To Build The Technology Of Tomorrow We Need To Create The Ecosystems Today
There are a number of stories about what led Hans Lipperhey to submit a patent for the telescope in 1608. Some say that he saw two children playing with lenses in his shop who discovered that when they put one lens in front of each other they could see a weather vane across the street. Others say it was an apprentice that noticed the telescopic effect.
Yet the more interesting question is how such an important discovery could have such prosaic origins. Why was it that it was at that time that somebody noticed that looking through two lenses would magnify objects and not before? How could it have been that the discovery was made in a humble workshop and not by some great personage?
The truth is that history tends to converge and cascade around certain places and times, such as Cambridge before World War I, Vienna in the 1920s or, more recently, in Silicon Valley. In each case, we find that there were ecosystems that led to the inventions that changed the world. If we are going to build a more innovative economy, that’s where we need to focus.
How The Printing Press Led To A New Era Of Science
The mystery surrounding the invention of the telescope in the early 1600s begins to make more sense when you consider that the printing press was invented a little over a century before. By the mid-1500s books were transformed from priceless artifacts rarely seen outside monasteries, to something common enough that people could keep in their homes.
As literacy flourished, the need for spectacles grew exponentially and lens making became a much more common trade. With so many lenses around, it was only a matter of time before someone figured out that combining two lenses would create a compound effect and result in magnification (the microscope was invented around the same time).
From there, things began to move quickly. In 1609, Galileo Galilei first used the telescope to explore the heavens and changed our conception of the universe. He was able to see stars that were invisible to the naked eye, mountains and valleys on the moon and noticed that, similar to the moon, Venus had phases suggesting that it revolved around the sun.