Tuesday, May 27

An important lesson on research from Tesla

I was re-reading "The Search" by John Battelle over the weekend. I ran across some key insights inspired by the lesson of Nikola Tesla. Larry Page talks about the way Tesla inspired him:
"He had all these problems commercializing his work. It's a very sad story. I realized Tesla was the greatest inventor, but he didn't accomplish as much as he should have. I realized I wanted to invent things, but I also wanted to change the world. I wanted to get them out there, get them into people's hands so they can use them, because that's what really matters."
Speaking about Backrub, one of the first backlink graphs of the web, Page continues,
"My goals were to work on something that would be academically real and interesting. But there is no reason if you are doing academic work to work on things that are impractical. I wanted both, and I didn't think there was much of a trade-off to be made. I figure if I ended up building something that was going to potentially benefit a lot of people...then I would be open to commercializing it-so that I wouldn't be like Tesla."
This really struck me because I perceive much of the research in academic to be unrealistic with little real-world potential and often a lack desire from researchers to make their work into anything really applicable. While I doubt I will ever build something as significant as Google, I share Page's desire to do something both academically interesting and with the potential to benefit a lot of people.

I'm now looking for interesting research topics in this vein, if you have ideas, let's talk!


  1. Jeff, glad that your decision to pursue a PhD hasn't diminished your interest in the real world!

    But your question is a bit broad. Care to narrow it down a bit? Anything within IR?

  2. Minor nit: Tesla's name was Nikola, not Nicholas... unless it got altered with time and I just never came across this version.

  3. Consider it a late night typo -- it was almost 2am ;-).

    Good catch, I'll fix the typo.