How the British government killed off multitouch screen technology underpinning Apple’s iPhone

“I have to admit to finding this story most amusing: for it punctures and then deflates one of the big lefty talking points of our times. Either the ‘You didn’t build that’ meme or the contention in Marianna Mazzucato’s book, ‘The Entrepreneurial State,’ that all technological innovation ultimately comes from government,” Tim Worstall writes for Forbes. “Presumably, her thesis then swiftly moving on to the idea that all money made from technological development should belong to said governments.”

“The background here is that a British inventor went to one of the government agencies supposed to aid people in developing new technologies. That was his mistake in fact, going to a government agency,” Worstall writes. “The technology he was developing was for multitouch screens. Exactly what Apple looked for when they were making the iPhone in fact. But Apple ended up using an entirely different method of getting to the same end, being able to pinch and zoom and all that. Why? Because that government agency proved to be entirely incompetent at actually aiding the inventor.”

“The reason that government ‘aid’ for invention isn’t going to work is because of the way that government works, on a rather leisurely timescale that is (even when it’s doing the right thing it does it slowly),” Worstall writes. “There were several groups working on multitouch screens. The sadness is that the one that was most advanced made the terrible mistake of going to the government for aid in developing it. And given the snail’s pace at which government works it didn’t get developed and didn’t get taken up as the industry technology.”

Read more in the full article here.

Andrew Orlowski reports for The Register, “This is a disturbing, cautionary tale of quasi-government and its bungling. It describes how Britain could have led the recent advances in touchscreen technology, developing kit capable detecting more than one fingertip at once, years before Apple did – if it weren’t for the nation’s treacle-footed, self-serving quangocracy.”

“The success of the iPhone and iPad was a generational ‘paradigm shift,’ and companies that failed to move with the touchy times include fallen giants Nokia and BlackBerry,” Orlowski reports. “And that seismic shift so easily could have been based on a British invention.”

“Our saga begins with Andrew Fentem, an electronic engineering graduate and former Thorn EMI engineer who – after a few years working on defence projects – was at the University of Cambridge and the London Business School doing a PhD,” Orlowski reports. “Fentem submitted a funding application to Nesta [National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts ] in January 2003, while he continued to work on new prototypes. ‘When I first approached Nesta I was told that I would receive a funding decision within 6 weeks,’ he says. ‘However, it took Nesta a year to just write the contract. To put that in perspective, it took Apple only 2 years to conceive, develop and commercialise the entire iPhone.'”

Tons more in the full article here.

[Thanks to MacDailyNews readers too numerous to mention individually for the heads up.]

113 Comments

    1. Sure, lap up the far rightist pablum that all government is evil, incompetent, corrupt, and out to get you. Latch onto a story in which the government screws things up (as if that never happens *anywhere* else) and ergo, you must be correct. Ego boosted, point of view reinforced, all is literally right with the world.

      Now back to reality. The government does mess up sometimes, but it also accomplishes many good things on behalf of society. Some goals benefit from combining the resources of a society – I am certain that you can name at least a few if you try.

      You want to trim back and streamline government – I am with you. You want to make government more efficient – I am with you. You want to make government more accountable – I am with you. But the ridiculous tirades of the far right denigrating all government organizations, rules, regulations, and employees are not productive.

      I challenge you to consider what your life would be like without government, what this country would be like without government. I am completely on board with the continuing effort to improve and evolve government to meet the changing needs of society. However, I am completely disgusted with the FUD tactics, disinformation tactics, outright hypocrisy, and self-righteous obstructionism of the group with which you are affiliated. Both sides of the political spectrum suck, but a majority of people believe that your side sucks a bit more, primarily because of your willingness to sacrifice the welfare of many to promote the objectives of a few. If you could only be forced to walk a mile in others shoes…

        1. I have a full brain and I don’t live on the 1 dimensional Liberal-Moderate-Conservative line, than goodness. 1 dimensional thinking is what’s for ‘TARD’s.

