. IBM would claim that the Phoenix programmers had copied parts of the IBM BIOS code published by IBM in its Technical Reference manuals.[citation needed] Due to the nature of low-level programming two well-written pieces of code that perform the same function there will inevitably be some degree of similarity. As such it would be impossible for Phoenix to defend itself on the grounds that no part of its BIOS matched IBM's. Phoenix developed a "clean room" technique that isolated the engineers who had been contaminated by reading the IBM source listings in the IBM Technical Reference Manuals. The contaminated engineers wrote specifications for the BIOS APIs and provided the specifications to "clean" engineers who had not been exposed to IBM BIOS source code. Those "clean" engineers developed code from scratch to mimic the BIOS APIs. This technique provided Phoenix with a defensibly non-infringing IBM PC-compatible ROM BIOS. Because the programmers who wrote the Phoenix code had never read IBM's reference manuals, nothing they wrote could have been copied from IBM's code, no matter how closely the two matched.[4] The first Phoenix PC ROM BIOS was introduced in May, 1984, and helped fuel the growth in the PC industry.

        If we had software patents back then, all the new PC's Macs, Amigas, etc. , almost any device that used BIOS-like ideas would have been stillborn; we'd just have really awful clunky PC's made by IBM for a really long time. Implementations of software are already protected by copyright. Software patents patent the idea; ideas are easy to come by. They prevent competing implementations of an idea, where the real hard work is. A software patent will prevent *any* implementation of the idea, if the patent holder is lazy

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by mcgrew (92797) *

        Patent trolls exist because we went from owning implementations to owning ideas.

        No, you neither own an idea or an implimentation. You have a 20 year monopoly on it, not ownership. If you own something you own it until you sell it, give it away, or it gets stolen.

    • by NFN_NLN (633283) on Monday October 11, 2010 @08:56PM (#33865060)

      This is one of the reasons software patents are stupid, why patent trolls exist, and why the patent system in general needs cutting down.

      Your point is valid but I think it transcends software patents. Some patents, inventions or discoveries are simply a product of timing as the article suggests, and they aren't limited to software patents, or even patents.

      A classic example would be the two of the biggest game changers in thinking, and both were co-discovered. Of all the times in history for these ideas to come about, they came about simultaneously from multiple sources:

      Calculus: Leibniz and Newton
      Evolution: Charles Darwin and Alfred Russel Wallace

      Also...
      Using laser pointers to amuse cats: Patent 5443036 and anyone who has ever seen a cat and laser pointer

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        Dear god that is an actual patent...

        • by HungryHobo (1314109) on Tuesday October 12, 2010 @06:15AM (#33867492)

          I googled it too... my god.

          I thought the patent system had some worth... had something redeeming quality.... until I read that.

          Primary Examiner:Manahan, Todd E. should be fired, then tarred and feathered.

          "A method for inducing cats to exercise consists of directing a beam of invisible light produced by a hand-held laser apparatus onto the floor or wall or other opaque surface in the vicinity of the cat, then moving the laser so as to cause the bright pattern of light to move in an irregular way fascinating to cats, and to any other animal with a chase instinct. "

          And no. people love to claim that the abstract isn't a big deal, that the claims section has the real material but no. just no.

          Claims:What is claimed is:

          1. A method of inducing aerobic exercise in an unrestrained cat comprising the steps of:
          (a) directing an intense coherent beam of invisible light produced by a hand-held laser apparatus to produce a bright highly-focused pattern of light at the intersection of the beam and an opaque surface, said pattern being of visual interest to a cat; and

          (b) selectively redirecting said beam out of the cat's immediate reach to induce said cat to run and chase said beam and pattern of light around an exercise area.

          2. The method of claim 1 wherein said bright pattern of light is small in area relative to a paw of the cat.

          3. The method of claim 1 wherein said beam remains invisible between said laser and said opaque surface until impinging on said opaque surface.

          4. The method of claim 1 wherein step (b) includes sweeping said beam at an angular speed to cause said pattern to move along said opaque surface at a speed in the range of five to twenty-five feet per second.

          Description:BACKGROUND OF THE INVENTION

          1. Technical Field

          The present invention relates to recreational and amusement devices for domestic animals and, more particularly, to a method for exercising and entertaining cats.

