Term Paper: Communication History Fans of Science

Pages: 15 (4777 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 12  ·  Level: College Senior  ·  Topic: Physics  ·  Buy This Paper

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[. . .] Lodge did more to introduce the forefront of theoretical electromagnetic research not just to the broader scientific community, but to the engineering community as well. Lodge's biographer W.P. Jolly says, with some irony, that "Lodge was of the light cavalry of Physics, scouting ahead and reporting back, rather than the infantry of Engineering, who take and consolidate the ground for permanent useful occupation" (Jolly 113). This is a tactful way of pointing out that Lodge technically invented the radio, but missed out on receiving credit, or indeed a Nobel Prize. Lodge was not incompetent in engineering: indeed he would hold patents for the first versions of the modern automotive spark-plug, and his electromagnetic research began with a practical problem (the construction of a better lightning rod). Lodge's experiments with lightning lead to his confirmation of Maxwell's hypotheses about electromagnetism at roughly the same time as Hertz would, and indeed Lodge's 1888 paper on the subject was quickly rewritten to contain an endnote explaining that he had not read Hertz while performing his experiments. After Hertz's death Lodge would experiment with the "coherer," a device invented by Branly in which iron filings were placed inside a glass vacuum tube (Lodge 1897, 90). The transmission of electrical current could cause those filings to line up and complete a circuit. Following on the suggestions made by Hertz, Lodge managed to transmit an electromagnetic pulse from one end of his laboratory in Birmingham, so that the waves caused the Branly coherer to register at a distance of approximately twenty feet (Jolly 220). This was the first radio broadcast ever made, technically speaking. In demonstrating the results of the experiment with the Branly coherer Lodge, repeating the experiment for the Royal Society in a lecture entitled "The Work of Hertz" in June of 1894, assessed that radio could probably be broadcast at a distance of about a half a mile at most (Jolly 226).

What happened next is, of course, part of the history of applied physics rather than theoretical physics. Lodge himself would concede in 1908 that, at the time of his initial 1894 demonstrations of the radio waves and their reception, "stupidly enough no attempt was made to apply any but the feeblest power so as to test how far the disturbance could really be detected" (Lodge 1908, 84). There was, as Lodge's biographer notes, a scientific reason for this blindspot: the theoretical assumption that had been made by both James Clerk Maxwell and Heinrich Hertz was that these waves would travel only in a straight line. Lodge assumed this to be true from the designs of his experiments, and it is here that he judges himself as "stupid" for having failed to experiment. Lodge's publications were being read avidly, however, by the young heir to Dublin's Jameson whiskey distillery (Weightman 5). When Annie Jameson, the young heiress, married her music-teacher and became Annie Jameson Marconi, she purchased a massive estate outside Rome, Italy, where her son Guglielmo was born in 1874. In the 1890s Marconi followed the flurry of interest in Hertz's work after his untimely death, as well as reading all the papers that Lodge published in the period. Marconi was fascinated instead with the engineering problem of wireless telegraphy, and suspected that the "range of wireless waves as not limited as Lodge claimed." Marconi tested on his family estate the range, and once he had established that he could receive a broadcast at a distance over five miles, he realized Lodge had been in error. Marconi demonstrated his apparatus for the Royal Mail, which at that time was in the forefront of funding such technological schemes, although Marconi's decision to break with the British government and establish his own corporation would lead to litigation over the patent for wireless telegraphy, claiming that it was indeed Lodge's. In any case, the new technology was at first used to transmit messages in Morse code, purely as a telegraph. The broadcasting of sound would be a later twentieth century development of the radio.

If the transmission of text and radio signals was already possible by the late nineteenth century, then all that remained was the actual computer. In the twentieth century, the development of the computer has proceeded with a swiftness almost unrivalled in any other field of technological innovation, and continues to the present day. In 1965, Gordon Moore (a noteworthy inventor in the field of integrated circuits for computer processors, and later the CEO of Intel) would propose "Moore's Law," based on his observation of an exponential rate of growth in computing speed and capacity: Moore would note in his original 1965 paper the mere fact that the number of transistors that could be placed on an individual integrated circuit doubled every year, and this almost perfectly exponential growth rate in technological advancement has held true for almost a half century (Kurzweil 2005, 56-7). Clearly the computer as a human invention has provided an opportunity for vast amounts of technological and engineering ingenuity to enable these improvements, which occur just as rapidly now as they did when prompting Moore's original 1965 observation. As beneficiaries of this remarkable efflorescence of improvements upon the original invention, though, it would be useful to remember where the invention itself came from, since it derives like all these other technologies from the nineteenth century as well. Obviously any major technological invention will have earlier analogues in earlier solutions to those problems that technology is attempting to solve: the invention of the automobile is a complicated affair, but obviously the use of wheels for transportation predates it substantially. In terms of actual devices which assisted in the making of complicated calculations without writing them out (i.e., "computing" the solution) have existed since the introduction of the abacus: indeed the specific binary storage system employed electronically by a present-day computer can be mimicked representationally (although not to any good cost-efficient purpose) with a binary abacus. If we understand the computer, then, as basically a device to assist humans in mathematical computation, then we can understand not only the pre-history involved with other computational devices -- from the earliest abacus to Napier's bones or even the slide-rule -- then we can also understand how Charles Babbage became involved in the question. Babbage was, by academic training, a mathematician: he would occupy the Lucasian Chair in Mathematics at Cambridge University. (To contextualize this somewhat, we should observe that the second occupant of the Lucasian chair was Sir Isaac Newton, and its present occupant is physicist Stephen Hawking: Babbage's contemporaries considered in to be an eminence in mathematics comparable to the other names, perhaps better known to us.) Babbage would also oversee the laborious, but at that historical moment necessary, production of arithmetic tables which allowed early 19th century mathematicians and engineers to save time (and paper). As a result, it is worth noting that "computers" in Babbage's own vocabulary were human beings who did computation. In the Preface to his own published logarithmic tables, he strived for both "correctness, and the facility with which they can be used by computers" (Babbage 1841, v). For Babbage, the "computer" is a human being -- his own inventions would be termed "engines." Babbage clearly had in mind other broad-scale technological advances of the early Victorian period, such as the vast mechanical looms utilized in the textile industry of the north of England, which had provoked the original "Luddite" movement which decried the replacement of human laborers with automated devices.

Ironically Babbage's own theoretical device -- which could have performed all the mathematical functions of a modern computer, in theory -- would have filled such a vast space as the cloth looms of his own time: this is based, of course, on the fact that in Babbage's day mathematical engineering could be quite exact (even if the ability to produce precision implements was still unbelievably costly) but electrical engineering was still in its infancy. Babbage was able to build a device which he called a "difference engine" -- which performed the equivalent function of a present-day pocket calculator -- with no need for electrical engineering at all, and Babbage was presented with a gold medal in recognition of the engineering feat entailed. Babbage called it the "Difference" engine because it sidestepped the much larger apparatus that would be required to perform multiplication and division by compressing the functions mathematically into an expression of finite difference relationships. But to be able to perform multiplication and division as pure mathematics -- which was of course something that Babbage believed was theoretically possible -- would require a much larger structure, and this was the "Analytical Engine" which Babbage designed and worked on, but never actually completed. Nonetheless, it is worth noting the role here played by Ada Lovelace, the daughter of the poet Lord Byron, whose mother had hoped to suppress any temptation to follow in her father's dissolute poetic footsteps by educating her child with a purely mathematical and scientific curriculum. In entering… [END OF PREVIEW]

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