          Government is a crap source of incentive. But it is the best place to put public consensus as well as control of those who refuse to take personal responsibility for their actions. That of course includes members of our Corporate Oligarchy who only have eyes on profit with zero consideration of the effects of their profit making on other people’s lives or the survival of Earth, our only home.

          IOW: It’s a 3-D world out here. Please join in.

        2. re “as little government as possible”

          It’s always hilarious when right-wingers trumpet small government while actually right-wing governments (North Carolina, Texas, etc.) LOVE to interfere in the personal choices of citizens.

            1. Of course you are responsible.
              If there are enough of you, get the conservative politicians you want.
              (And if there aren’t, shut up and make the best of the democracy you live in.)

        3. I live in Norway, and like the other Scandinavian countries, we have a pretty large government. However, most of us still thinks it’s an awesome system which provides us with free education, free health care, 5 weeks of payed holiday each year, 11 months payed maternal leave etc. Along with the Scandinavian countries we’re also ranked as one of the most happiest countries in the world, with some of the highest standard of living in the world, low violence rate, and the gap between the rich and the poor is really small, compared to other countries.

          Of course, our governments are doing stupid things all the time, but that doesn’t mean that we want to abolish the big government. The private sector isn’t perfect either. We don’t want to make the government smaller, we want to make it better. It’s hard for us to understand why people want to get rid of the government, because in our experience, it works.

      1. Actually, the onus of an example-naming would be on you. What are good examples of a government doing well? I caution mentioning the Autobahn (good idea, arguably bad gov’t.)
        There is also cumbersome copyright law (say, Disney,) egregious patents (one-click checkout, tcp/ip,) overbearing regulations (raisins, delta smelt,) where its meddling is unarguably questionable.

        I do, however, trust more in individuals and free enterprise. If it wasn’t for Steve Jobs and company, I would not be holding that nice iPad in my hand. From idea to product, just amazing. And the Bill and Linda Gates foundation, now there is a white rich guy who proves that he doesn’t feed on orphan hearts.
        When is NASA getting us to Mars, or the moon? Oh that’s right. But I digress.

        Some goals benefit from combining the resources of a society.
        Do I read: The ends justify the means, taking from individuals to make good on promises for guaranteed constituents? Well, bless your heart.
        Socialist ideas are so cute, but they do not mention how they would have a hissy when their own money or freedoms are at stake – no matter your sanctimonious idealism.

        1. The internet, the transisitor, the intercontinental railroads and highways, SEC regulations, stoplights; these are a few of my favorite things.
          NASA has curiosity on Mars, where is the private individual/free enterprise rover?

      2. What FUD?

        I don’t think that anyone is advocating for getting rid of all government, but it sure could use a big-azz haircut.
        As the article demonstrates, Bureaucracies are inherently inefficient.

        In the majority of scenarios It’s a fact.

        1. Whereas all individual citizens, their micro and small businesses, corporations, and charitable organizations are all soooo efficient.

          When you have even just two people together in an organization, I think you are already into gross inefficiency due to conflicting goals, ways of doing things, etc. Perhaps it’s just (unfortunately) human nature.

          1. You’ve never heard the old “2 minds” saying?
            (Woz alone could not have built Apple)
            And yes, many small biz/corp and charitable orgs are very efficient. And the nice thing about it is that if they aren’t efficient, a competitor will move in and either drive improvements or drive the less efficient out of business.

  1. Those authors are ignorant:

    1) Apple’s multi-touch technology comes from researches that were held in 1990-s, years before this UK’s inventor had his ideas (not to say that his ideas were a copycat; he obviously could not knew about early parallel researches);

    2) Apple’s iPhone took not two, but almost four years to appear on the shelves of stores.

    1. The US & EU moved from a farming society where about 95% of people worked farms in the late 1800s to where only about 50-70 years later only <20% were working farms.

      Neither of those governments sponsored the technology that allowed the "cityfication" of society.

      Governments today specialize in mandating technological inneficiencies; witness the ACA.