          2. Discussion of the Prior Art

          Cats are not characteristically disposed toward voluntary aerobic exercise. It becomes the burden of the cat owner to create situations of sufficient interest to the feline to induce even short-lived and modest exertion for the health and well-being of the pet. Cats are, however, fascinated by light and enthralled by unpredictable jumpy movements, as for instance, by the bobbing end of a piece of hand-held string or yarn, or a ball rolling and bouncing across a floor. Intense sunlight reflected from a mirror or focused through a prism, if the room is sufficiently dark, will, when moved irregularly, cause even the more sedentary of cats to scamper after the lighted image in an amusing and therapeutic game of "cat and mouse." The disruption of having to darken a room to stage a cat workout and the uncertainty of collecting a convenient sunbeam in a lens or mirror render these approaches to establishing a regular life-enhancing cat exercise routine inconvenient at best.

          SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION

          Accordingly, it is an object of the present invention to provide an improved method of exercising a cat in normal day and night lighting environments.

          It is a further object of the present invention to provide a method of providing amusing, entertaining and healthy exercise for a cat.

          It is yet another object of the present invention to teach a method of exercising a cat effortlessly at any time.

          In accordance with the present invention, a light amplification by stimulated emission of radiation (laser) device in a small hand-held configuration is used to project and move a bright pattern of light around a room to amuse and exercise a cat.

          The method is effective, simple, convenient and inexpensive to practice and provides healthy exercise for the cat and amusement and entertainment for both the cat and the owner.

          These and other objects, features and advantages of the present invention will become apparent from the following description and accompanying drawings of one specific embo

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        Calculus: Leibniz and Newton

        Evolution: Charles Darwin and Alfred Russel Wallace

        We have had thousands of game-changing inventions in the history of mankind. What percentage of those were arrived at by multiple inventors, independently, and at roughly the same time? Champions of the belief presented by the article commonly bring up the "classic examples" of Leibniz/Newton, Darwin/Wallace, and Marconi/Tesla. Well, how many non-classic examples are there? Seriously, even if there were a hundred more examples, in the face of all the major scientific/philosophical/mathematical discoveries e

        • by NFN_NLN (633283) on Tuesday October 12, 2010 @01:58AM (#33866508)

          Calculus: Leibniz and Newton

          Evolution: Charles Darwin and Alfred Russel Wallace

          We have had thousands of game-changing inventions in the history of mankind. What percentage of those were arrived at by multiple inventors, independently, and at roughly the same time? Champions of the belief presented by the article commonly bring up the "classic examples" of Leibniz/Newton, Darwin/Wallace, and Marconi/Tesla. Well, how many non-classic examples are there? Seriously, even if there were a hundred more examples, in the face of all the major scientific/philosophical/mathematical discoveries ever made in every field that would still seem statistically insignificant. I mean, c'mon guys, how about a little critical thinking and perspective here...

          Here's a quote straight from Wikipedia on RADAR:

          "In the 1934–1939 period, eight nations developed, independently and in great secrecy, systems of this type: the United States, Great Britain, Germany, the USSR, Japan, the Netherlands, France, and Italy."
          http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_radar [wikipedia.org]

          Eight nations? Independently and in secrecy! The individuals who independently created RADAR showed some critical thinking but the fact that everything up to that point both physics, technology and drive really allowed them to succeed.

          Think about what would happen if you were transported back in time to the 1600's. What could you really do with all the knowledge you have about today?

          • Re:Obvious corollary (Score:4, Interesting)

            by Sique (173459) on Tuesday October 12, 2010 @02:21AM (#33866622) Homepage

            Nothing. No one needs your steam engine. No one is able to manufacture an internal combustion machine or even refine the gasoline for it. No one has any use for electricity. There is not enough copper being mined to make for a decent wiring. You are missing the whole infrastructure to create large amounts of steel. No one has an idea how to process iron into steel in an industrial process (again a game changing invention with at least two inventors: Henry Bessemer and William Kelly), and the process in a forge with remelting and reforging iron until it is malleable is slow and expensive.

