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tv   Richard Munson Tesla  CSPAN  August 9, 2018 7:12am-7:41am EDT

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too? what we realized, we went home at night and worked. the guys went out and had a good time. or they played golf or they went to a matinee. we realized that was the difference. >> in the weeks ahead we hear from bentley, nancy johnson, and lindsay. watch oral histories sunday at 10:00 eastern on american history tv on c-span 3. >> nikola tesla was a scientist and inventor known for his development in electrical engineering including alternating current, radio and the induction motor. richard munson talked about his book "tesla: inventor of the modern".
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>> good morning. welcome to the science and technology center at the museum of science office. my name is eric. this is a special guest event. we have a guest speaker, richard munson, here to talk about his book "tesla: inventor of the modern". who has heard of nikola tesla? will hear about his life and abolishment. please join me in welcoming richard munson. >> appreciate everybody coming today. tesla has become sort, there has been a modern revival of him. larry page, google's cofounder
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referred to tesla as a hero. most people when they think about tesla they think about elon musk's car and batteries and solar equipment but i want to talk more about the man. we have some insights that i thought were just key, and the first is the extent of this man's genius. this man invented the electric motor. he invented the long-distance distribution of electricity. according to the united states up in court he invented radio, did a remote control, the list goes on. the use are the basics of our economy. done by one single man. there was a quote by the
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american institute of electrical engineering that said where we to eliminate from the industrial world the results of mister tesla's work the wheels of industry would cease to turn, our towns would be dark. not only the things he did in his life but he had a fantastic imagination. he was able to envision things and outline what they looked like even if the technology wasn't available for him to make it. he foresaw cell phones, radar, laser weapons, artificial intelligence, vertical lift aircraft. the list goes on. one of the quotes that knocked me out on a cell phone, 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 perfectly as though we were face-to-face
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despite intervening distances of 1000 miles and demand will be able to carry one of these in his vest pocket. about -- as a visionary, he was quite remarkable. i should admit, however, that this man came up with quick sonic notions that you could say either complicate his legacy or make them more interesting. to communicate with intelligent beings on other planets, he spent years trying to read your mind with monitors in your wet noah -- retina. he missed several things. he thought of some things that were totally wrong but for an inventor, a high batting average of getting things right. my day job when i worked for the environmental defense fund.
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another surprise to me was nikola tesla was a clean energy pioneer. his first major article in 1900, something called century magazine, the largest circulation newsletter of his kind. it was to capture the synapse energy. he was describing in great detail how you can capture energy from the sun and the winds. as an environmentalist, i keep thinking, missing my day job and writing job, what a wonder it would be to have but imagin
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what he could do. he would be thinking about ways to send electricity wirelessly, ways to generate electricity without pollution. he would be thinking about ways of sending electricity to everybody around the world including the 2 billion people today who don't have electric power. he was in fact a magician. he would give presentations and this is his view. electricity is a wonder, physicists still don't understand what it is but we know it works. it keeps computers running. it is a wonder. he somewhere or another captured and was able to control this wonderful resource. he would create lightning. this was something reserved for nature alone. he was able to make globes glow even though they were not
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connected to any wire. this was quite a remarkable individual. my third surprise is to present this guy's struggle between the present and future. you could call it apocryphal, you could call it weird you could call it appropriate. he was born during an intense lightning storm at the very stroke of midnight between the ninth and 10th of july, 1856. how weird is that? this became the tesla family lure and he as a result felt he had some special qualities. this doesn't happen to everybody. i as a biographer looked at this and it explains a lot about him because this was a man who was stuck between focusing on today and looking at the future and he was always
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trying to balance the realities of the present and spending time envisioning what the future might look like. the year is 1897. he had just completed capturing the immense power of niagara falls and he was able to put it through a series of generators and distribute that electricity 26 miles above buffalo, new york and an amazing 400 miles to new york city. to give you a sense how unbelievable that is thomas edison approached sending electricity called direct-current could only send something for half a mile. what tesla invented using alternating current, new york times referred to this as the technological accomplishment of the 19th century and they said
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to tesla belongs the man who made this project possible. there is a statue that commemorates his work. this was 1897. he just did this and he is thinking this is so today. i am bored with today. this is a real accomplishment. i want to think about something new. i will create a new field of science. we would refer to it as robotics. and and and flashy places at madison square garden. he set up a pool or pond in the
