America used to have industrial research labs that made very large contributions to technology and to the general welfare. Premier among these scientific jewels was AT&T’s Bell Labs, where an astonishing number of the basic discoveries that created this modern world were made. The old AT&T (not to be confused with the present company that adopted that name) created a facility that was probably the best research lab in the world. The company supported it in a way that gave first-rate scientists free rein to innovate and discover. And create and discover they did. Information theory, basic computing ideas, the transistor, lasers, radio astronomy, all sorts of discoveries and Nobel Prizes rolled out. And AT&T gave most of the discoveries to the public.
Alas, the old AT&T fell victim to some very bad management; it is gone and with it went Bell Labs. In fact, American industry in general no longer supports basic research the way it used to. Economics is against it they say. Perhaps, but I think we are poorer without those industrial basic research labs.
The New York Times has a substantial article about Bell Labs and its many contributions in the SundayReview
First posted February 27, 2012