            • Re:Obvious corollary (Score:4, Interesting)

              by Thomas Shaddack (709926) on Tuesday October 12, 2010 @10:02AM (#33869118)
              Well... you could improve manufacture of glass and/or ceramics, and totally own the market. You would know how silk is made and facilitate smuggling of the right insects. Same for growing spices in various parts of the world. Timekeeping technology, even just the mechanical kind, would make marine navigation much more accurate and safe. Then there are all sorts of medical stuff; even just the idea of disinfection and microorganisms would be a big breakthrough back then. And do not forget military technologies; all sorts of little improvements here and there, together with the money brought to your city-state by your inventions applied to production of luxury goods, could turn your area into a local economic/military hegemon.
    • No, actually. Patents aren't supposed to reward inspiration, they're supposed to reward work. They're to help with the 99% perspiration [wikiquote.org] that the invention process involves. Even if the particular invention is "obvious", that doesn't mean there isn't a shitload of work to do, and that somebody won't have to put in the hours (with no financial support) in order to develop the idea into any usable form.

      Oh, and I am particularly disgusted that you didn't use your first post privileges to make a lame joke about

      • by grantek (979387) on Monday October 11, 2010 @09:35PM (#33865246)

        I'd say that's what copyright is for. If you spend thousands of coder-hours implementing 1-click purchasing on Amazon, that doesn't mean it's inherently patentable, because anyone that looks at it from the outside can throw the coder-hours themselves at it without needing any special research. They shouldn't be allowed to just come along and steal the codebase, and that's where copyright protects you.

  • by Palestrina (715471) * on Monday October 11, 2010 @07:47PM (#33864506) Homepage

    The network effect has more to do with being in the right place at the right time than on the technical merits of the application. A much better solution that occurred 1 year earlier or 1 year later would have failed in the market. Facebook was "good enough" and that is all that was needed.

    But let's not confuse this with innovation.

    • Too true. If innovation was all that really mattered the Amiga would've won the desktop battle back in the early 90's. As it is, I think the teen crowd intimidated teh older set from using MySpace. Then along comes MySpace for adults, with the built in ability to find out what happened to 75% of you High School class and a 'net institution is born. Now, how long it survives after people realize that 75% of their High School friend's lives are incredibly boring remains to be seen.
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by rtb61 (674572)

        Actually the whole story is crap, typical mass media drivel aimed at the worship of the rich and greedy. Truth is, putting together the right team and getting the right support is the real difference between winning and losing. Forget all the crap about worship of the corporate leader driven by public relations ass hats.

        The staff counts first, the engineers, the accountants, the coders, the marketing and sales team. Put together the wrong team and your product dies, end of story, time to cut the crap, th

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by phantomfive (622387)
      You know how in Asimov's Foundation one person planned what would happen over future generations? How he solved mathematically the equations of society? It was great science fiction.

      There are people who actually believe that is possible. People like Niklas Luhmann [wikipedia.org] are trying to figure out how to arrange such a society. BF Skinner was also a man who thought along those lines.

      Now, to these people, technological advances are inevitable; based on sheer probability and mathematics, the wheel was 'destined' t
      • by NFN_NLN (633283)

        Now, to these people, technological advances are inevitable; based on sheer probability and mathematics, the wheel was 'destined' to be invented when it did, and so was Facebook. The actual geniuses themselves don't matter, since they would be replaced by another if they weren't around. It is in fact necessary for this to be so, at least to a certain degree, or their entire theory fall apart (how can you otherwise predict the arrival of a genius, a singular event?) The article is basing itself on this line of thought.

        Most great advances in civilization are inevitable. In modern times its hard to find humans that aren't connected and therefore unable to be influenced by the advances of others. However, if you look at ancient times there was plenty of inevitable duplication.

        Spoken language was independently invented by most societies.
        Written language (which is much more difficult) was independently invented 4 times.
        The concept of ZERO was invented twice.

        Civilization is already mapped, refer to the Kardashev scale:

        • See, the problem I have with this kind of argument is that it's similar to the argument that evolution is making progress, as if humans are the pinnacle of evolution. It's a silly argument, but your argument is similar.

          Civilization advances and retreats. Because we are in the middle of the quickest advance in all time, it can be hard to see that, but I don't think there is any reason to say that the horse harness, for example, was inevitable; it took thousands of years before it was available. And yet, it
      • by Ephemeriis (315124) on Monday October 11, 2010 @09:22PM (#33865200)

        The problem I see with it is that genius actually does matter. If we all sit down and wait for new inventions because 'surely someone will do it' then no one will do it. A single person can change the course of a nation, and it is impossible to predict individual people

        I think you may misunderstand. The argument is that actual genius doesn't really exist. The argument is that the specific individual who comes up with the "invention" is irrelevant. The argument is that there is no stunning ray of sheer brainpower that makes such an "invention" possible - it is, instead, inevitable.

