Steve Jobs unveiled the iPhone on June 1st 2007 and it revolutionised the mobile industry. Technically Incorrect offers a slightly twisted take on the tech that’s taken over our lives. That Steve Jobs.
He was a pretty good designer. He was also good at putting things together.
But let’s not forget who was really behind fine tech inventions such as the iPhone. It was the US government.
I know this because House minority leader Nancy Pelosi told me. Or rather, told attendees of the Democratic National Convention Platform Hearing on Thursday.
She held up an iPhone.
“In this smartphone, almost everything came from federal investments and research,” she said.
Voice recognition, GPS, flat screens — these were all government ideas.
She explained that “the Association for the Advancement of Science in America” (likely she was referring to the American Association for the Advancement of Science) says that “Steve Jobs did a good idea [sic] of designing it [the iPhone] and putting it together. Federal research invented it.”
A spokeswoman for the AAAS, however, pointed toward another organization.
“Congresswoman Pelosi’s remarks seem to have been based on an infographic prepared by the Association of American Universities (AAU),” she said. “The purpose of the infographic was to illustrate the importance of federally funded basic research, and how it contributed to some of the technology that was ultimately integrated into the iPhone.”
“Rep. Pelosi was mistaken in her reference to AAAS,” the spokeswoman added.
Drew Hammill, spokesman for Pelosi, told me that the House minority leader knew Jobs well.
“The late Steve Jobs and the team at Apple that made the iPhone would be the first to tell you that they didn’t invent many of its core technologies we now take for granted,” he said. “Leader Pelosi counted Steve Jobs as friend and meant no disrespect to his legacy, but the point she was making is a valid one. Leader Pelosi believes that Steve Jobs and his colleagues at Apple, deserve enormous credit for taking federally-backed innovations off the shelf, refining them, commercializing them and turning them into a beautiful device that changed the world.”
Sympathetic minds might see what Pelosi was getting at. It’s well known that many tech breakthroughs enjoy their debut in the service of the military. Well, that and in the service of pornography, of course.
Some, though, might struggle with House Democratic leader’s word choice.
A sense emerges that Jobs wasn’t really all that — just a good designer and assembler. The actual “inventing” was done on the government’s dime.
Naturally, some are already comparing these words with those of President Barack Obama, who explained in 2012 that any business success isn’t built alone. “You didn’t build that,” was the one line that was quoted again and again — either with criticism or admiration.
The whole context, though, was a little more expansive:
If you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help. There was a great teacher somewhere in your life. Somebody helped to create this unbelievable American system that we have that allowed you to thrive. Somebody invested in roads and bridges. If you’ve got a business — you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen. The Internet didn’t get invented on its own. Government research created the Internet so that all the companies could make money off the Internet.
Who, then, should be credited with “invention”? There are many who think that Tim Berners-Lee was actually behind the invention of the internet.
Moreover, the fact that Steve Jobs inspired the creation of a phone that looked and operated in a way no one could have conceived — is that an invention?
I know that greater intellectuals will have their views.
In an individualistic society like America’s, people like to take (and give) individual credit. There’s surely more to success than that.
Even when it comes to the iPhone, it wasn’t just Jobs, was it?
Update, 4:14 p.m. PT: Adds comment from Nancy Pelosi’s office.