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middle of this exhibition area to demonstrate this material, 3 months after the battleship maine exploded in havana harbor. we were at the beginning of the spanish-american war. there was a lot of interest in figuring out new ways of making weapons so he has this presentation, he brings in the navy, other inventors, scientists, journalists and for 15 minutes has this little model boat going forward, going back, dancing like a water bug, going around the pond and everyone is sitting there, you read the comments from newspaper reports, some people were saying it was controlled by a little monkey. other people thought it was hunted. but what he then did after mesmerizing everybody, he turned to the crowd and said would anybody like to ask a
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question? everybody has a blank look, what do you me ask the boat a question? some probably mass nerd said what is the key root of 64? tesla standing in the back has his hand under a secret panel and flips a button four times that flashes the light on the model boat and as he said, the crowd nuts because they were thinking there has to be a monkey inside or something. but this was the conflict between the realities of today. probably the major engineering accomplishment of the 19th century, that bored him. what is remarkable, his accomplishment is marconi, who gets the credit for radio in people's popular mind, he tried to do something like this 3 months later, brought out a
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little boat, and pretended there was a spanish forget that he would maneuver his boat and place a tiny bomb to blow up the spanish frigate. he maneuvers it to the spanish frigate, pushes a button. it doesn't happen. and to individualize messages. the storeroom, for tesla, he looks at this, is this a model boat that they once to deliver a bomb, and he was aghast, are
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you kidding me? this is the first nonbiological form of life, embodied with a mind. he foresaw artificial intelligence and then went on to say the boat would be able to follow a course laid out, or obey commands given far in advance but may be capable of distinction between what is art and what is art -- what it ought not to do. this is artificial intelligence or the beginnings of it almost 100 years ago today. my fourth surprise, everybody, not everybody but a lot of articles about nikola tesla make them appear to be a superman. one biographer said he was like a supernova of the human race.
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to be fair, inventing the electric motor, long-distance literacy, robots, remote control, radio, those are pretty super accomplishments but the part that intrigued me was he was also a human and charmingly so. one of the great benefits of being a biographer is every now and then you get to be surprised by things. i was surprised at the library of congress when i asked the library and what they had on tesla. i have a bunch of boxes in the back and in those boxes were the letters tesla had been writing to his friends or colleagues or business associates. you got to see this man in reality up front. he had lots of friends, his closest were robert and catherine johnson, robert was the editor of century magazine, catherine, his wife, ran an intellectual salon at their
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townhouse in the murray hill district of manhattan. they were not particularly rich but they acted that way and brought together artists, musicians, other luminaries. one who came all the time with mark twain. he would come to dinner and after dinner would go to tesla's laboratory. there he is in the background and these two buddies play like kids. they were shooting lightning beams across the lab, they were having a marvelous time. my point is this man, this superman, his super accomplishments, the intriguing parties he was human. robert and catherine, one example of their letter, tesla was sick with a cold for a
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couple days so robert wrote him a letter that exemplifies the daily notes they sent to each other about their health or their writing and said it has been a 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 hard and we only need you. so the very human superman reveled in the excitement of discovery. he said i do not think there is any thrill that can go through the human heart, he sees some creation of the brain unfolding. such emotion makes a man forget sleep, love, everything. what is interesting about tesla as an inventor, he was one of the last curiosity driven inventors motivated by idealism.
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thomas edison invented largely practical products so he could make money, tesla felt even though it is not like he didn't like money, he enjoyed his meals at dell monaco, he enjoyed his nice apartment at the waldorf-astoria but he felt technology transcended the marketplace, that invention was more important than profit. no doubt aimed high, perhaps higher than any inventor we have had in this country. part of my reason for writing this book is to give him more credit and exposure than he has gotten. i'm not trying to criticize edison or marconi. they did amazing things but tesla did as well and these are
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a few pictures of him as he ages so you get a sense of him but through his idealism he thought he would bring power to everyone around the world freely. he thought he would create robots that would eliminate drudgery. he was driven by inner forces that felt sheer creation was the most important thing in the world and i would argue we all are the better for it. so thank you very much. >> time for questions if anybody has questions for our guest author. >> in your book it seems you speak a lot of his brilliance but can you imagine his eccentricities?