        Imagine, if you will, a train barreling down the tracks towards a helpless puppy. When the train is 1,000 miles away from the puppy, nobody really knows what is going to happen. You can't see the big picture. The folks looking at the puppy don't see the train, and the folks looking at the train can't see the puppy. If somebody were to shout out "oh no, the puppy's gonna get squished!" at that moment in time, it would be genius. But as the train gets closer and closer to the puppy, it becomes more and more obvious. And eventually it is almost impossible not to realize that the puppy is going to be run over.

        This is the argument. As technology rolls forward, it eventually becomes almost impossible not to invent something new.

        You get enough computers chattering away with each-other... Enough people on the web... Enough folks trying to share photos and connect with other people... Cheap enough server infrastructure.. Ample enough bandwidth... Powerful enough databases... And eventually somebody is bound to say "Hey, why don't we throw together some kind of web page where people can keep in touch with each-other and share photos and stuff?"

        • As technology rolls forward, it eventually becomes almost impossible not to invent something new.

          That's an insidious fallacy. There is no 'forward' with technology, it's not like a train that follows the tracks. Technology just evolves in some direction for a while, then switches to another direction, etc. Nobody knows in which direction it goes, and there are plenty of directions that are missed out on and will never be followed. All that anyone can say is that among all the technologies that will be

          • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

            by Ephemeriis (315124)

            That's an insidious fallacy. There is no 'forward' with technology, it's not like a train that follows the tracks. Technology just evolves in some direction for a while, then switches to another direction, etc. Nobody knows in which direction it goes, and there are plenty of directions that are missed out on and will never be followed. All that anyone can say is that among all the technologies that will be found along the path of our civilization, many of the technologies have relatives found earlier in time.

            Direction is irrelevant to the discussion. Any given technology has a pile of prerequisites. As those prerequisites are met, we move closer to having the ability to discover/implement that technology. You can call this "forward" if you want... Or "up", "down", "backwards", "hubwise", or whatever the hell you want. You're still getting closer to having everything you need to make whatever it is we're talking about.

            Now, if you always call 'forward' whatever direction technology's headed in, then sure, progress looks like it's inevitable. But then you have problems explaining how some civilizations don't seem to go 'forward' in the same direction as us. For example, many South American civilizations did NOT invent the wheel.

            Obviously some prerequisite was not met.

            This isn't some MMOG or RPG where you can look at

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by BoberFett (127537)

        The beauty of free markets and capitalism (regardless of their flaws) is that profit drives invention. The profit motive will bring out the geniuses to do their thing. Enough geniuses working on the same problem is bound to show results.

        In a centrally planned economy, the who is very important. All the central planners know is that they have some vague goal of a type of technology, and it's up to them to make sure the correct person is in place to do create it.

        So I would in fact imagine that in communist Ch

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Lord Ender (156273)

        If we all sit down and wait for new inventions because 'surely someone will do it' then no one will do it

        Wrong. We can sit and wait all day, but some portion of the human population will still do it, because some portion isn't content to sit and wait.

    • by syousef (465911)

      The network effect has more to do with being in the right place at the right time than on the technical merits of the application. A much better solution that occurred 1 year earlier or 1 year later would have failed in the market. Facebook was "good enough" and that is all that was needed.

      But let's not confuse this with innovation.

      It also has a lot to do with self promotion and the ability to convince others that you're brilliant (and in some cases even take credit for the work of others). Gates, Jobs, Zuckerberg, Ellison. Not known as being nice people.

      True genius is rare. You do get people who think so far outside the box that they are decades ahead of eventual discoveries. It's rare. Most of these people don't become famous.

  • So in other words it's not timeliness so much as execution and a bit of luck?

    If it were timeliness, all of the kids would be using socializing through MySpace on their early style Windows Slates/Tablets/Whatever-they-were-called on an AOL internet connection.

    Seems as though the first mover isn't always the winner in terms of market share and/or mindshare.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by shimage (954282)
      Timing is wrapped up in the luck. An idea before its time is still a failure.
    • Yes, there thesis seems to come from looking at an excessively narrow reference class for their inferences. The real question is not "Why does the same invention happen in several places at once?", but: "Why doesn't the same invention happen almost *everywhere* that the pre-requisites are met?" That is, why only these few people and not 90% of those who were almost there, if it's really "obvious given the related technologies"?

