Year 23 AI


Everything that can be invented has been invented.Charles Holland Duell, Commissioner, U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, 1899

This quote goes to show that sometimes rumors spread more than facts. In reality, the Commissioner of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, Charles Duell, never made such a statement (as explained here and here.) The quote seems to have found its way into popular dialogue and has been misused since.

Mr. Duell was in fact a very progressive thinker when it came to technology and innovation. One statement he actually did make in 1902 was the following:

“In my opinion, all previous advances in the various lines of invention will appear totally insignificant when compared with those which the present century will witness. I almost wish that I might live my life over again to see the wonders which are at the threshold.”

What I love about this quote is that he didn’t just believe that new inventions will increase over time — anyone with a decent dose of optimism can say that, but he believed that they would be so magnificent and transformative that new products and ideas would make everything we have today appear insignificant by comparison.

While some people in the media or public choose to offer pessimistic views of technology and innovation and question whether the values we assign to innovation and tech companies are justified, we see that fundamentally, we are becoming more innovative as a country. I think we should be extremely optimistic about the future.

Let’s hope that the pessimistic rumors don’t spread the way Charles Duell’s misquote did. When looking at the data tracing back to 1963, the total number of patents granted in 2013 was 519% greater than the number of patents granted in 1963 (United States).

Let’s ask the question that Charles Duell inspired. What if all previous advances in the various lines of invention that we’ve seen – the transistor, the integrated circuit, the microprocessor, the personal computer, the World Wide Web – will appear totally insignificant when compared to those which the present century will witness.

What we will see in the rest of the 21st Century in innovation – in energy, artificial intelligence, education, food and water, transportation, healthcare, nanotechnology, atomic precise manufacturing, etc. – brought forth by entrepreneurs will dwarf the previous generation of innovation. We couldn’t be more excited about the future.

Think of it this way. On August 6, 1991, Tim Berners-Lee and his team launched the first website built at CERN (European Organization for Nuclear Research). Taking a step back, we realize that the Internet is only about 23 years young. Many of us lived a part of our lives in the Before Internet (B.I) era. We are only in Year 23 of the After Internet (A.I.) era and just beginning to see its potential.

In 23 A.D., the Greek geographer Strabo published Geography, a work covering the world known to the Romans and Greeks at the time of Emperor Augustus – it is the only such book to survive from the ancient world.

The point of telling the Greek geographer story is that as 23 A.D. was the very early period of geographical discoveries, 23 A.I. is still very much the early days of technological and digital transformation. Imagine the possibilities globally when the remaining 61% of the world gains access to the Internet.

We live in extraordinary times and in our lifetime, we will witness many wonders that pushes the boundaries of our imaginations. Let’s start creating some of them!


Cover photo credit: Universe Today

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