Is There Anything Left to Invent or Discover?

Many of my fellow engineers have had great ideas and the patents to show for it. With all of our great — and sometimes out-of-the-box crazy creative — ideas, is there anything out there not invented yet or as great as what has already been created?

I look back at the giants such as Franklin, Bell, Edison, Tesla, Ford… These were all amazing inventors. The things they invented changed the world, and our lives, and still changing our lives today.

One question we should ask though: Were the inventions of the telephone, light bulb, automobile, etc., really all that great? These inventions were done at a time when there wasn’t nearly the technology and resources we have today. We look at many of these inventions and take them for granted. Have you ever looked at a piece of technology and thought, “That seems so simple. Why didn’t I think of that?”

Taking this line of thought a bit farther, have the greatest inventions already been created? Is there anything still to come that can change our lives for hundreds of years hence, or are we at a point where all we can do is improve upon existing designs?

I think a tube version of the op-amp came into existence in the 1950s. And a solid state version came into existence in the 1960s. The IC version came along not long after that. Then LEDS, MOSFETs… Is there another great electronic component out there that we have not created or invented yet?

Maybe the government/military is secretly working on designs that are 30 years ahead of what most of us are aware of. Maybe they are working on some crazy things underground somewhere. There may be a day when cars float through the air and televisions can be rolled up like a poster and hung on the wall. Would those really be anything great , or just cool stuff to have around?

I was looking through my old book of ideas and patents. Yes, they represented some clever thinking. Many of them saved money, made the product easier to use, or made it more efficient. But were they life changing? Not really. I'm beginning to think that many of the ideas that were not patented or were completely insane may have been the ones that changed the industry.

Do you think some of the best inventions ever are laying somewhere in a company file cabinet or a garage, but not considered, because they just seem so crazy and stupid? What about the accidental inventions such as the microwave oven or pacemaker?

Have you ever invented something that wasn’t supposed to be, yet went into your product as a different feature? What is left to invent? Are you the next big name?

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17 comments on “Is There Anything Left to Invent or Discover?

  1. Davidled
    August 5, 2013

    Today, there is so much stuff in the market as patents and information is overflowing in real time. Some say that we are living on the burden of information technology. Some of company are seeking the inventive technology that integrates the existing technology, not creative that take a long to release product in the market.

  2. vbiancomano
    August 5, 2013

    In selecting the top dozen classical circuits in Electronics Magazine's 50th Anniversary issue (April 17, 1980, soft cover), I concluded in part:

    “That engineers have exhausted conventional development there can be little doubt. The first generation is virtually over. But the world has now entered a period where diminishing natural resources are vitally important to the survival of industrialized society. To that end, engineers—that is, ones of ingenuity —willl almost certainly be called upon increasingly in the next 50 years to develop circuits that utilize either newly discovered laws or currently little-used but now necessary scientific principles in order to conserve energy. Even circuits for transporting small amounts of matter through space may well be in the offing…..”

    One can argue the last sentence has a lot to do with quantum entanglement and what's been achieved thus far. Yet at the time those words were written, we received a few letters mocking that conclusion. They were wrong. We're just getting started.

  3. samicksha
    August 6, 2013

    Nice blog, In my yes sense we do lag in invention but creativity is still on top, remember the first implantable pacemaker in 1958 and now we have artificial pacemaker with electrode for transvenous insertion.

  4. Vishal Prajapati
    August 6, 2013

    You are right. Creativity is everywhere. Invention is totally different thing. But there are chances that in an attempt to improve something, there would be some new invention. And also improving the function of something is easier than invention from scratch.


    I see a lot of news very often for new step towards big invention in almost all the fields. It will end up somewhere being a full fledge life changing inventions. So, we can definitely expect new inventions and new patents in the coming times.

  5. Netcrawl
    August 6, 2013

    Great topic! thanks for sharing it, @samicksha you're right but you missed something here- passion and the desire to go for a “moon shot”, remember the early days of US space programs? its the strong desire that drive us to the top and get us to the moon, and passion, which motivate us to do the impossible and love for something.

