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-   -   Nikola Tesla: Predicting cellphones in 1926? (http://message.snopes.com/showthread.php?t=93775)

Mr. Billion 03 April 2016 05:10 PM

Nikola Tesla: Predicting cellphones in 1926?
 
Supposedly Nikola Tesla said this in 1926:

Quote:

"When wireless is perfectly applied the whole earth will be converted into a huge brain, which in fact it is, all things being particles of a real and rhythmic whole. We shall be able to communicate with one another instantly, irrespective of distance. Not only this, but through television and telephony we shall see and hear one another as perfectly as though we were face to face, despite intervening distances of thousands of miles; and the instruments through which we shall be able to do his will be amazingly simple compared with our present telephone. A man will be able to carry one in his vest pocket." -Nikola Tesla, 1926
http://bigthink.com/words-of-wisdom/nikola-tesla-2

Tesla has been heavily mythologized: http://www.skeptoid.com/episodes/4345 So I'm skeptical as to whether he actually said or wrote the quoted line.

Steve 03 April 2016 06:00 PM

It's from an interview he did with Colliers. http://www.tfcbooks.com/tesla/1926-01-30.htm

Crius of CoH 03 April 2016 10:18 PM

"Amazingly simple" compared to early 20th century telephone tech, no; amazingly compact, yes. I'm a fan of Tesla, but this wasn't predicting anything beyond what any visioneer would "predict" - better, easier, smaller, cheaper, etc. versions of current technology. Hardly prediction.

ganzfeld 04 April 2016 01:02 AM

It's not as if one had to be an amazing visionary to predict cellphones anyway. Radio telephones were being tested and patents issued at the beginning of the 20th century. The walkie talkie was invented in the 1930's but the idea had been around for quite a while.

The "huge brain" part is interesting but it's hard to tell what is meant.

GenYus234 04 April 2016 03:16 PM

Based on many of the ideas of the time, it would be unusual to predict that such a device would be so small as to fit in a vest pocket. Predictions of a global network were common, but most seemed to be based on dumb terminals with a physical connection to a single massive computer.

Seaboe Muffinchucker 04 April 2016 03:45 PM

Nicola Tesla: the Nostradamus of the 19th and 20th centuries. By which I mean all sorts of predictions of current events are being found in his writings.

Seaboe

ganzfeld 04 April 2016 04:23 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by GenYus234 (Post 1912315)
Based on many of the ideas of the time, it would be unusual to predict that such a device would be so small as to fit in a vest pocket.

I humbly disagree. Wireless receivers that could fit in a vest pocket were already available in the twenties. They had a limited range but one called a "vest pocket radio" was shown in Popular Science in 1923 with a long range. It was too big to fit in a vest pocket but the name suggests that's where people thought the tech was going and two-way communication was thought to be the next step.

I would say the opposite is true. Many people expected very small two-way radios sooner rather than later but it would be twenty years before the wrist-mounted two-way radio that inspired the Dick Tracy device. The cell phone had some radio problems (worked out in the late 1960's in Japan), that prevented the technology from coming out until the 1970's but the idea was already there. Those problems were not really even known before WWII and I think Tesla wasn't the only one who was a bit too optimistic.
Quote:

Predictions of a global network were common, but most seemed to be based on dumb terminals with a physical connection to a single massive computer.
Sorry but here too I disagree. I don't know of any predictions made in the 1920's of a worldwide network linking devices to computers. If that's what he meant, that would be something. But it seems like he might have meant a kind of extension of international cable networks (already existing for a half century - thus requiring no prediction) and radio networks (already around for decades).

RichardM 04 April 2016 06:44 PM

But he didn't predict that almost no one would wear a vest today. ;)

Dr. Dave 04 April 2016 07:40 PM

Eh. With all respect to Tesla, this is like saying the guy who wrote the Dick Tracy comic strip predicted the iWatch in the 1960's or 70's.

jimmy101_again 04 April 2016 10:18 PM

"Prediction" is really pretty simple and basically has zero value. "Reduction to practice" is the key step. Tesla gets zero credit (and should get zero credit) for making a prediction in the 20's that came true in the 90's. His prediction neither hastened nor facilitated the development of cell phones.

ganzfeld 04 April 2016 10:55 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Dr. Dave (Post 1912353)
Eh. With all respect to Tesla, this is like saying the guy who wrote the Dick Tracy comic strip predicted the iWatch in the 1960's or 70's.

Actually (as I meant to mention in my post) he 'predicted' it back in the mid 1940's. The story goes that he heard such ideas from the inventor Al Gross, who had made one of the earliest walkie-talkies. A similar wrist-mounted two-way radio appeared in Popular Science a year later. A battery small enough to power hadn't been developed but this is only about 20 years after the Tesla interview.

thorny locust 05 April 2016 12:39 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by RichardM (Post 1912348)
But he didn't predict that almost no one would wear a vest today.

