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In reading The Idea Factory[1] it became incredibly clear that Bell Labs only released and licensed a great deal of this technology as the results of various antitrust settlements that plagued the company throughout its entire existence. Also, part of the role of the labs appears to have been to give the company something to "show off" whenever congress or the DOJ complained about the extraction of monopoly rents. I highly recommend the book, it was really fascinating to see the degree to which many of our assumptions about the functioning of the labs and its relationship with the corporation are in fact historically inaccurate.

[1] http://www.amazon.com/The-Idea-Factory-American-Innovation/d...




Indeed "The Idea Factory" is a very good book recommendation. In the conclusion of the book the author argues that the Howard Hughes Medical Institute[1] may be the closest existing research organization to Bell Labs. While much smaller in size than Bell Labs it shares a focus on basic research and is well funded for the long haul.

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Howard_Hughes_Medical_Institute


Another theme of The Idea Factory is relevant to this discussion. The Bell System was the hardest thing people tried to build in the 20th century, and it couldn't have been done without valve amplifiers, transistors, information theory, satellites, and masers. Perhaps Google's technical staff won't become that good unless Google sets out to cure cancer, end war, or something equally ambitious. And they don't have to do it out of altruism: if Americans had to pay a trillion dollars a year for a war avoidance system, they'd be silly not to.


I think that is the point of the article. Bell Labs had to release their research, Google does not have to. Well maybe the author of the article should replace "state sanctioned" by "state tolerated" in his description of Bell's monopoly but the key point remains - the difference between Google and Bell Labs is (was) the government involvement.


Thanks for the book recommendation, I swear I get the best nonfiction books from HN.




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