tv Richard Munson Tesla CSPAN August 8, 2018 9:19pm-9:48pm EDT
>> at morning everyone. welcome to the science and technology center. my name is eric. this is a very special guest event. we have a guest speaker richard munson who is here to talk about his brand-new book that just this week called "tesla" inventor of the modern. who is hurt if nicholas tesla. we hear about his life and accomplishments from the author himself so please join me in welcoming mr. munson. >> thank you very much. appreciate everybody coming today. tesla, he has become -- there has been aer modern revival of m mary page who is google co-founder recently came out with refer to tesla as a hero.
probably most people when they think about tesla they think about elon musk's cars and batteries but i today want to talk more about the man in the process. i was four years in writing this book and i thought i would offer some insights from my respect event for them that i thought were the key to the surprises as well. the first is the extent of this man's genius. this m man invented the electric motor. he attempted the long-distance distribution of electricity. according to the united states supreme court he did or radio remote control and robots. on and these are the very basics of our economy were done by m one single man. the american institute of
electrical engineers said were we to seize and eliminates our industrial world the results of mr. tesla's work the wheels of industry would cease to turn. our towns would be dark. it's not only the things he did but he had this fantastic imagination. he was able to envision things and would outline what they would look like. even though technology wasn't available for him to make it he foresaw cell phones radar, laser weapons artificial intelligence | aircraft. the list goes on. one of the things that knocked me out this guy 110 years ago was talking about the ability to have something in your vest pocket which would give you news and he said we shall see and hear one another so perfect they as though we were face to face despite distances of thousands of miles. a man will be able to carry one
in his vest pocket. this was 105 years ago that he comes up with this. as a visionary he was quite remarkable. i should admit however that this man also came up with a quixotic notion that you could say either complicates his legacy or makes them moreke interesting. he spent years trying too figure out how to communicate with intelligent beings on other planets. he spent years trying to figure out how to read your mind by putting little monitors in your -- so here's a guy that had great success. he missed several things. he thought of. some things that were totally wrong but for an inventor he had a really amazingly high batting average of getting things right. my day job i work for the environmental defense fund that i do work in chicago. another surprise to me was
nikolas tesla was a clean energy pioneer. his first major article was in the year 1900 something called century magazine. it was the largest circulation newsletter of its kind in the subtitle was how to capture energy. 118 years ago he was describing in great detail how you can capture energy from the sun and the wind. as an environmentalist i keep thinking mixing my day job and my writing job what a wonder it would be to be able to have nicholas tesla alive here today so he would think outside the in the industry that he helped create which has become a little bit stodgy because it's been monopolized her many years and risk-averse and innovation averse but imagine what he could do. he'd be thinking about ways to
send electricity wireless lan ways to generate electricity withoute pollution. he'd be thinking about ways of sending electricity to everybody around the world including the people that still don't have electric power. hugh in fact a physician. he would give presentations and this was his view. electricity is a wonder that physicists don't still understand exactly what it is. but we know that it works. keeps our beer cold and it keeps our computersnn running. it's a wonder. he somehow or another captured and was able to control this wonderful resource. he would create lightning. this was something that had been there researched. he was able to make globes glow even though they were not connected to any wire. this was quite a remarkable
individual. i guess my third surprise and i will present this guys struggle between the present and the future. you could call it apocryphal. you could call it weird, you could call it appropriate that he was b born during an intense lightning storm at the stroke of midnight between the ninth and tenth of july, 1856. how where does back? the first story became the tesla family lore and they felt he had some special qualities. didn't happen to everybody. i is that either for thought it explained a lot about him. this was a man that was sort of stuck between focusing on today in looking at the future and he was always trying to balance the realities of the present and
spending time in visioning what the future might look like. let me give one example. the year is 1897. he had l just completed capturig the immense power from falls and he was able to put it through a series of generators and distributect that arrest -- electricity from buffalo to jordan and an amazing 400 miles all the way to new york city. just to give you some sense of how unbelievable that is thomas edison approach to electricity could only send something for about a half a mile. what tesla invented using alternating current, he said that 400 miles. four times further. they said to tesla belonged the
man who made this project possible. there's a statue that commemorates his work t there bt this is 1897. he just did this and he's thinking this is so today. i am bored with today. this is a real accomplishment that i want to think about something new so he decided i'm going to create a whole newhe field of science. he referred to it as telemann tronics and we would today refer to it as robotics. his first piece of equipment was a model. about 4 feet long and 3 feet high and this was at the time he resented it in some places like madison square garden the oldqu madison square garden and he set up there a pool or a pond in the middle of this exhibition area to demonstrate material.
