Elektric-Tube (formally Alternative-Photonics) is a company established by Mark Wrigley eight years ago to democratise science, embrace technological change and provide easy access to technology through making and the arts. Throughout his career, Mark has been at the forefront of digital change, he was instrumental in delivering the first digital mobile phone to market and managed products which allowed mobile data and internet. He wants show that technological disruption is an ongoing process of innovation and something to be enbraced.
We live in exciting times. As a physicist returning to his roots, I am in awe of the progress made in the detection of gravitational waves. Not only is this empirical verification of Einstein’s general theory of relativity, it is also opening a new field of astronomy with the potential to look further back into the history of the univesre than ever before.
When I can, I attend public talks on the subject, often delivered by physicists who have dedicated much of their careers working collaboratively to do what Einstein predicted as impossible 100 years ago. So I’m always disappointed when at questions time, someone asks, what use is it? By this, they usually are looking for short term spin off technology (of which there many) and at worse the short term “fiscal benefit” of the research.
I find myself biting my lip as the speaker explains some of the short term spin offs and recall the rumoured exchange between Micheal Faraday and Gladstone (then Chancellor of the Exchequer) in the 1850s. Upon demonstrating the links between electricity and magnetism, Gladstone asked, “but what’s the use of it?”. Faraday’s response, variously reported, was “I know not, but one day Sir, you may tax it”. Faraday’s discoveries of course lead to the development of domestic electricity industry, and we still suffer the same lack of vision in our political classes today.
It’s debatable that the human race has been so successful in surviving and adapting to changes in the environment because of our quality of “curiosity”. The instinct to seek knowledge for knowledge sake has opened opportunities for us to survive and prosper.
But I’ll continue to bite my lip on these occasions even though I am tempted to ask “what use were sub-prime mortgages” or “The Royal Bank of Scotland”. At least blue sky research doesn’t actively destroy the economy.
I always have a problem at social occasions when people ask me “what do you do”? My usual response is to go “errr, well…”. The problem is that people expect you to do one thing, train for something and do it; a job for life. But that’s not how it’s been in my career. The things I learned at university in the 1970s have been eclipsed by new technologies. There were no digital mobile phones back then, let alone phones that allow you to take photos with better results than many cameras.
So I had a think, and I’ve got what I do down to two job titles; “Digital Disruptor” and “Techno Archeologist”
A Digital Disruptor because I was part of the industry that delivered digital phones to the market place. Participated in adding data to phones and later, with my own company, showed how digital disruption was a form of technical evolution to be embraced by all.
A Techno Archeologist because I’m fascinated by what we did digitally years ago with so little. Moore’s law is the observation that the number of transistors in integrated circuits doubles approximately every two years. But what we’ve chosen to do with those transistors is usually to make more sophisticated interface displays, faster communications and occasionally watch cat videos. ‘Back in the day’, astronauts flew to the moon with the most basic computers and I wrote programs for 64 kilobyte computers like the Commodore 64. That’s kilobyte, not meg or gig!
So, now I have it. Two job titles to meet that “what do you do?” question at social events. All I need now are some really good parties to got to. Invitations welcome!!