I attended an interesting seminar today. A vice-predsident of the company that I work for, gave a talk about the historical background (from an engineering and technological point of view) about the area in imaging that my employer develops products for. There was an explosion of engineering , technological progress and invention in the second half of the nineteenth century. This progress came mainly from scientific academies that had been established in the two major powers of Europe, Britain and France, and then in Germany after unification. One major reason was that these academies started disseminating scientific knowledge via publishing and conferences , and scientists and engineers could collaborate using newer and efficient tools for communications, for example, the telegraph. This new knowledge allowed the rise of newer powers like the United States, Germany and Japan. It is said that after German unification, the rate of progress in Germany was so fast that Berlin completely supplanted Paris as the center of culture and science in Europe. Berlin was soon the leading center of Physics and Philosophy.
Fast forward into the future, to the last two decades of the twentieth century and we’re seeing history somewhat repeating itself. New tools of collaboration (email, internet, blogs, video, television) and knowledge dissemination and technological explosion (bio-tech nano-tech, etc), and new powers rising (China, India and Brazil) making use of the knowledge that is spreading around. This is an awesome thing! The only thing that we as a people should be worried about is that if we are finally repeating the good history, then are we also condemned to repeat the bad history that followed all that great progress in the nineteenth century.