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Page history last edited by Alan Hartley-Smith 7 years, 10 months ago



Quote from obituary of Hugh Aitkin by Susan Douglas in Technology & Culture Oct 1994


In considering how new things happened, Hugh, in his two Dexter Prize-winning boolus, analyzed the flows of information among various subcultures of American society. He found that a certain kind of individual-what he called a “translator”-played a critical role in encoding and translating information between two or three very differently oriented spheres of knowledge and action. These translators, who have the ability to see commonality of interest where others may see only separateness (or even animosity), operated at organizational interstices and were “bilingual” in that they spoke the language of each different subculture. Thus, Guglielmo Marconi was successful because he translated back and forth between the realms of engineering, science, business, and government to take wireless telegraphy out of the lab and into the marketplace.


Quotes from “Syntony and Spark” by Hugh Aitkin – Wiley 1976


ITEM1 – page 209/10

What Marconi described in his patent application of 1896 was the technological embodiment of Maxwell`s theory of the electromagnetic field, first stated some 30 years earlier. If there was any question of borrowing, of using what the Electrician called the “products of another man`s brain," it was from the scientific tradition of Faraday, Maxwell, Hertz, and Righi that Marconi borrowed, not from Lodge or from any of the other experimenters who had interested themselves in the transformation of theoretical predictions into physical apparatus. Seen from this point of view Marconi stood at the culmination of one process and the initiation of another. He was beginning the process of commercial and military development of radio. But he was also at the culmination of the process whereby a major scientific advance was translated into practical use. Scientific theorems had already been translated into apparatus - pieces of hardware which, suitably interconnected, could be used for tests and demonstrations. Hertz, Lodge, and Righi had, following their own interests as scientists, completed that stage. Marconi carried the process a step further. He translated laboratory hardware into a technological system that could serve practical needs. With the advent of this stage the matter for the first time became of direct economic relevance, something that could be discussed in terms of costs, revenues, and competition with alternative modes.


ITEM2 – page 300

The new knowledge generated by science was an input, but only one, into the process of technological change that made practical use of the electromagnetic spectrum at radio frequencies a reality. And lastly, it might be suggested that, for the history of modern society, the focus of our story must surely be the creation and development of a new industry, an industry that has revolutionized the business of communications and, according to some analysts, has also in the process revolutionized our habits of thought and perception, our politics, literature and art, our wars, our crimes, and our patterns of family life. This is the industry of electronics. Built, to be sure, upon new scientific and technological knowledge, the genesis of this new industry stands out as a creative act in its own right; its existence is one of the massive facts of history that differentiates our age from all previous ones.


ITEM3 – page 306

But what of Marconi? Surely he understood the economic significance of Hertzian waves? Surely in his case we can say that science, translated into usable technology, dictated the form and timing of economic innovation? Quite the contrary. To express the matter in these terms is to misinterpret Marconi`s genius and the importance of his role in history. What differentiated Marconi from his contemporary rivals was not his scientific knowledge nor, initially, the distinctive excellence of his technology. It was his sense of the market, of where a demand for this new technology existed or could be created. A creative genius in electronic engineering Marconi may have been; but he was also a commercial entrepreneur. And his entrepreneurship was a vital element in the creation of a radio communications industry precisely because the nature of the technology itself did not unambiguously indicate the economic uses to which it could be put. Marconi saw where the technology could find a point of entry into the economic system; more than that, he made others see it as he did. The showmanship that set the teeth of scientists on edge, the flair for public relations that made his name and “wireless” almost synonymous - these were not accidents or unnecessary characteristics of an idiosyncratic personality. On the contrary, they were functional. And the fact that they were functional is strong evidence for the assertion that the new technology did not in any necessary or automatic way find its economic place. A place had to be found for it.


ITEM4 - page 334/5

--- it was Hertz who took the first indispensable step in translating Maxwell`s theory of the electromagnetic field into a system of laboratory technology by means of which radiation could be emitted, detected, and measured. Lodge, starting from very much the same position in science but with a lifelong interest in "practical applications,” went further; by 1894 Lodge had produced and demonstrated, in embryonic form, a system of radiotelegraphy by which signals could be, and in fact were, exchanged. The transfer from pure science to usable technology had been made. Lodge, however, did not at that time take the next step. The reasons are partly clear-his developing interest in a purely scientific problem, the measurement of aether drift-and partly conjectural: a dominant orientation to the values and folkways of science rather than to the commercialism of the marketplace. It was left to Marconi to complete the process. Marconi had minimal scientific training; yet, through his association with Righi, he had access to scientific knowledge, literature, and equipment. By the same token, he had no personal experience of the world of business; but, through his mother`s family, he had access to business advice and business capital. Above all, as we have already stressed, although Marconi originally contributed little except refinements in detail to the new technology, he saw more clearly than most where it could be made to fit into the economic system of his day. Just as Hertz had translated a set of mathematical equations into experimental apparatus by means of which measurements could be made and hypotheses tested; just as Lodge had translated experimental apparatus into what was at least potentially a feasible technology of radiocommunications; so Marconi took laboratory technology and translated it into an economically viable business, the root from which sprang the electronics industry of today. At each stage in the process of translation, information generated in one system was converted into a form that “made sense” in terms of another; and at each stage new information was blended with what was already known to create something essentially new.




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