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Editing Milestone-Proposal talk:Bell Telephone Laboratories 1925 - 1984

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Development of a suitable citation. 016:33, 20 February 2013

Development of a suitable citation.

There is general agreement that the achievements of Bell Labs during the period from 1925-1984, I.e., the first sixty years, are worthy of recognition through the IEEE Milestone Program.

However, approval of this Milestone has been delayed for over a year due to concerns regarding the wording of the citation to be incorporated into the milestone plaque.

Concern 1 - Most Milestones focus on a single innovation that can be associated with a particular time and place. Omnibus Milestones that cover a range of innovations that were developed over many decades by many different people at different locations albeit within the same corporate organization are exceedingly rare. Does this reflect the aims of the Milestone program and does it set a precedent that we feel comfortable making?

Response - Yes. The technical, geographic, and temporal scope of the innovations that were fostered by the Bell Telephone Labs (BTL) organization is an essential part of the story that we are trying to tell. Moreover, the impact of the cited innovations are of the highest level and unmatched. It is not difficult to claim that the contribution of BTL during the AT&T monopoly era is a special case that is worthy of special consideration.

It is a legitimate concern that if omnibus Milestones are perceived as more prestigious than conventional Milestones, the Committee could find itself inundated with omnibus proposals. If the intent of the Committee is to dissuade other organizations from proposing omnibus Milestones except in the most special cases, a paragraph could be inserted into the Milestone program's guidelines that makes this clear.

Concern 2 - The citation that was originally proposed included the phrase "the first sixty years" in the title. Many felt that this was inappropriate given that the period covered the entire life of the corporate entity known as Bell Telephone Laboratories.

Response - While Bell Telephone Laboratories ceased to exist after the divestiture, highly productive research and development organizaions that carry the brands Bell Laboratories and Bell Labs persist. It is very important to Alcatel-Lucent, the current owners of the brand, that the Milestone intuation not give the impression that Bell Labs no longer exists. I strongly recommend that "the first sixty years" be retained.

Concern 3 - The citation that was originally proposed was effectively a list of innovations from many different fields, often identified by cryptic short names or acronyms. The result didn't tell much of a story. This concern was expressed by representatives from both Alcatel-Lucent and the IEEE History Committee.

Response - The innovations naturally fall into four broad categories: Wireless and Satellite Communications, Communications Theory and Networks, Digital Signal Processing and Computing, and Solid State Devices. By allocating an entire plaque to each category, the number of words available increase correspondingly and the result is much more coherent and pleasing to the eye.

A proposed set of citations is given below.


Between 1925 and 1984, Bell Labs researchers made numerous fundamental contributions to wireless and satellite communications including the first radio astronomical observations (1933), the Friis transmission formula (1946), the cellular radio concept (1947), characterization of point-to-point microwave propagation (1950's-70's), the first active communications satellite, Telstar (1962), the first observation of the cosmic background radiation (1965) and the Advanced Mobile Phone System, AMPS (1977).

(63 words)


Between 1925 and 1984, Bell Labs researchers made numerous fundamental contributions to digital signal processing and computing including the first electronic speech synthesizer (1937), the Karnaugh map (1953), computer generated music (1957), digital computer art (1962), the UNIX operating system (1969), the C programming language (1970), the AWK programming language (1977), the first single-chip 32-bit microprocessor (1980) and the C++ programming language (1983).

(63 words)


Between 1925 and 1984, Bell Labs researchers made numerous fundamental contributions to semiconductor and optical devices including the discovery of electron diffraction (1927), the transistor (1947), zone refining (1951), the solar cell (1954), theory of the laser (1958), the MOSFET (1959), the electret microphone (1962), the CO2 laser (1964), molecular beam epitaxy (1968), the charge coupled device (1969), modified chemical vapor deposition (1974) and the fractional quantum hall effect (1982).

(65 words)


Between 1925 and 1984, Bell Labs researchers made numerous fundamental contributions to communications theory and networks including the negative feedback principle (1927), the theory of the one-time pad cipher (1945), Hamming codes (1947), the Mathematical Theory of Communications (1948), modern cryptography (1949), the first trans-Atlantic telephone cable (1956), Direct Distance Dialing (1950's), the first transcontinental microwave relay networks (1950s), greedy algorithms for network design (1960s) and orthogonal frequency division multiplexing (1966).

(70 words)

Dmichelson16:25, 20 February 2013