• Question: if you were an inventor how would your inventions make the world a better place?

    Asked by mary to Thomas Telford, Stephen Hawking, Rosalind Franklin, Peter Medawar, Nicholas Shackleton, Mary Somerville, Mary Anning, John Snow, G. H. Hardy, Sir Geoffrey de Havilland, Frederick Sanger, Francis Crick, Elizabeth GarrettAnderson, Edwards and Steptoe, Dorothy Crowfoot Hodgkin, Beatrice Shilling, Aneurin Bevan, Alan Turing, Ada Lovelace on 27 Nov 2018. This question was also asked by Erin.
    • Photo: Peter Medawar

      Peter Medawar answered on 27 Nov 2018:


      I would like to invent new technologies to help people to speak after injuries. I suffered a stroke whilst giving a lecture in 1969 and never really recovered. It made me realise how important talking is and was to me. I would love to help other people in this situation and with other voice problems, to be able to communicate again.

    • Photo: Mary Somerville

      Mary Somerville answered on 27 Nov 2018:


      I wasn’t an inventor, but I did use a lot of mathematics and did a lot of calculations.
      It must be amazing to live at a time when there are calculators, let alone computers, I cannot think of the amount of things I could’ve discovered if everything didn’t take so long to do!

      The internet must be a wonderful thing too, in my day, information like new scientific discoveries were all read out as lectures at universities and societies, all of which women weren’t allowed into.
      Having said that, not everything is totally free to get hold of on the internet, but it must make exchanging ideas much easier.

    • Photo: Stephen Hawking

      Stephen Hawking answered on 27 Nov 2018:


      I guess I technically helped invent a lot of technology. Because of my ALS a lot of work was done to help get people who can’t speak a voice.

      In fact, I was very interested in computers. In my early years I built a simple computer. If I were an inventor I would have probably made powerful computers, used for physics simulations and big banking!

      Great Question!

    • Photo: John Snow

      John Snow answered on 27 Nov 2018:


      I wasn’t an inventor of a machine or object but I was one of the founders of a technique called epidemiology which is used widely today. Epidemiology is the science of making links between environmental exposures (like germs, diet or pollutants) and illnesses (like diabetes or cancer). This technique teaches us the origins of diseases so helps us to avoid them or treat them. It definitely helps make the world a healthier place.

    • Photo: Godfrey Harold Hardy

      Godfrey Harold Hardy answered on 27 Nov 2018:


      I genuinely cannot imagine myself as an inventor in the traditional meaning of the word… I have never intended for any discovery of mine to make, directly or indirectly, for good or ill, the least difference to the amenity of the world. I have seen too many scientific discoveries become a tool of war to allow any of mine to be one of them.

      However, while we are discussing inventions, let me ask you this question: Is mathematics an invented set of tools, as Albert Einstein believed? Or does it actually exist in some abstract realm, with humans merely discovering its truths? I have always held the latter view, but it is not an easy question, with philosophers and mathematicians still very far from agreeing on it. What do you think?

    • Photo: Francis Crick

      Francis Crick answered on 28 Nov 2018:


      If i was an inventor I would help to create items which are going to help improve people’s life’s. I am a bit like an inventor in that I think about a problem, research it and attempt to work out how to solve the problem or why this occurs. I might not be making machines but I am doing things to help potentially in the making of machines.

    • Photo: Rosalind Franklin

      Rosalind Franklin answered on 28 Nov 2018:


      This is a difficult question to answer, because I wasn’t an inventor, so all you’re asking me to do is make stuff up!

      For most of my career I worked on understanding the chemistry of life through studying complex biological molecules. So I think if I’d been an inventor I would have tried to invent things to help cure diseases and understand how the body works.

      Speaking personally, I would definitely have wanted to invent the computer! I’m sure computers do make the world a better place, through improving our ability to understand, and hence perhaps prevent, disasters – for example, checking that aeroplane designs are safe before we build them. But they would definitely have made my own life easier: working out the structures of molecules from their X-ray patterns used in my day to involve lots and lots of tedious calculations, and now I’m sure you could put the data into a computer program and the result would come out in seconds! I could have done ever so much more work…

    • Photo: Alan Turing

      Alan Turing answered on 28 Nov 2018:


      I invented early computers so the device you used to ask this question would have been influenced by me!

      I also created the Turing test which is essentially a way to check if a robot or piece of software is able to fool a human into thinking it is another human e.g. something like Alexa could try and pass the test (but should fail!). This may stop the robot takeover one day…

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