      1. Well actually the industrial revolution which started in Britain in the late 18th Century was to a considerable degree fuelled by Government sponsored military requirements. The casting technology in cannons the first accurate clocks, mechanical computing, iron warships, exploitation of rubber and cloth these are all just examples of developments that spread far beyond military use thereafter.
        Most modern inventions also originate from government sponsored programs of one form or other be it military or university based and State supported especially in the US and UK. Thereafter clearly such inventions are best developed by commercial companies but without the Govt sponsored element we would still be agrarian nations. One example ARM wouldn’t exist without that original support of the State at a crucial time in its development.

        1. I think it’s incorrect to say most modern Inventions originate from GSPs. And there’s no denying that wars drive ingenuity.

          I’ll concede that a great many innovative ideas/inventions come to light in spite of or to circumvent government.

    1. Britain, a socialist state? Are you really that fucking ignorant of politics outside of your own little fantasy world? Sweet baby Jesus, our education system is FUBAR’d enough, but really, calling a centre-right, Conservative government ‘socialist’ shows ignorance of a truly mind-buggering degree.
      Cretin.

            1. Where the hell was the wonderful medical system when it came to treating your delusion I wonder. I suggest you read your history if you wish to learn from it. Practically every cent of value in modern America has come from British and German inventions and technology handed to you for free post 1945. Your great asset was in exploiting others creativity in a World where everyone else was bankrupt while your economy thrived on the fruits of others and even selling to both sides in the conflict in the case of Ford and General Motors. At least show some respect for others contributions. After all we owned a third of your economy prior to having to give it up for a few obsolete destroyers. The irony is that China is progressively doing the same to you so I guess what goes around comes around.

            2. Now, now, Botty. We’ve talked about this insulting your friends. If you can’t place nice you’re going to have to come in early. Your dad with give you a good spanking and go to bed without dessert.

            3. one more thing: “inventions and technology handed to you for free post 1945..”
              • 1749 – The Lightning Rod
              • 1784 – Bifocals
              • 1793 – The Cotton Gin
              • 1801 – The Suspension Bridge
              • 1832 – Morse Code
              • 1833 – The Sewing Machine
              • 1834 – The Combine Harvester
              • 1835 – The Steam Shovel
              • 1839 – Vulcanized Rubber
              • 1843 – The Rotary Printing Press
              • 1845 – Baseball
              • 1846 – The Printing Telegraph
              • 1849 – The Safety Pin
              • 1850 – Inverted Microscope
              • 1859 – The Electric Stove
              • 1860 – The Vacuum Sweeper
              • 1860 – The Lever Action Repeating Rifle
              • 1876 – The Music Synthesizer
              • 1877 – The Phonograph
              • 1879 – The Incandescent Light Bulb
              • 1886 – The Electric Motor
              • 1890 – The Smoke Detector
              • 1890 – The Tabulating Machine
              • 1893 – The Motion Picture
              • 1898 – The Remote Control
              • 1901 – The Nickel Zinc Battery
              • 1901 – The Assembly Line
              • 1902 – Air Conditioning
              • 1903 – Offset Printing
              • 1903 – The Airplane
              • 1904 – The Automatic Transmission
              • 1906 – Typesetting
              • 1916 – Condenser Microphone
              • 1921 – The Polygraph
              • 1923 – The Instant Camera
              • 1930 – The Bathysphere
              • 1931 – The Electric Guitar
              • 1931 – The Strobe Light
              • 1932 – The Radio Telescope
              • 1935 – The Black Light
              • 1936 – Programming Languages
              • 1937 – The Digital Computer
              • 1938 – Xerograph
              • 1938 – Nylon
              • 1938 – Teflon
              • 1945- The Atomic Bomb

              gee, dunno what us dumb Yanks did before 1945.

            4. re
              “uh, dipshit”
              “don’t get your knickers in a wad”
              “fuck you”
              “read the goddamn thread, jackass.”
              “This is a thought question, so take your time and think it through.”
              “really try and focus this time, Bream. I KNOW you can do it.”

