This film briefly covers the Labs' research foci for the late 1980s. At the time, The company was a major source of information age technologies: microelectronics, lightwave, and software, with an eye towards future developments. The ultimate goal was to provide instant, inexpensive access to voice, image and data services anywhere in the telephone/data network. Microwaves, lasers, and fiber optics were all still in play in the late '80s in terms of data and voice communications for AT&T.
When this film was made, Bell Labs employed approximately 2500 Ph.Ds in 20 facilities. Two of Bell Labs' researchers were at the forefront of technologies that were (and are) still developing today:
- Dr. Alan Huang headed the Optical Computing Research Department at the Bell Labs, Holmdel, NJ. His work was with photonic computing, which has the potential to outspend and out-integrate traditional semiconductor microprocessors. Huang's team of 12 had managed a prototype by 1990—the first optical processor or computer. In 1991, they also created the first all-optical switch. In 1990, he also developed an information compression method he called "computational origami." This film contains a short interview with Huang while his photon computer was still under development. Today, Huang runs his own company, Terabit, which designs advanced network routing systems.
- Dr. Jesse Russell, at this same time, was directing Bell Labs' Advanced Wireless Technology Laboratory in Whippany, NJ. Russell's work led to the first portable phone (in this interview, he talks about how the company moved from mobile phones in cars to mobile phones on a person--and the network challenges that that entailed). Over time, he's filed around 100 patents and received around 75, all in wireless communications/cellular technologies. Today, Russell presides over incNETWORKS in NJ, which develops 4G-level digital communications systems.
Russell and Huang are both covered in the film, probably because their work at the Labs at the time had a lot of potential, either realized (in the case of Russell), or yet unrealized (in the case of Huang).
Footage Courtesy of AT&T Archives and History Center, Warren, NJ