recognize this was about 20 months after the battleship maine had exploded in the havana harbor. we were just at the beginnings of the spanish-american war. there was a lot of interest to figure out where their new ways of making weapons? he brings in the navy and inventors scientists and journalists and for about 15 minutes he has this little model boat going forward, going back. it acted like a water boat going around the pond. basically everyone is sitting there and if you read some of thet comments from the newspaper reports some people were saying it was controlled by a tiny inside moving it around in other people thought it was -- but what he didn't did after mesmerizinghe everybody he turnd to the crowd and said what anybody like to ask the boat a question that everybody has this blank look on their face.
what face. what do you mean asked the boat a question? some probably massenburg comes up andnd says what's the root of 64. he flips a button four times and flashes a light on the model boat and the crowd went nuts because they thought there has to be a inside their something. but this was as conflicts between the realities of the day. he just did a major, probably the major engineering accomplishment of the 19th century and that bored him. what is remarkable, of his accomplishment is that marconi he tried to do something just like this three months later. he brought out a little boat and he pretended that there was a spanish frigate on the other
side of the pond. he'd placed abe om on the spanish frigate. we are at the beginning of the spanish-americanso war. he maneuvers it over to the spanish frigate pushes the button and nothing happens. suddenly there's a huge explosion in the backroom because he had not figured out how to individualize messages so the message went back to the storeroom and blasts and smoke come pouring out into the area. for tesla and he thinks big,. some reporter asked him is as a model vote or a submarine that's able to deliver bombs and he was aghast. are you kidding me? he said this is the first nonbiological form of life. it is embodied with a mind.
and his viewf of this was he foresaw artificialrt intelligene and then went on to say that the boat would be able to follow a course laidse out by commands given far in advance capable of distinguishing between what is off and what it ought not to do begin, almost 100 years ago today. my fourth surprise of this was, everybody -- when they talk -- not everybody but a lot of the articles about nikola tesla make him appear to be a superman, one biographer said he was like super nova of the human race, and to be fair, inventing the electric motor, long distance electricity, robots, remote control, radio, pretty supper
accomplishments, but the part that intrigued me was that he was also a human, and charmingly so. one of the great benefit of being a biographer is you get to be surprised out things. i was surprised when i was at the library of congress and i asked the librarian what they had on tesla. she says, oh, i have a whole bun of boxes in the back and in those boxes were letters that tesla had been writing to friends of colleague's business associatees. suddenly you got to see this man in reality up front he had a lot of friends so be quite honest. his closest friends were robert and katherine johnson, robert was the editor of the century magazine which we discussed before. katherine, his wildfire, ran an intellectual salon at their townhouse in the blur hill district of man had tan, and they were not particularly rich but acted that way and brought
together for dinners, artists, musicians, other luminaries. one who came all the time, if you recognize this gentleman, mark twain. he would come to dinner, and after din we're good to tesla's laboratory, and that is nikola tesla in the brown, and these two buddies played like kids. they were shooting lightning beams across the lab, making globes glow. they were having a marvelous time, and i guess my point here is that this man, this superman, which i'm willing to say did superaccomplishments, the intriguing part was that he was human. there's -- that was both robert and katherine again. one example of their letter -- tesla had been sick with a cold for a couple of days so robert wrote him a letter which i think just exemplifies their daily notes they sent to each other
about their health or writings, and it said, it's been a whole week since we saw you and you need cheering up. come as early as possible and get cheered. we are in a jolly mood and the fire is lighter than the heart and we only need you. so this very human superman, i think, just to conclude, sort of revels the excitement of discovery. this was at his core. he said, i do not think there is any thrill that can good through the human heart like that felt by the inventor as he sees some creation of the brain unfolding to success, such emotions make a man forget sleep, food, friends, love, everything. what is interesting about tess los angeles i think, as an inventor, he was perhaps one of the last curiosity driven inventors, motivated by idealism. thomas edison invented largely practical products to make money. there's nothing wrong with that. no criticism.
but tesla felt that even though -- it's not like he didn't like money. he enjoyed his meals at delmony icko, enjoyed a nice apartment at the waldorf astore ya but he built a technology that tran scened the markplace and invention was more important than simply profits. so, he no doubt, i think, aimed high , perhaps higher than any other inventor we have had in this country, and i guess pardon my reason -- part of my reason for writing this is book is to give him more credit and exposure than he has gotten. not trying to criticized disson or marconi, they did amazing things, but tesla did as well. these are few pictures of him as he ages. you get some sense of him.