              Wow… for a while there, I really thought you were trying. But I guess not. You’re just the same nasty, name-calling, insulting poisonous little fuck you always have been. How’s it going, botvijerk?

            5. From Wikipedia: “The lightning rod was invented by Benjamin Franklin in North America in 1749 and in Europe, probably independently and as the first grounded lightning rod ever, by the Czech priest Prokop Diviš in Bohemia (now Czech Republic), in 1754.” Seems like Europe’s invention was better than America’s.
              Also, here’s an excerpt from Wikipedia re the incandescent light bulb:
              “In 1802, Humphry Davy had what was then the most powerful electrical battery in the world at the Royal Institution of Great Britain. In that year, he created the first incandescent light by passing the current through a thin strip of platinum, chosen because the metal had an extremely high melting point. It was not bright enough nor did it last long enough to be practical, but it was the precedent behind the efforts of scores of experimenters over the next 75 years. In 1809, Davy also created the first arc lamp with two carbon charcoal rods connected to a 2000-cell battery; it was demonstrated to the Royal Institution in 1810.
              Over the first three-quarters of the 19th century many experimenters worked with various combinations of platinum or iridium wires, carbon rods, and evacuated or semi-evacuated enclosures. Many of these devices were demonstrated and some were patented.
              In 1835, James Bowman Lindsay demonstrated a constant electric light at a public meeting in Dundee, Scotland. He stated that he could “read a book at a distance of one and a half feet”. However, having perfected the device to his own satisfaction, he turned to the problem of wireless telegraphy and did not develop the electric light any further. His claims are not well documented, although he is credited in Challoner et al. with being the inventor of the “Incandescent Light Bulb”.
              In 1840, British scientist Warren de la Rue enclosed a coiled platinum filament in a vacuum tube and passed an electric current through it. The design was based on the concept that the high melting point of platinum would allow it to operate at high temperatures and that the evacuated chamber would contain fewer gas molecules to react with the platinum, improving its longevity. Although an efficient design, the cost of the platinum made it impractical for commercial use.
              In 1841, Frederick de Moleyns of England was granted the first patent for an incandescent lamp, with a design using platinum wires contained within a vacuum bulb. . . . Thomas Edison began serious research into developing a practical incandescent lamp in 1878.”
              As for “commercially viable” incandescent light bulbs, the true inventor was Briton Sir Joseph Swan. Again, from wikipedia: “In America, Edison had been working on copies of the original light bulb patented by Swan, trying to make them more efficient. Though Swan had beaten him to this goal, Edison obtained patents in America for a fairly direct copy of the Swan light, and started an advertising campaign that claimed that he was the real inventor. Swan, who was less interested in making money from the invention, agreed that Edison could sell the lights in America while he retained the rights in Britain.”

              I can’t be bothered to fact check the rest of your list. Since the first two I checked on your list were epic fails and republicans generally fail a lot of fact checks, there seems to be little point.

            6. Americans are responsible for a majority of the technologies, scientific, and medical advancements in the past 100+ years. It’s an easily verifiable and quite obvious fact.

              European contributions are two world wars, a number of regional wars, communism and its spread, and a few holocausts.

              Good work, Europe!

    2. Botty’s Mommy here. Tap, tap. Hello, hello. Squuueeeal. Is this thing working? Sorry. I’m not very good with technology.

      First of all, I want to say to all you nice boys and girls playing with my Botty… I’m very, very sorry for his behavior. Deep down, he’s a good boy, really. I know that’s hard to believe, sometimes. His father and I think he’s fallen in with a bad crowd at school. But we have faith that with prayer and the beatings his father gives him that we can pull through this.

      Meantime, if any of you want to just punch him in the face, that’s fine with us. Go right ahead. We won’t make any trouble for you… even if a whole group of you get together to beat the crap out of him.

      Best wishes to you all.
      Botty’s Mommy.

