2004 INVENTION INDEX™
CELL PHONE EDGES ALARM CLOCK AS MOST
HATED INVENTION, YET ONE WE CANNOT LIVE WITHOUT
Annual Lemelson-MIT Invention Index
Americans' Attitudes Toward Invention
Cambridge, MA, January 21, 2004 — Nearly one in
three (30%) adults say the cell phone is the invention they most
hate but cannot live without, according to the eighth annual Lemelson-MIT
Invention Index study. The cell phone narrowly beat the alarm clock
(25%) and television (23%) for the distinction in the survey, which
gauges Americans’ attitudes toward invention. Shaving razors,
microwaves, coffee pots, computers and vacuum cleaners were also
cited as essential, yet despised, inventions.
While the Lemelson-MIT Invention Index found a vast majority of
Americans (95%) believe inventions have improved the quality of
life in the United States, their strong feelings toward cell phones
illustrate both the benefits and unintended consequences of innovation.
"Cell phones have clearly been beneficial in terms of increasing
worker productivity and connecting people with family and friends,"
said Merton Flemings, director of the Lemelson-MIT Program, a non-profit
organization that celebrates inventors and inventions. "However,
the Invention Index results show that the benefits of an invention
sometimes come with a societal cost."
The good news, Flemings added, is that invention is cumulative.
"Side-effects or limitations of an invention create new opportunities
for further innovations," he said.
In the case of the cell phone, MIT Media Lab researchers Chris
Schmandt and Stefan Marti recognized an opportunity to solve the
societal problems by making mobile communication devices socially
"Most people dislike cell phones because they either feel tethered
to them or they are annoyed by others who use them in inappropriate
public places, such as restaurants or movie theaters," Marti said.
"We are exploring ways to give these devices human-style social
intelligence, which means that they would know what we as owners
expect them to do, and especially what not to do, without our having
to tell them explicitly every time."
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INVENTIONS MAKE LIFE EASIER OR MORE DIFFICULT?
In addition to cell phones, the Lemelson-MIT Invention Index also
looked at the impact of popular inventions such as email, voicemail
and credit and debit cards.
Teens overwhelmingly believed email (81%) and voicemail (71%) make
life simpler. Adults agreed to a lesser extent. Roughly three out
of five said email (59%) and voicemail (58%) have made life easier.
Interestingly, teens have mixed reactions about credit and debit
cards. Only 32% said they make life easier, while 26% said they
make life more difficult and 39% felt they make life both simpler
and more difficult. Half of the adults surveyed said the benefits
of credit and debit cards outweigh any disadvantages.
CAN THE U.S. REMAIN INVENTIVE?
The Lemelson-MIT Invention Index also raised concerns about whether
future generations of Americans will have the technical skills and
ingenuity to continue solving societal problems through invention.
When asked how globally competitive the United States will be 10
years from now in terms of invention, more than half of the adults
(57%) and teens (55%) surveyed said America will be losing ground
to other countries.
These perceptions support preliminary observations from a recent
Lemelson-MIT Program workshop on intellectual property, which found
that foreign entities are likely to receive more U.S. patents within
the next few years than American entities.
The Lemelson-MIT Invention Index also found that most Americans
believe the responsibility for encouraging invention and innovation
right now falls equally to industry (26%) and universities (26%).
Slightly fewer (21%) Americans thought the responsibility lies with
primary schools. Only 14% said government plays a role.
"We need to figure out ways to better prepare and encourage future
generations of Americans to invent," the Lemelson-MIT Program's
Flemings said. "Innovation can only flourish in a supportive society.
The Invention Index alludes to the risks our culture faces if we
neglect to support and embrace inventors and their contributions."
In April 2004, the Lemelson-MIT Program will host the first-ever
Invention Assembly where leaders from industry, academia and government
will explore new ways to nurture an inventive culture.
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ABOUT THE STUDY
The Lemelson-MIT Invention Index has explored Americans' perceptions
about inventing and innovating since 1996. Previous topics that
have been covered include:
- Invention Americans can not live without (2003)
- Most important invention of the 20th Century (2002)
- Young Americans attitudes toward inventors and getting involved
in invention and innovation (2001)
- The importance of parents' and teachers' role in fostering invention
and innovation in today's youth (2000)
- The most profitable career areas for inventors (1999)
- Areas of research and development supported by American taxpayers
- Inventions that make life easier or more complex (1997)
- Inventions Americans could not live without (1996)
ABOUT THE LEMELSON-MIT PROGRAM
The Lemelson-MIT Program provides the resources and inspiration
to make invention and innovation more accessible to today's youth.
It accomplishes this mission through outreach activities and annual
awards, including the world's largest prize for invention —
the $500,000 Lemelson-MIT Prize.
The Lemelson-MIT Program was founded in 1994 at the Massachusetts
Institute of Technology by Jerome H. Lemelson, one of the world's
most prolific inventors, and his wife, Dorothy. It is funded by
The Lemelson Foundation, a private philanthropy committed to honoring
the contributions of inventors, innovators and entrepreneurs and
to inspiring ingenuity in others. More information on the Lemelson-MIT
Program can be found at http://web.mit.edu/invent.
Taylor Nelson Sofres Intersearch conducted the 2004 Lemelson-MIT
Invention Index survey from November 12-19, 2003. A nationally representative
sample of 1,023 adults and 500 teens (ages 12 to 17) was used. The
margin of error for the adult sample was +/- 3.2%; for the teens
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