Genius or Prophet? In 1926, Nikola Tesla Predicted Today’s Smartphones
Does genius or talent allow us to see the future? Or is it just that these qualities are actively involved in shaping the future?
There’s a point where genius and foresight collide. Talented people – artists, scientists, philosophers – have been said to be ahead of their times. This is often because although in their own times their work earned them some recognition, the true scope of the work wasn’t revealed until later. One way to paint, one way to understand aspects of the world, a problem of physical reality is sometimes presented to a world not yet prepared to receive those ideas.
Such was the case of Nikola Tesla. The legendary inventor may have had a better story told of him in his own time if he’d had resources and the trust of others necessary to carrying out his work. In fact, Tesla went down in history as a remarkable scientist, but one who did only part of what he might have.
In 1926, Tesla was interviewed on the radio show “The Collier Hour” then hosted by John B. Kennedy. Among other comments, the inventor made a prediction of “small devices,” unthinkable at the time but which for us, today, are commonplace: the smartphone. Tesla saw the possibility of not only a portable phone, but a device which, in addition to voice would also transmit images “instantly and regardless of distance.” This was the description Tesla gave:
When wireless is perfectly applied the whole earth will be converted into a huge brain, which in fact it is, all things being particles of a real and rhythmic whole. We shall be able to communicate with one another instantly, irrespective of distance. Not only this, but through television and telephony we shall see and hear one another as perfectly as though we were face to face, despite intervening distances of thousands of miles; and the instruments through which we shall be able to do his will be amazingly simple compared with our present telephone. A man will be able to carry one in his vest pocket.
Like Leonardo da Vinci, Tesla saw beyond his own time. It’s not just an enigmatic quality, but one that can be explained through a trait of creative genius: his tendency to take his every achievement not only as a goal realized, but above all, as a new starting point.
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