    3. Well, coming from the land of binary mindset, that is singularly incapable of even conceiving the possibility of intelligent discourse between polar opposites…you may as well call us Communists. It’s what you think of the rest of the world anyway.

  2. Most large corporations exhibt the same problems that conservatives associate with government alone. It is just something that happens when organizations become large and complex. However, when it comes to the U.S. Government’s role in techological advancement, you have to be ignorant, willfully or otherwise, to say that government hasn’t spurred techological advancements that have led to exponential economic growth. NASA alone is responisible for an enourmous amount of technolgies that we use today… Without which Apple would likely not exist. Without the developement of technologies by NASA, the world would be a much different place, and private enterprise would have never been able to replicate what was “made” through that research. Some undertakings are just to big and costly to be tackeled by anything other than government. Conservatives once were Patriots, now they hate the government so much they have lost all perspective and sense of reality. If you people were to detrpy the federal government, do you think the rest of the world is going to destory their central governments too. Conservatives are willing to wound our country, damage our standing in the world, and destory our future just to prove some Russian ficiton novelist knew more about economics than economists. Sad. Scary. Sickening.

        1. tough one for you: within all corporations and companies are:

          a. aardvarks
          b. Easter Island stoneheads
          c. people

          who are forced to pay taxes to finance the government. This is a thought question, so take your time and think it through.

          1. The reason nobody has responded to this bit of “wisdom,” is that you don’t seem to be making any sense. The statement implied that corporations don’t pay taxes, you are responding by saying people make up corporations, and that people pay taxes. Is that right?

        2. Oh wait, I forgot that the corporations do indeed fund the government. It’s just that they pay in cash directly into the pockets of politicians that make sure nobody capable of rational thought or insight gets in their way. As far as the funding that maintains support for the general public, very little of that comes from corporations.

          1. once again:

            tough one for you: within all corporations and companies are:

            a. aardvarks
            b. Easter Island stoneheads
            c. people

            who are forced to pay taxes to finance the government. This is a thought question, so take your time and think it through.

  3. I wonder how Mz. Mazzucato’s book explains technological advancement prior to the existence of the modern governmental state. Something had to get the ball rolling. How far back to we go before the state is no longer responsible.

    This nonsense is nothing more than the “devine right of kings” extended to government bureaucracies. Not to government leaders because that would make the idea even more obvious than it is.

    Not to mention the inherent ridiculousness of her idea. Governments don’t like change. Throughout history (and no less so today) governments tend towards maintaining the status quo, while technological advancement upsets it.

    Saying the state is responsible for technological advancement is like trying to prove you can have your cake and eat it, too.

  4. There are so many examples of Government turning their backs on innovation here in the UK, it’s the default setting for people who live in the rarefied, disconnected box that central government seems to foster, surrounded as it is by career civil servants who consider themselves to be ‘the power behind the throne’, and follow the safe ‘not thought of here’ strategy of (non) innovation. So many innovative technologies were turned down over the years, and their inventors turning to Asian companies, who were far more interested in taking and adapting new technologies, it’s depressing to imagine how much money has been lost to others, due to the incompetence of politicians.

    1. More was lost by the incompetence of investors, companies and the City actually who because of short termism forced the Govt to try to offer something in their place. However the same disease is now growing over the pond too.

      Ironically rather a lot has come from French State investment for all their inefficiencies in the free market by comparison to Anglo Saxon economies.

  5. Government:

    – Get out of my wallet
    – Get out of my life

    Protect the states from foreign and domestic threats, and let everyone, every company, live in pure liberty. Let the 50 states be just that, individual experiments, vs monolithic pawns used for an ever inefficient, corrupt, bankrupt (monetarily and morally) Federal Government.

    But really, let me tell you how I really feel.

    1. @Rex
      This is an interesting example of brainless ravings — How can you POSSIBLY think that state governments are any more noble, constructive and good for the people than federal?

      If government is bad, it’s bad – no matter how many square miles the particular government covers.

