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From the editor's desk: The democratisation of development

23 March 2016 News

I first learned (as I suspect most of us did) of Thomas Edison at some now-indeterminate stage of my school career. He is, of course, the father of the incandescent light bulb – one of more than 1000 inventions in his portfolio of patents. I’m equally unable to pin down when the name Nikola Tesla first entered my consciousness, but it would have been during either high school or university. Without question it was some time later, having embarked on real life and begun my collection of pointless factoids in earnest, that I discovered the connection between those two giants of science. In a nutshell, Tesla was a protégé of Edison’s, before their relationship publicly and melodramatically degenerated into a bitter rivalry.

Far be it from me to adjudge the relative historical importance or scientific contributions of Edison and Tesla, but in a popularity contest I would take the side of Tesla. For some reason his mad scientist persona reverberates more strongly with me than Edison’s slick entrepreneurship. Also, Tesla never publicly electrocuted an elephant, which Edison did in a stunt to prove the danger of alternating current and promote his proposed direct current for electricity distribution.

What Edison must get credit for, though, is essentially writing the book on how organisations conduct R&D on an industrial scale. The model he created has endured for more than two centuries, but is now being challenged by the advent of crowd funding. Platforms like Kickstarter and Indiegogo have become hotbeds for innovative startups to strut their stuff, but now established companies are increasingly using them to test the waters rather than risking their own money on new projects.

I’m not sure how I feel about that, to be honest. I can see the benefits to both developers and backers, but ploys like stretch goals strike me as being disproportionately advantageous to the former. As long as no elephants are being harmed, I’m happy to wait and watch how the situation develops.

Brett van den Bosch

Editor



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