      For an extreme example, the technology for trains has been around since Roman t

      • by sjames (1099)

        In the Roman case, the pre-requisites were NOT met. They could make a sort of jet powered curiosity that I suppose could be called a steam engine, but it wasn't at all powerful enough to do significant work. Attempts to scale it to be powerful enough would have hit a wall hard since the technology to make a sufficiently strong boiler (not to mention bearings) just wasn't there.

        When that technology did finally come along, so too did the steam engine, but it bore no resemblance to the Roman invention.

        As for

  • !news (Score:5, Insightful)

    by drolli (522659) on Monday October 11, 2010 @07:49PM (#33864532) Journal

    "There is nothing more powerful than an idea whose time has come." (Victor Hugo)

    The internet just mad that stronger.

  • And yet... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Arancaytar (966377) <arancaytar.ilyaran@gmail.com> on Monday October 11, 2010 @07:51PM (#33864556) Homepage

    It was the commons supporting them both that really mattered.

    And yet our society and our legal systems enshrine individual innovations and creations as sacred property, while suffering the very existence of a commons or a public domain barely with tolerance, denouncing it as communism.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Espressor (1476671)
      This actually is the author's point:

      We're also helping creators and their heirs hold legal monopolies on innovations for much longer, extending individual copyrights to the life of the author plus 70 years, for instance. Would we lose so many great ideas if the monopoly lasted only until 15 years after the inventor's death?

      [...]

      You need intellectual-property rules that ensure space for new ideas and uses. You need a tax code that encourages research and development spending. You need, in other words, to furnish people with an environment in which innovation can take place.

    • The book "Outliers", by Malcolm Gladwell, makes much the same argument, and gives a couple very persuasive examples of how pure luck is an absolute requirement for outsized success. One example I particularly like is how professional Canadian hockey players tend to be born early in the year, the reason being that those born earlier will be more physically mature than their younger teammates born later in the year, and the "tracking" that occurs at an early age ensures that those differences are magnified as

  • by Anonymous Coward

    A useful invention will happen when its time comes. The patent system will not make it happen faster. The only thing patents do is prevent further inventions. This seems to be especially true for software 'inventions'.

    There was an electronics writer, Don Landcaster, who spent many column inches demonstrating that patents were absolute poison to the small inventor ( www.tinaja.com/glib/casagpat.pdf ). Patents work for companies that can pay big bucks for lawyers to keep down the small inventor.

    The classi

  • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bernard_of_Chartres [wikipedia.org]

    "We are like dwarfs standing [or sitting] upon the shoulders of giants, and so able to see more and see farther than the ancients."

    Gee, I think that sounds strangely familiar ;^)

  • Genius (Score:4, Insightful)

    by RaymondKurzweil (1506023) on Monday October 11, 2010 @07:53PM (#33864578) Journal

    If Facebook is now an example of "genius", what word shall we now use to describe actual genius?

    And yes, I'm aware that Zuckerberg gets more ass than I ever will, and probably has more than 100 lifetimes of my wealth. My dick doesn't work that well anyway. Question still stands, IMHO.

    • by bhcompy (1877290)
      Zuckerberg will only be a genius if he sells it before it tanks, which is inevitable. ICQ, MySpace, and other social networking services all had their time and all of the original owners cashed out. The Interweb denizens are fickle people, lest we all forget.
      • Re:Genius (Score:4, Interesting)

        by Junior J. Junior III (192702) on Monday October 11, 2010 @08:45PM (#33864990) Homepage

        Actually, all of those examples you cite may have tanked because their inventors sold them. Think about it. Once the creative drive and the instinct to do what's cool leaves the product, and is replaced by a lot of investment money that wants to monetize the cool in order to realize ROI, what do you think happens?

        I predict that Facebook will do well as long as Zuckerberg retains control over it. Once he is no longer in charge of things, it will falter.

    • Re:Genius (Score:5, Funny)

      by PPH (736903) on Monday October 11, 2010 @08:39PM (#33864930)

      And yes, I'm aware that Zuckerberg gets more ass than I ever will,

      I was listening to a review of the movie on PBS. One of the commentators pointed out that, contrary to the story line, Zuckerberg was (and still is?) involved with one woman during the birth and creation of Facebook.