      What’s the point of having a country at all – or fifty mini-countries? Just break it down entirely, and let’s all live in a government-less utopia like Somalia. How’s that working for them?

        1. You didn’t address my point at all — i.e. the mind-numbing illogic of thinking the federal government is so bad, but state government is so good.

          Why does the size of the territory or number of people make centralizing power good or not?

            1. Not at all. Explain how someone can think one centralized government (that happens to be called federal) is so profoundly horrible, while another centralized government (state) is so wonderful. Both are centralized governments.

              Both are replete with examples of stupidity, blindness, greed, selfishness and abject corruption.

            1. Correct. But he did specifically name the FEDERAL Government. The standard refrain that complements that, from right-wing Fed-haters, is that state government is so wonderful and bee-yoo-ti-ful.

            2. Okay Sarcastic-

              The US Fed Gov is biggest, most expensive Gov in history, so there’s that.

              And unlike the Left-wing U-to-pian Statists, I’d rather have 50 smallish governments that I can choose from vs. one leviathan, unlimited and growing Fed, dictating many aspects of my life that I cannot escape from.

            3. Ahh. I see. Well, choice is a logical and sensible point, if I may say so… unlike that knee-jerk “state government is so wonderful” idea that seems so frequently to be a part of the fed-hater viewpoint.

              There are too many examples that show state government is far from automatically, in and of itself a good thing that is good for people, in general. Clearly they are frequently acting to further a doctrine or in the interest of a small number of their buddies, often to the detriment of huge numbers of citizens. But isn’t “for the people” what any level of government is supposed to be doing? Otherwise let’s not bother pretending, and just switch back to absolute monarchy.

  6. “Presumably, her thesis then swiftly moving on…”
    Presumably. Worstall didn’t even bother to read the book on which he’s commenting. This is not journalism, just an excuse for an ideological screed.

  7. Wow. RWNJ’ery pokes it’s head out in the daily “Oh noes, government can’t do shit” post. Again it brings home the failure of the MDN folks to keep their train on the rails.

    I’m really sorry that in almost every case, the country runs better under Democratic administrations. I’m really sorry that in almost every case, states with Democratic administrations have better economies, industries, education, health care. I’m really sorry that is almost every case, state with Republican administrations use more funds from the Federal government for welfare and social services.

    I know how this makes all you guys feel. Continue to spout your points – it’s so cute.

    1. Like the old saying: If you want to live like a Republican, vote Democratic. When’s the last time we had a balanced budget under a Republican President? I think it was Eisenhower. These damn Ayn Rand loyalists scare the crap out of me. Modern societies aren’t based on survival of the fittest. When 1% of the population controls 60% of its wealth, something’s wrong.

      Makers and Takers indeed. I guess that makes every child under the age of 18, and every single elderly person Takers. People are idiots for falling for this damn Teabagger Ayn Rand Utopia bulkshit. The government is us, you know, of the people, by the people, for the people. People talk about the government as if they were robots from another planet out to destroy the Earth. If you like crappy government, keep voting Republican. How that piddle down economics working? Great for the 1%, not so good for the rest of us. But they got Jesus in their heart, so they must be better.

      What’s ruining this country is week minded fools who keep voting against their own best interests. This would be one scary country if an asshole like Ted Cruz ever got elected.

      1. Obamacare Has Even Lost the Uninsured

        A Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll released this week asked uninsured individuals whether or not they thought the law was a good idea. Just 24 percent said they thought it was. In contrast, half the uninsured polled said they thought it was a bad idea. As the Journal points out, that represents an 11 point drop in support for the law amongst the uninsured since September. The same poll also finds that 56 percent of the uninsured believe the law will have a negative effect on the U.S. health care system.

        Let that sink in: What that means is that regardless of how bad the old system—the system that for whatever reason left them uninsured—was, a majority of people without health coverage now think that Obamacare makes it worse.

        More here: Obamacare Has Even Lost the Uninsured

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