    In able to stand from the rest of the pack you need to have passion and desire, education or training programs are enough. To excel in one particular area you need to a have a passion for something like electronic or computers. Passion drive creativity, the ability to push the boundary of limit, thinking out of the box, remember Kelly Johnson's skunkworks in Burbank? those are passion for greater heights. 

  6. Brad_Albing
    August 6, 2013

    @VB – you can add the title “Futurist” to your business card. Pretty good predictification.

    And I like that you tied together the words engineer with ingenuity. Same roots, of course. We are generators of clever stuff.

  7. goafrit2
    August 6, 2013

    It is still very ridiculous, we are yet to make good circuits that are as efficient as their bio-equivalents. We need a lot of inventions to get closer to natural computation. Perhaps we need to rethink the way we do now.

  8. goafrit2
    August 6, 2013

    The good news is that new technologies will unlock new inventions of the future. We cannot say we are out of ideas largely due to the limitations of today's technology. I think innovation is well as alive in the future.

  9. goafrit2
    August 6, 2013

    >>  Creativity is everywhere. Invention is totally different thing. But there are chances that in an attempt to improve something, there would be some new invention.

    Lawyers are making creative ideas to seem patentable. That is not the point. Because everyone is afraid of lawsuit, we try to patent everything and that is bad. Few of the patents or inventions are incremental and without lawyers, they will stay as discoveries.

  10. fasmicro
    August 6, 2013

    Practically, the best way of looking at this question >>Is there anything left to invest or discover>> is to ask if all human problems have been solved. Since there are still many unsolved challenges in the ecosystem, yes, there are many things to invent. Understand that electronics is the engine that drives the 21st century commerce and at the end the world will look for us to create solutions. To meet that need will require innovation which is a commercialized invention.

  11. Scott Elder
    August 6, 2013

    ” ask if all human problems have been solved.”

    That's a great, succinct way to answer the question.  Bravo.  This should be the motto on the front doors of all patent offices throughout the world.

  12. RedDerek
    August 6, 2013

    I have seen that when ever a new technology or new method is discovered, a flurry of patents come out. I agree, if all human problems are not solved… there have to be new inventions and technologies yet to be discovered. Look at the particle physics world and all the new stuff put together to find smaller and smaller particls. Or look at the development for telescopes to look deeper and deeper into space. Or find new planets.

    Lots left to do for the innovative and creative people. Just stop thinking like the rest of the people and look at things differently.

  13. samicksha
    August 7, 2013

    @goafrit2: I am curious to understand what in term good circuit denotes…

  14. Netcrawl
    August 7, 2013

    @Scott I believe its not just about solving the problems, there's no end for man's desire to go beyond, explore the unknown, and unlock the mystery. Human simply want more, they want to get the best possible result and the best that man can do that's why they keep on pushing. Its a never ending process, there's always new things to do and discover.   

  15. eafpres
    August 7, 2013

    Patents are a nice trend indicator but don't measure true invention any more. Also, with large shifts in patent output to China, the baseline to compare isn't constant any more either. Same goes for journal articles. Nonetheless I believe there are many new physical phenomena to be discovered especially at the nano scale. Then decades of work to figure out how to harness the discoveries. Look at what is happening in Si Photonics or quantum computing. Just recently a new discovery that an ensemble of atoms could be switched using a single photon. This may lead to actual optical transistors someday.

  16. goafrit2
    August 7, 2013

    I will think a good circuit is one that offers the best performance at minimal resource use. The analogy in the comment suggests something like mimicking the biology of nervous and neuronal communication in human beings which seem very effective than what is done in most mixed signal circuit designs. The problem with that is that you cannot scale/automate anything that is not digital. Time will tell if we can find better ways of making smarter circuits that can compete at that bio level.

  17. EMCgenius
    August 14, 2013

    Slow news day?

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