      There's something to the idea that once the problem of 'getting ass' has been resolved, creative people have much more time resources with which to develop new technology*.

      *Hence my idea of providing free hookers to engineering ad technology students. This will correct the USA's tech slide in no time.

      • by codepunk (167897)

        "involved with one woman"

        Obviously he is not a genius!.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by NoSig (1919688)
        That's exactly backwards. Science productivity falls off a cliff from scientists who get married.
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by foniksonik (573572)

          Wrong. The kind of science productivity that gets you noticed falls off a cliff. Actually useful stuff ends up getting done but on a new steady schedule rather than fits and starts and explosions.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by McGruber (1417641)

          That's exactly backwards. Science productivity falls off a cliff from scientists who get married.

          That's why the plan called for getting scientists hookers, not wives...

      • Re:Genius (Score:4, Insightful)

        by Urza9814 (883915) on Monday October 11, 2010 @11:12PM (#33865812)

        Depends on who that woman is. I just broke up with one and find myself _flooded_ with free time to spend on coding and other projects.

      • when you can't get any ass, all you want to do is get ass

        when you can get ass any time you want, you lose interest in trying to get it

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by geekmux (1040042)

      If Facebook is now an example of "genius", what word shall we now use to describe actual genius?

      And yes, I'm aware that Zuckerberg gets more ass than I ever will, and probably has more than 100 lifetimes of my wealth. My dick doesn't work that well anyway. Question still stands, IMHO.

      And your question is valid. It wasn't "genius". It was sheer luck. Nothing more. There were others before Facebook, but his became the "popular" hangout. That's it. No "genius" or even "magic" there. No way am I going to compare someone who hit an Internet "lottery" to some of the greatest minds of the 20th Century.

      Besides, someone sitting around acting out a bullshit fake persona for 763 "friends" they hardly knew or know is about as far from being "social" as one can get...Guess I'm one of those ol

    • by Nethead (1563)

      RaymondKurzweil posted: ..and probably has more than 100 lifetimes of my wealth.

      But I thought that you weren't going to die?

  • Anyone else remember these social networking sites? I was using them at least a year before Facebook existed, or was at least available to the general public. When Facebook rolled around my thought was "So what? Another social networking site." I only joined when the network effect kicked in and it was obvious the others were falling by the wayside.

  • If several have the same idea at roughly the same time by their own means, it makes the patent system to look even more unfair.
  • by kurokame (1764228) on Monday October 11, 2010 @08:11PM (#33864716)

    That's your best example?

    Calculus, dude. It's the calculus. The Newton-Leibniz rivalry is the go-to example of simultaneous invention. What you've got instead is a shaggy dog story set up to let you imply that Zuckerberg is in some way a genius.

    • Of course it's not his best example; this is the work of a young writer (he's only 26) hoping to say something that gets attention. His goal isn't to make a point, it's to get attention. He only mentions Zuckerberg at all because the guy is getting a lot of attention lately, and he wants to tap into it. He doesn't care so much about his point, or Zuckerberg.

      Gosh I can't believe how cynical I've become.
    • by interkin3tic (1469267) on Monday October 11, 2010 @09:03PM (#33865108)

      Also natural selection, with Darwin having sat on the theory for a while, and only publishing after corresponding with Wallace [wikipedia.org] and realizing that Wallace was on his way to beating Darwin to the punch.

    • by khchung (462899)

      The Newton-Leibniz rivalry is the go-to example of simultaneous invention.

      Not to the target audience of the Washington Post, ie the general American populace, most of whom are so fxxking ignorant of science, math, and history, plus, they are also proud of that ignorance. They eyes will glaze over when they see the word "calculus". You might get a couple of them to recognize the name Newton, but you have to hit the lottery for them to know who's Leibniz.

      OTOH, mention Facebook and they will pretend they know what's it about even if they don't.

    • Social networking is a great example because most of the people reading the article had seen the evolution of the technology first hand.

      Most people have a hard time relating to history because they never got to see it from the ground level. Just like in football, people scream for the QB to throw to a guy 30 yards down the field not realizing what it must be like to have a group of 8 300+ pound guys in between you and the open receiver. History is the same, in hindsight we think of it as obvious but for th
  • by Dthief (1700318)
    Facebook won because Harvard students love the "poke" feature. The first year of The Facebook was also when I was dating a Harvard girl who was obsessed with this website (I am not a Harvard boy, so I could not get access at the time) and poking all he friends.

