Lonely Ideas: The Surprising Record of Russia in Invention and Innovation

Speaker: Prof Loren Graham # Massachusetts Institute of Technology

14th Oct 2013

15:30 - 17:00

Conference Room, David Hume Tower

Abstract

Russians have often claimed that they invented many of the most important technologies of modern civilization:  the steam engine, the light bulb, the radio, the airplane, the transistor, the laser, the computer, the diode, and many other devices.  Western commentators ridiculed these claims.

My recent research in Russian sources has revealed a big surprise.  Russians did do marvelous work in all these areas.  But then a big question emerges:  if Russians were pioneers in all these fields, why is Russia today so weak a player in modern technology?  When have you gone into an electronics store, picked up a desirable object, and found that it was labeled “Made in Russia”?  Almost never.  This striking failure to commercialize their inventions points to what Russia needs to do to modernize:  create a society that values inventiveness and practicality, an economic system that provides investment opportunities, a legal system that protects intellectual property, and a political system that encourages innovation and success.  In order to compete in the world high-technology market Russia does not need a “Silicon Valley” (Skolkovo) as much as it needs social, political, and economic reform. 

 

Speaker Biography

Loren Graham is Emeritus Professor of the History of Science at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. His research focuses on the history of science in Russia and the Soviet Union in the 19th and 20th centuries.

 


 

The seminar will be followed by a drinks reception.

For more information, please contact Alyson Macdonald (tel. 0131 650 9113).