Who was it who said that predicting the automobile was relatively simple; it was predicting parking problems that was the hard part?

I'd say that it's predicting "parking" problems that's the really hard part: how did ready access to automobiles affect dating behavior? women's freedom? Was there really a difference from access to carriages? did more people have access to cars (which need no care when not in use, and for which fuel was at the beginning cheap) than to horses?

There's been quite a lot of stuff written in science fiction and in speculative science articles that imagines all sorts of technological innovations -- some of them likelier than others, and some of which have so far happened and some of which haven't -- but which assumes a human society exactly like the one the author live(s/d) in. I find the other kind more interesting to read.

ganzfeld 05 April 2016 02:08 AM

I was a bit busy yesterday so I couldn't find and read the original interview but, now that I have, I think the most interesting part, what he said right after that, has been left off.
Quote:

"When wireless is perfectly applied the whole earth will be converted into a huge brain [...] and the instruments through which we shall be able to do his will be amazingly simple compared with our present telephone. A man will be able to carry one in his vest pocket. We shall use these devices mostly to look at cats in cigar boxes." -Nikola Tesla, 1926
See. He didn't even know there would be few cigar boxes.

Dr. Dave 05 April 2016 04:07 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by thorny locust (Post 1912381)
I'd say that it's predicting "parking" problems that's the really hard part: how did ready access to automobiles affect dating behavior? women's freedom? Was there really a difference from access to carriages? did more people have access to cars (which need no care when not in use, and for which fuel was at the beginning cheap) than to horses?

I just read a book called How We Got To Now. The main premises are that inventions have dramatic effects on life and society not necessarily directly related to the invention (such as some of the things you mention) and how one major invention leads to another in a seemingly unrelated field (the printing press revealed the need for reading glasses, etc.)

The writing is a bit immature at times when the author seemed to feel a need to spell out his point repeatedly, but is an interesting read a fun overall.

At the end he talks about "Time Travelers" such as a woman who worked in the 1860's on a primitive computer who seems to predict modern computers.

P.S. I searched for a link and found out that it was also made into a six-part PBS series, one for each chapter.

GenYus234 05 April 2016 04:15 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by ganzfeld (Post 1912397)
He didn't even know there would be few cigar boxes.

He also biffed pretty hard on the "huge brain" part. Don't know exactly which body part the internet most resembles, but it isn't the brain.

DawnStorm 05 April 2016 04:26 PM

Did Tesla also predict the popularity of Keyboard Cat, the Hamster Dance and the Honey Badger? :p How about YouTube in general?

Lainie 05 April 2016 04:55 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Dr. Dave (Post 1912474)
P.S. I searched for a link and found out that it was also made into a six-part PBS series, one for each chapter.

I enjoyed the series, FWIW.

jimmy101_again 05 April 2016 07:22 PM

Quote:

"When wireless is perfectly applied the whole earth will be converted into a huge brain, which in fact it is, all things being particles of a real and rhythmic whole. We shall be able to communicate with one another instantly, irrespective of distance. Not only this, but through television and telephony we shall see and hear one another as perfectly as though we were face to face, despite intervening distances of thousands of miles; and the instruments through which we shall be able to do his will be amazingly simple compared with our present telephone. A man will be able to carry one in his vest pocket." -Nikola Tesla, 1926
So Tesla missed an important point; wireless isn't as good (fast/cheap/easy) as wired so (nearly) the entire wireless world is basically dependent on wires. (With a few fairly minor exceptions like satellite phones ... which still often use part of the wired network.)

GenYus234 05 April 2016 08:14 PM

Or what he predicted hasn't happened yet. He does say "when wireless is perfectly applied", it isn't perfectly applied yet.

jimmy101_again 05 April 2016 09:43 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by GenYus234 (Post 1912543)
Or what he predicted hasn't happened yet. He does say "when wireless is perfectly applied", it isn't perfectly applied yet.

It can be argued though that it will never be applied. Certain physical restrictions exist on radios, particularly in the transmit mode, that no amount of engineering can get around. Which is why there are cell phone towers every ten miles or so (in flat areas, a couple miles apart in obstructed areas like inner cities).

Plus, Tesla didn't imagine fiber optic cable, a technology that has much more to do with the rapid expansion of both wired and wireless communication than just the wireless part. In other words, something that is in many ways better than wireless was developed (fiber optic) making the prediction of wireless communication different than what it was in Tesla's time. Effective and efficient wireless communication really rests on a technology (fiber optic) that Tesla didn't imagine.


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