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Are There Any Real Inventors Left? 417

An anonymous reader writes "The BBC is running a story about invention and innovation, suggesting that there have been no truly new inventions in a long time. 'Consumers are presented with an "invention illusion," which is really little more than a marketing tool to give the impression of "breakthrough" products. This is a difficult cycle to break, particularly with the media's appetite for sensational stories, and it is hampering opportunities for credible companies without sexy stories. It also means that many entrepreneurs are looking for innovation in the wrong places and pursuing new product design ineffectively.' It leads to the question: what are the most recent things you can think of that have been actual, new inventions? Or has the high-tech revolution just been iterative innovation?"
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Are There Any Real Inventors Left?

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  • Sensational indeed (Score:5, Informative)

    by Maury Markowitz ( 452832 ) on Friday February 01, 2013 @09:53AM (#42760247) Homepage

    "particularly with the media's appetite for sensational stories"

    What, like claiming there are no new inventions to get the digerati all a-twitter and drive traffic to your site? Like that, you mean?

    I have asthma. Over the past 35 years I have witnessed the slow and steady destruction of this affliction. I started with drugs that were expensive and did little or nothing to actually steady my attacks. Today I use something called Singulair which I take once a day and essentially makes my asthma disappear. It also mutes down all of my allergies, I can pet cats without any side effects now.

    According to the BBC, this is not an invention. That's because we had drugs before, and we have other ones today. Clearly this is not *really* any sort of progress, right? The fact that my life, and millions of others, have been utterly transformed is just an illusion!

  • by sl4shd0rk ( 755837 ) on Friday February 01, 2013 @10:15AM (#42760443)

    People like this are the modern day inventors.

    [0] - []
    [1] - []
    [2] - []

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday February 01, 2013 @10:16AM (#42760465)

    "Real" invention: Graham Bell and the Telephone. Never mind the ~30 years of inventions that came before it, including the one where the term Telephone even comes from (Reis anyone?). Stupid.

    And then they speak of Apple and the Iphone because, supposedly, everyone believes that was some sort of great invention and not merely a very well executed idea that had already existed before.

    Weak and sad.

  • by justthinkit ( 954982 ) <> on Friday February 01, 2013 @10:40AM (#42760703) Homepage Journal
    Fermat's Last Theorem, cracked by a guy working in his attic for 7 years [].

    And yes, he did innovate, a la Newton, along the way.

  • by RoboJ1M ( 992925 ) on Friday February 01, 2013 @11:05AM (#42760939)

    You misunderstand, my bad.

    By not doing too well I mean:

    1) We're still burning fossil fuels. Period. Not cracking atoms and persuing renewables.
    2) Decades of stagnation in development and deployment
    3) Plagued by NIMBYs and doom mongers.

    Not to mention the climate sceptics saying coal's fine and the enviromentalits demanding we all run off of a few wind mills and... coal until we build more wind mills?? Eh?

    Bunch of idiots.
    Bulldoze the lot, build nuke plants until fusion is ready.
    It's the only way to be sure.

    My money for long term sustainability is on:

    ITER: []
    Desertec: []
    Pelamis: [] (Oh look an inventor!! [])

    Richard Yemm is the British inventor of the Pelamis Wave Energy Converter and director of Pelamis Wave Power, a company he founded in Edinburgh in 1998.

    He spend years in a small (very big) shed (wave tank) developing a practical spin on the work of another incredible inventor []'s_duck []

    And Salter's duck was invented in 1974 as a result of the 1973 oil crisis.
    So why aren't island nations now powered by the waves? It is after all 40 years later.
    Because funding was cut off in the 80s after the oil prices came back down.
    And becasue the british government employ ACTUAL PSYCHIC WITCHES they knew in the early 80s that there would never again be a shortage of cheap plentiful energy in the UK!!

    Congratulations lads (and lass).

    And that ladies and gentlemen, is why you don't drive a fission powered hover duck.


  • by RoboJ1M ( 992925 ) on Friday February 01, 2013 @02:42PM (#42763489)

    Indeed, it's so very exciting to watch.

    I love Desertec's idea of concentrating solar plants in the deserts of north africa with HVDC lines supplying europe.
    Wouldn't it be wonderful to see money flood into Africa which doesn't involve digging shiny rocks out the ground.
    They have a fantastic statistic of how much desert solar would be required to run europe. It looks like a postage stamp on the map!

  • by jeffb (2.718) ( 1189693 ) on Friday February 01, 2013 @03:26PM (#42764079)

    I'd say many of these these are largely market breakthroughs, the application of an existing technology to a new market. If anything, with the exception of the Internet, these demonstrate the article's point.

    7. Speech recognition. Computerized version of break audio into components, looking them up in a translation table, and report results.

    8. Automatic language translation. Computerized version of looking something up in a translation table and reporting results.

    Wow. Just wow. You really have no idea what actually goes into natural-language recognition and translation. For starters, we've been able to "break audio into components and look them up in a translation table" for, oh, fifty or sixty years now. Speech recognition was "ten years away" for the first thirty or forty of those years. Now, it's basically arrived, although there's still plenty to be done.

    What made it possible? Partly, it was these last four or five orders of magnitude of improvement in processor speed and memory size. But there's also a colossal amount of research in signal processing, statistical analysis, and AI that you're simply sweeping under the rug.

    By the same reasoning you applied to these points, the Internet is even less of a "breakthrough" -- it's a simple iterative advance stemming from more numerous and widely-used computers, better data-transmission technology, and new market demand. Except that it's anything but "simple", and the "iterations" that led to it took us over a precipice. On this side of the precipice, everything is different.

    When you come right down to it, every invention is an "iterative advance" based on pre-existing technology, simply because you can't really base an invention on technology that doesn't exist yet, and because you can't take infinite steps. So, your observation may be technically valid, but I don't think it's useful.

Man is an animal that makes bargains: no other animal does this-- no dog exchanges bones with another. -- Adam Smith