through the idealism the hogue he bring power to ann around the world freely. thought he would create robots that would he thought he it would create robots that would eliminate drudgery. he basically was driven by in her forces that felt the sheer creation was the most important thing in the world. i would a argue that we are all the better for it. thank you very much. [applause] >> we have time for just a few questions. if anybody has questions about tesla for our guest author. >> i'm. in yourou book it seems like you speak a lot about his brilliance. do you mention any of this eccentricities. >> he made a lot ofg mistakes. not long after the ripe others
with their airplanes they said there's no way that airplanes can make it. they are toooo heavy. that was the way to go. einstein who is two decades younger than he was, tesla thought that he had split an atom and no energy came out so he said atomic power is bunk. it just won't work. thoughts cosmic rays could go faster so they got things wrong but my point was that his batting average was really, really good. all inventors if they are out there on the cutting-edge are going to make mistakes. edison thought he had a brilliant new way for increasing the efficiency of extract in or from rock. it failed. all inventors fail. my point is tesla had a better batting average than most and what he gave us through radio
and robots are at the very core of our autonomy and i for one am grateful that we had him. any other questions? yes, sir. >> how did he do financially? >> that's a very good question. he went up and down is the short answer. his first job was working in budapest installing edison film systems and then he came to united states to w work for edin himself. edison paid him a tiny bit of money and in fact he quit because there were squabbles and then he got cheated by his partners in a new business. spent a year digging ditches making $2 a day. suddenly he sells his s electric motor patented george westinghousett. suddenly he is wealthy. i mean really wealthy.
he moves to the waldorf-astoria but then after he and westinghouse did the niagara falls project westinghouse is a little bit stressed -- stretched and jpmorgan ruthless banker that he w was trying to take ovr westinghouse has accompanied and turned to tesla who have this contract for every host power of motor that came out which was worth billions of dollars. westinghouse said to him i'm about to lose my company. can you help me? tesla and unbelievably horrible businessman a negotiated that he was said have always been kind to me.g you are the one who's going to bring my ideal of this great american motor to fruition. let me tear up my contract. he gave up a billion dollars and
to be honest he died a poor man alone in the hotel new yorker. he was supported only because a few scientists at the westinghouse company realized he made the company possible and gave them a stipend for his room at the hotel new yorker. any other questions? >> i would like to know in modern times the technology that we have used was do you think you'd be surprised or do you think he would be proud? >> i still think you'd be looking at the future thinking of totally new ways of doing things. he would probably look at the cell phone and say yeah i thought of that and sort of move on and think well maybe i really can't think of a new way of sending lightning bolts into the earth taking it vanish of the
earth's natural alert for city getting some residence off of echo and making electricity available to everyone in the world so you could just simply plug a plug-in to the earth outside of youre home and you have it. i come back to this balance between him making the reality of today and being happy about it but always thinking that's not enough. he would have to be thinking about tomorrow. >> fromhe -- tesla might be impressed that the technology today. what would heda think of the mah for science and some of that outcome of the most recent election as a reflection in science and society. >> he views himself and he was proud to be a scientist. i think any attack on the ability to think creatively he
could not have seldom did. he was not much of a political person p. got involved every now and then. in my mind the interesting thing he would look at today is how the invention process happened which in my view and i think in his would be it's mostly done now byy teams. either teams out of the university's corporate research labs. i was at a conference the other day and they were talking about a research project. they had 165 people on those projects. he wasn't individual inventor and we sort of had a loss of that. he was trying to be figuring out how to re-create a culture by which we allow individuals with their crazy ideas in their great ideas to be able to flourish and not necessarily push them. i would guess he would lament
the loss of the individual inventor. >> after he came to the united states did he he go back-and-forth? >> not very often. he did a couple of times. he went back once to give speeches and to protect his own patent in london and paris. his mother died while he was back there but he spent most of his time in the united states and most of that in new york city which was his core of where he worked. he loved being in his laboratory. that was his favorite place. he had a few assistance and it was clearly managed by him. again what came out of that laboratory was the foundations of our modern economy. >> richard will be here for a few more minutes if you'd like to say hi. please join me in thanking him
sheila tate was press secretary for nancy reagan from 1981 to 1985. "lady in red" is a memoir of her time in the spring of the white house biography of nancy reagan and a collection of interviews with friends of the first lady. she talked about her book at the reagan library in simi valley california. this is an hour. >> ladies and gentlemen please welcome mrs. sheila tate. [applause] >> i was so late