Selected articles by Bob Lucky

"New Jersey and Research -- Together no Longer?"

This is a position paper, written for the Hall Institute, about the decline of telecommunications research in New Jersey. It discusses the history of Bell Labs, and why the support for telecommunications research in the industry has fallen since the AT&T divestiture in 1984.

"Monmouth County and the Dark Ages of Telecom"

This was published in our local newspaper, the Two River Times, in Red Bank, New Jersey.  The paper's owner, Geraldo Rivera, invited me to write an article about what was happening with all the layoffs and plummeting stocks in the telecom industry.  So I did, and I have been surprised at how many local residents have told me how much they liked it -- from the local gas station owner to the investment banker who sent copies to his angry clients.

"What Technology Alone Cannot Do"

I was invited to write the closing essay in Scientific American's one hundredth anniversary issue.  The essay looks back on the New York World's Fair of 1964 and reflects on how few of the predictions that were shown there have come true in the years since.  Science made fantastic progress in the intervening years, yet everyday life remained unchanged in some very basic ways.

"Is the Digital Revolution Forever?"

The editors of New Republic Magazine commissioned me to write an article about whether or not the information age would persist through the next century.  They had observed that at the turn of the last century the railroads were the engine of economic progress.  Some of things that we say today about information technology are similar to the things that were said about the railroads in the last century.  Yet the railroads are no longer seen in that light.  Will the same diminishing role happen to information technology?  Of course, it is impossible to predict, but I said in essence that information technology is here to stay.

One of the things that I remember particularly about publishing this article was that the magazine, New Republic, had recently been through a scandal in which an article appearing there had contained false and made-up information.  So my article was assigned a "fact-checker", a young woman who gave me a hard time about every statement that my essay contained.  I had to prove everything to her, and a few times in exasperation I fell back to the argument that I'm an expert, and I say it's so.  She wasn't buying.

"Communications and Science"

This article was commissioned by the editors of Science Magazine as one of a dozen articles to be featured one a month in the year 2000 under the banner of "Pathways of Science."  It was quite an honor to be invited, since most of the others were being written by Nobel Laureates in fields such as astronomy and quantum mechanics. My article is about the history of communications, and how it has changed the way that science has been conducted through the years.  These "pathway" articles were published in a book in 2002.

"Through a Glass Darkly -- Telephone Transmission in the Future"

This article appeared in a technical publication, the Proceedings of the IEEE, but it should be accessible to non-specialists, as it is an historical retrospective of an article written about 40 years ago.  It was somewhat of a coincidence that I was invited to write this retrospective, because I had remembered the original article quite well.  It had been written the year before I came to Bell Labs by one of the executives of the company, Estil Green.  In the article Green forecast the growth of communications capacity into the next century and the technology that would be used to carry that telephone traffic.  Needless to say, Green was woefully wrong on both counts, but in very interesting ways!

It was only after I had written this article that I discovered that Estil Green was the author of the infamous "Green Book" at Bell Labs, which contained the salary data that was assiduously studied by all employees.  I had always assumed that the "Green Book" had that name because it was green!  Then, some months after my article was published, I got an email from Estil Green's grandson, who wanted to learn something about his famous grandfather.  Sadly, I had to confess that I had never met Estil Green.

"Bits and Atoms -- the Future of Information Technology"

This is not an article that I wrote, rather it is a transcript of a dinner talk I gave at the National Academy of Engineering.  I always hate to see these transcripts, because often what seemed like a good talk at the time reads poorly afterwards.  I console myself in the thought that spoken and written communication are really quite different.  I don't like to hear talks that are read verbatim from a manuscript, and it doesn't work the other way either.  So maybe this was good as a talk.  Maybe.  The theme here is the enormous difference between the physical world of atoms and the virtual world of bits.  For example, the notion of "property", so easily understood in the physical world becomes a problematic concept in the world of information.

"Radio and Television -- A Personal Perspective"

At the turn of the millenium I particpated in a committee of the National Academy of Engineering to choose the 20 greatest engineering accomplishments of the 20th century. First on the list was electrification, followed by the automobile, the airplane, clean water, and electronics. You can find the complete list at the National Academy's web site. The list was then turned into a book, The Innovative Century, and for each of the 20 accomplishments a personal perspective was written by some engineer associated with the field. Neil Armstrong, who was a member of the committee, wrote an introduction to the book. I was asked to write a personal perspective about the development of radio and television.

Leadership, Life, and the old Bell Labs

I was asked to write a personal perspective on leadership in engineering for the IEEE Signal Processing Magazine. It was part of a series of personal perspectives on leadership to be written by pioneers in the field of signal processing. In this essay I talk about what it was like to work in Bell Labs in the 1960s, which was then a legendary place, filled with famous scientists, inventors, and Nobel Laureates.

"Yesterday's Dreams and Today's Reality in Telecom"

At its 25th anniversary in 2004 the journal Technology in Society commissioned a special issue of articles on the impacts that technology has had on society in this past quarter century. The published issue contains an impressive list of authors -- a former secretary of defense, NASA administrator, CEOs of large corporations, presidential science advisor, secretary of the air force, thought leaders, academics, and inventors. I found that many of the articles were thoughtful and insightful about the problems in society and how technology has helped or failed in each case. My own contribution was about the visions that telecom had 25 years ago and what happened to those visions. The three visions I wrote about were the Dick Tracy wristwatch phone, the Picturephone, and home information systems. None of these came true as predicted, and yet actual progress went far beyond our impoverished dreams.

"Message from the President"

In 2012 the president of the IEEE Communications Society wrote an editorial for the newsletter, entitled "Message from the President," in which he reprinted a similar message that I had written as president in 1978. I had long ago forgotten this little editorial, but if you're a technical person, you will recognize some truth there, wrapped engagingly in some subtle humor.

"100 Years of the Institute of Radio Engineers"

In 2012 I was commissioned to write the lead editorial in the issue of Spectrum Magazine celebrating the centennial founding of the Institute of Radio Engineers, which was the predecessor organization of the IEEE. In it, I reflect on the enormous progress that the century has brought, and the remarkable fact that the organization has stayed intact and relevant for so long.

Back to the Future: 1962 Redux

In 1962 the IEEE published predictions about the future as written by IEEE Fellows. Fifty years later, in 2012, they asked some of the present fellows, including myself, to author articles commenting retrospectively on those old predictions and looking at the future as it appears now. This is my article as published in the Proceedings of the IEEE in 2012. I comment at length on how wrong the old predictions were (which is easy enough to do), but then say very little about the future, as I have no idea what will happen.