There’s no doubt that the most amazing events during my lifetime have been in the areas of electronic technology.
At the mid-20th century, most of us couldn’t imagine the communication devices that people take for granted today. Case in point: One of the most popular newspaper comic strips of the 1930s through the ’70s was about a fictional detective named “Dick Tracy.” Its creator, Chester Gould, had insights that were incomprehensible to his generation. His characters had such things as “two-way wrist radios and TVs.” They were about the size of today’s Apple Watch.
I remember discussing these ideas with my dad. We both agreed that color television, a relatively new invention at that time, could never be made that small. I wrote to Mr. Gould, who lived in Chicago at the time, and discussed the impossibility of devices worn by his heroic characters. He thought enough of me to write back with the same pen and ink used for his drawings and expressed the view that his imaginary creations could well be in our future.
Where is his letter today? Of course, buried somewhere in a Maryland landfill, thanks to my overzealous mother who loved to clean house and throw things away that she personally found useless.
But I digress. Other things considered science fiction back then were personal computers, DVDs, global positioning devices, cheap cell phones, and of course, the Internet.
The idea that a large room full of vacuum tubes, requiring its own power plant during the 1940s, could only do a tiny fraction of computations that hand-held devices do today — well, need I say more?
The Internet is another amazing invention, which has revolutionized communication and distribution of information. I remember in high school, cranking out term papers on a Remington portable manual typewriter, using only information from encyclopedias or other limited data gathered from the local library. Never did I dream that someday, information rivaling the resources of the Library of Congress would be available on my PC or smartphone.
So how did technology leap light years ahead in such a short period of time? Most likely, it was simply derived from several very intelligent people building on one invention and making new discoveries which led to another. But a man named Lt. Col. Phillip J. Corso had quite a different take on the subject.
Corso was a career Army officer whose second to last assignment before retirement in 1963 was chief of the “Foreign Technology Desk” at the Pentagon. According to the colonel, “foreign technology” was a code term used for discoveries of hi-tech components found in crashed UFOs during the late 1940s and early 1950s. He claimed in his book “The Day After Roswell,” published in 1997, that under his direction, the FTD office covertly sent these discoveries to Bell Laboratories, among other defense contractors, for further investigation and development — a process otherwise known as “reverse engineering.”
Because of this action, Corso stated that particle beam devices, fiber optics, lasers, integrated circuit chips and Kevlar material all became realities for earthlings.
Of course, the colonel has his detractors — some who say he was known to exaggerate knowledge of classified information. There is also an FBI file on him with one 1965 memo calling Corso “an unreliable individual.” During that time, he sued syndicated columnists Jack Anderson and Drew Pearson for what he considered to be libelous comments about his military service. Over the years, Corso fought back against his critics claiming they did not have the security clearances to access the information he had. Corso defended his military career by pointing out an assignment as a military intelligence officer, 17 decorations and 46 citations, along with written praises from four presidential cabinet members while serving in support of the National Security Council. He died in 1998 at the age of 83.
So does Corso’s explanation reveal the reason for incredible advancement in technology over the last half-century? I can’t say for sure but can conclude that although I use many of these modern technological devices today, their operational designs and workings still seem to me, in a phrase, to be “out of this world.”
Steve Hansen is a Lodi writer.