Today, you must choose a new technology. The
University of Houston's College of Engineering
presents this series about the machines that make
our civilization run, and the people whose
ingenuity created them.
The October 1992 Discover
Magazine lists 7 Technology Awards and 28
runners-up. They pose a question for you to answer.
Which of these brand new technologies will you
actually use? Which will you ignore? By the time
this episode reaches reruns I might know what
you've decided. Let's look at some of the ideas.
AT&T offers the first commercial videophone.
That one worries me. Videophones have been the
stuff of science fiction since Buck Rogers. And I
wonder, do you really want to be on camera when you
use the phone?
Besides, the picture's small. We'll need a lot more
detail before we see the subtle cues that complete
a face-to-face conversation. I'll bet this is slow
to catch on. Try another:
Chemists at the Hoechst Celanese Company have a new
process for recycling plastic bottles. Of course
we've been recycling plastic bottles for a long
time. We've been grinding them up to make mattress
fillers and the like. We give the recycled plastic
one more use. Then it winds up in landfills after
So far, we haven't been able to clean these
polyesters enough to recast them. Now we can reduce
old bottles to the pure raw material they were
first made from. Nature cannot recycle these
plastics. We can keep recycling them forever.
But will we take the problem seriously enough to
use recycling programs? If we don't -- if we keep
putting plastic in the trash -- this slick new
process will do us no good at all.
There's more. Goodyear has a new tire with a large
circumferential groove that divides the tread into
two sections. The groove prevents hydroplaning on
wet roads. Conventional tires can slip over wet
pavement like surfboards. This tire funnels water
into the groove and spits it out the back.
The Bellcore Company gets an award for inventing a
foolproof way to stamp the time on a computer
document. You don't leave handwriting or
fingerprints on a computer file. What you do leave
is the time you close it. The date on a file can
have as much legal significance as its authorship.
Now you can't fake it. This could be the most used
invention of them all.
So we reflect on these 35 new inventions. Each one
has made it past the idea stage, past the patent
stage, past the development stage, all the way into
production. For each product there are a hundred
more ideas lying on the cutting room floor.
Will one or three or six of these become a part of
our fabric as a people? That's your decision. In
the long run, that's something only you will tell
I'm John Lienhard, at the University of Houston,
where we're interested in the way inventive minds