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>> he made a lot of mistakes. not long after the wright brothers flew their airplane he said airplanes aren't going to make it. they are too heavy. zeppelin's dirigible is the way to go. relative to einstein who was two decades younger than he was, tesla thought that he had split and adamant no energy came out so he said atomic power is bunk, hit it won't work. cosmic rays could go faster than the speed of light. he got things wrong but my point was his batting average was really really good. all inventors if they are on the cutting edge are going to make mistakes. it is in thought he had a brilliant new way for increasing the efficiency of extracting or from rocks. it failed. all inventors failed. tesla had a better batting
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average than most and what he gave us through motors, electricity, radio and robots are at the very core of our economy and i am grateful we had him. any other questions? yes, sir? >> how did he do financially? >> that is a very good question. he went up and down is the short answer. his first job in budapest was following it is an's phone system. he came to the united states to work for edison himself. edison paid him a tiny little bit of money, he quit because of a squabble about money and then he got cheated by his partners in a new business. he made $2 a day digging ditches. then he sold his electric motor patents to george westinghouse,
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the bubba bubba industrialist and suddenly is wealthy, really wealthy. he moved into the waldorf-astoria, every dinner at dell monaco but after he and westinghouse did the niagara falls project westinghouse was a little stretched and jpmorgan, ruthless banker that he was, went after westinghouse trying to take over and westinghouse turned to tesla to have a contract for a royalty for every horsepower of a motor that came out which was worth billions of dollars and westinghouse says to him i'm about to lose my company. can you help me? tesla, unbelievably horrible businessman and negotiator, said you have always been kind to me. you are the one who is going to bring my ideal of this electric motor to the world, let me tear up my contract.
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he gave away $1 billion. for the rest of his life he struggled and he died a poor man, alone, in the hotel new yorker. a few scientists at the westinghouse company realized he had made the company possible and gave him a little stipend so he had a room at the hotel new yorker. that was a long answer but up and down on the money front. any other questions? >> i would like to know, tesla is able to see the modern world, do you think he would be surprised or proud? >> i think he would still be looking at the future, thinking about totally new ways of doing things. he looked at the cell phone and said i thought of that and then move on.
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sending lightning bolts into the earth taking advantage of electricity and getting residence or echoing to make electricity available to everybody in the world so you could plug a plug into the earth outside your home and you have it. i come back to the balance between him making the reality of today and being happy about it but thinking that is not enough. he has to be thinking about tomorrow. >> tesla might be impressed at the technology today. what would he think of the march for science and some of the outcome of the most recent election as reflection of science in society? >> he viewed himself and was proud to be a scientist. i think any attack on the
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ability to think creatively would have abhorred him. he wasn't much of a political person. the interesting thing he would look at today is how the inventing process happened which in my view and in his would be it is mostly done now by teams. either teams at universities, corporate research labs. i was at a conference the other day and they were talking about a research project, 165 people on this project. he was an individual inventor and we have lost that. he would lament and try to figure out how to create a culture by which we allow individuals with their crazy ideas to flourish, this is not
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a criticism, they have given us great things but i would guess he would lament the loss of the individual inventor. >> did he go back and forth? >> he did a couple times, once to give speeches and protect his own patents in london and paris and his mother died when he was back there. 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. he had a few assistants but clearly managed by him and what came out of that laboratory was the foundations of our modern economy. >> richard will be here a few
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more minutes if you would like to say i, join me in thanking him for talking today. [applause] >> if you are interested in the book i'm supposed to promote my book, go to i appreciate your interest in mister tesla and thank you for your attention. [applause] >> live thursday on c-span at noon, a panel former clerks for brett kavanaugh talk about their time working for the judge. on >> caller: at 9 am arizona state university with a discussion on how the us and other countries can prepare and adapt to climate change. after that the association for education and journalism and mass communication continue with conversation about
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reporting in a hostile political climate live at 11:00 eastern. >> we don't live in the same parts of the country or have the same vocation or the same outlook but where we are all the same as women of color and blue blue of color, the way we try to instill a sense of fear. you can call it respect about it is fear as a consequence of what could happen if anything goes wrong with an interaction with the police. >> sunday night on afterwards, comedian and actor dl youley, his book how not to get shot and other advice from white people. >> how about having a police department that is respectful of the public and is held to a higher standard. there is a certain point when children just don't listen. should they die for that?
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