# Old Bell Labs

I will be going to university next year and I've really fell in love with the idea of working somewhere like the old Bell Labs. What I want to know is... Is there a modern day equivalent to Bell Labs (anywhere in the world) or have I created an unattainable dream, rooted in a long forgotten past?

Thanks in advance, I scoured the internet for the answer with no luck.

HallsofIvy
Homework Helper
A "modern day equivalent" to Bell Labs is Bell Labs. It's now run by "Lucent-Alcatel" but it still exists.

A "modern day equivalent" to Bell Labs is Bell Labs. It's now run by "Lucent-Alcatel" but it still exists.
Well knock me over with a feather... ha ha.. thanks...

f95toli
Gold Member
www.bell-labs.com/

http://www.alcatel-lucent.com/wps/portal/BellLabs

It's not like the 'old' Bell Labs, but it's something.
As far as I've been told/read it is indeed quite different from the old Bell Labs in terms of the research done, how "free" the researchers are to pursue blue sky research etc.
IBM used to run a few labs that were somewhat similar to Bell Labs, but although they do still formally exist (e.g. Yorktown Heights) they have changed a lot and are now more like conventional R&D centres.

So, no there are AFAIK no modern day equivalents to the old Bell Labs (the one exception I can think of is NTT Basic Research in Japan, but they get most of their funding for academic research from government grants, not from NTT)

As far as I've been told/read it is indeed quite different from the old Bell Labs in terms of the research done, how "free" the researchers are to pursue blue sky research etc.
IBM used to run a few labs that were somewhat similar to Bell Labs, but although they do still formally exist (e.g. Yorktown Heights) they have changed a lot and are now more like conventional R&D centres.

So, no there are AFAIK no modern day equivalents to the old Bell Labs (the one exception I can think of is NTT Basic Research in Japan, but they get most of their funding for academic research from government grants, not from NTT)
Ah, I was expecting something like that, I wasn't sure though... Thanks for that info...

On my "todo list", one of the items is "recreate Bell labs".

One other item is "get people back on the moon"

As far as "how" I'm going to do that. Well....

Bell labs was possible because you had a state supported highly-regulated corporation that needed to do basic research in order to convince the powers that be not to remove its government support.

Now telecommunications is no longer quasi-state supported highly-regulated industries. But..... You can take a look out there and see if there are any other state supported highly-regulated industries that hire large numbers of Ph.D.'s.

As far as 2). Something that I'd like to do in the next five to ten years is to do convince the head of major non-US power (probably China) to give a speech saying "we are going to moon, anyone else that wants to race us there can go ahead."

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Bell labs was possible because you had a state supported highly-regulated corporation that needed to do basic research in order to convince the powers that be not to remove its government support.

Now telecommunications is no longer quasi-state supported highly-regulated industries. But..... You can take a look out there and see if there are any other state supported highly-regulated industries that hire large numbers of Ph.D.'s.
That's not exactly true. Sure, being a state-sanctioned monopoly helps, but AT&T agreed to the breakup of the Baby Bells partially because the DOJ was threatening to take away Western Electric, which Bell Labs was part of. AT&T management at the time believed that R&D was a key point for their survival. The real destruction of Bell Labs happened quite a bit after the deregulation of the telecom industry (a decade or so, when it became Lucent and got the “big red zero” logo). It came about when business degrees that had no business in the technical field took over and wanted 200% ROI within a week on everything. That's why there are no basic research labs in industry today. Every research project has to have an immediate goal.

There are lots of PhDs in the telecom/semiconductor industry, but it's for applied research. The more basic research is outsourced to universities and government labs by the industry, so maybe it's actually better that way: less dependance on tax-revenue funding, which is dropping fast.

The real destruction of Bell Labs happened quite a bit after the deregulation of the telecom industry (a decade or so, when it became Lucent and got the “big red zero” logo). It came about when business degrees that had no business in the technical field took over and wanted 200% ROI within a week on everything.
The business degrees and the idea that everything has to have an immediate profit happened because of an social philosophy that was part of the deregulation idea. The idea is that the market always knows best so what you should do is to let the market run everything. If it turns out that if the market wants no basic research in industry, that's supposedly a good thing. More efficient.

The more basic research is outsourced to universities and government labs by the industry, so maybe it's actually better that way: less dependance on tax-revenue funding, which is dropping fast.
Except that tax-revenue funding is getting cut and that's going to hit the universities and government labs pretty badly.

atyy
On my "todo list", one of the items is "recreate Bell labs".
ie. a basic research lab funded by industry?

Is some of the stuff done at Google research basic enough? On the other hand, it's mainly statistics, which has a long history of being industry-related, all the way back to Student's t-test.

Except that tax-revenue funding is getting cut and that's going to hit the universities and government labs pretty badly.
I agree, the added funding coming from industry probably won't be enough to offset the drop in tax-based funding, unfortunately.

Industry research is actually not bad, even now. Having a clear goal has its advantages. And when the wind blows your way, there's no shortage of funding. 

On my "todo list", one of the items is "recreate Bell labs". "
Keep me posted.... twofish-quant for president!!!!

phyzguy
No one has mentioned the National Labs. Quite a bit of basic research is done in these government funded labs, including Livermore, Los Alamos, Sandia, Oak Ridge, Fermilab, Argonne, Brookhaven, NREL, INEEL ... I'm sure I've forgotten some. Afrocod - would these be what you are looking for, or do you specifically want an industry-funded lab?

No one has mentioned the National Labs. Quite a bit of basic research is done in these government funded labs, including Livermore, Los Alamos, Sandia, Oak Ridge, Fermilab, Argonne, Brookhaven, NREL, INEEL ... I'm sure I've forgotten some. Afrocod - would these be what you are looking for, or do you specifically want an industry-funded lab?
What would be the difference between a government funded lab and an industry funded one?

ZapperZ
Staff Emeritus
What would be the difference between a government funded lab and an industry funded one?
Back in the golden old days before the split of AT&T, none. Now, industry-funded labs tend to have very short view on basic research and are very profit-driven. It is why Bell labs have gotten out of basic fundamental research (I think they've gotten out of superconductivity research, for example).

When Bell labs decided to ramp down on its effort in these basic areas, the National Labs are the ones being given the burden to carry on such work.

Zz.

@zapper

you say burden like it's a negative thing. is it?

you say burden like it's a negative thing. is it?
If you are given more to do. and no more money to do it, then yes it is a burden. One of the things that I worry is happening in the US is that people are burning seed corn. Basic research doesn't pay off for 20 to 30 years, and if you are looking only at now, then you cut it, and then things go downhill.

What really worries me is that until recently, the people that generally wanted less government spending also tended to want more defense programs, which meant that even when the budget ax fell, you could get money for basic research through the military. With even that being cut, I have huge worries about the long term ability of the US to do science.

The thing that really, really worries me is that there is a slow brain drain in science talent that I don't think most Americans are quite aware of.

f95toli