    It was this silly feature that I truly think made all the difference

  • Counter Examples (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday October 11, 2010 @08:46PM (#33864996)

    The Steam Engine of Alexandria
    Archimedes celestial clock device
    Concrete

    All discovered, then subsequently lost and even as technology advanced beyond the point where each was originally invented no one at the time came up with them until centuries after the point this hypothesis would postulate.

    • I think you've missed the point. With the exception of Concrete, these inventions were massively predated as you say, but they didn't prevail. There wasn't much application for such advanced technology, given that less-advanced alternatives were good enough and easier to produce - horse-before-the-cart and all that. To put it simply: Their Time Had Not Come.

      Concrete is an interesting counter-example though. As a building material it's remarkable, and there were some things the Romans could (apparently) do

  • by westlake (615356) on Monday October 11, 2010 @09:38PM (#33865268)

    It's arguments like this that trouble me.

    That's what happened with Alexander Graham Bell, who in all likelihood invented the telephone after Elisha Gray - and both of them came after Antonio Meucci, who couldn't afford the fee to keep his patent current.

    Elisha Gray was the audience while Bell demonstrated his telephone at the Centennial World's Fair in Philadelphia in July 1876.

    Gray was no stranger to self promotion.

    He was an electrical engineer with a national reputation and a lucrative portfolio of some seventy patents. This is guy who co-founded Western Electric. The guy who would later go on to invent an early and commercially successful "fax machine," the Telautograph.

    The first Bell telephone exchange opened in Hartford, Connecticut in January, 1878. By 1882 this single exchange had gone through two stages of expansion to become Southern New England telephone.

    If Gray had a working telephone in 1876, what the hell was he doing with it?

    The answer to this riddle is that - like all the others who had grown up with Western Union - he probably thought all he had in his hand was a plaything.

    Bell was the outsider. Bell was disruptive.

    An investigating committee established by the British Parliament found Edison's work on the electric light "unworthy of the attention of practical or scientific men." Edison himself thought his phonograph "not of any commercial value."
    The renowned British physicist Lord Kelvin announced in 1897 that "radio has no future." A decade later a business executive told radio pioneer Lee De Forest that he could put in a single room "all the radiotelephone apparatus that the country will ever need." De Forest himself announced in 1926 that, "while theoretically and technically television may be feasible, commercially and financially I consider it an impossibility, a development of which we need waste little time dreaming."
    So it goes: Year after year, decade after decade, century after century, our ancestors have made fools of themselves. We always laugh at the electrical toy; van Gogh never sells his paintings; Melville always dies unrecognized. The only safe prediction is that people will go on making dumb predictions.

    Hindsight, Foresight, and No Sight [americanheritage.com]

    • There are plenty of quotes from Steve Jobs about products that have he claims to have no future, that go on to become billion-dollar sellers after he introduces them 6 months later. He's fond of poo-pooing an idea that he's secretly working on - the iPhone and iPad are prime examples. He may or may not have been pulling our leg. Or has he just learned that it's safer to lower people's expectations?
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by bit01 (644603)

      Bell was the outsider. Bell was disruptive.

      No he wasn't. The telephone is a classic example of "an invention whose time has come".

      There were dozens, if not hundreds of persons and groups at the time all over the world trying to improve the telegraph, including trying to transmit audio, to make recordings and to create automated switching fabrics. Many knew the importance of those things. Bell was lucky to be first, nothing more. Read his biography. He spent the rest of his life, and considerable wealth, b

  • by gatkinso (15975) on Monday October 11, 2010 @09:48PM (#33865332)

    You remember those hot babes who were Florida Gators fans who ended up in Maxim? THEY made Facebook take off.

  • Multiple people may get the same idea at once, but those who succeed are also those who also have to skills to pull it off. I guess that's obvious. But it may go into explaining why Facebook succeeded where others did not. Zuckerberg managed to develop a UI that people preferred, even if the number of features was smaller. Here, his skill was greater intuition or better training in how to build a usable and attractive system.

  • 'Zuckerberg's dominance can be attributed partly to the clean interface of his site...

    ...what kind of hell-spawned interface did the other guy make if Facebook is clean by comparison?

  • Zuckerberg and genius in the same thought? Clearly the author and I have differing views on what is considered "genius".

When Dexter's on the Internet, can Hell be far behind?"

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