Bill Gates's Apocryphal History; February 1996; Scientific American Magazine; by Horgan; 1 Page(s)
If Bill Gates's grasp of the past is any guide, readers should take his visions of the future with a dose of skepticism. In his instant best-seller The Road Ahead, the mega-entrepreneur ruminates (along with two co-authors) about where the computer revolution will take us. On page xiii of his preface, Gates mentions past prophets whose prognostications "look silly today. " Among these, he says, is "the commissioner of U.S. patents who in 1899 asked that his office be abolished because 'everything that can be invented has been invented.'"
This anecdote is both ancient and apocryphal, according to science historian Morgan Sherwood of the University of California at Davis. The story was widespread more than 50 years ago, Sherwood says, when a scholar named Eber Jeffery did an exhaustive investigation of it. In a 1940 article, entitled "Nothing Left to Invent," published in the Journal of the Patent Office Society, Jeffery traced the tale to testimony delivered before Congress by Henry L. Ellsworth, the commissioner of patents, in 1843. Ellsworth told lawmakers that the rapid pace of innovation "taxes our credulity and seems to presage the arrival of that period when human improvement must end."