Annual Letter from Bill Gates
We can learn a lot about improving the world in the 21st century from an icon of the industrial era: the steam engine.
Over the holidays I read The Most Powerful Idea in the World, a brilliant chronicle by William Rosen of the many innovations it took to harness steam power. Among the most important were a new way to measure the energy output of engines and a micrometer dubbed the “Lord Chancellor,” able to gauge tiny distances.
Such measuring tools, Rosen writes, allowed inventors to see if their incremental design changes led to the improvements—higher-quality parts, better performance, and less coal consumption— needed to build better engines. Innovations in steam power demonstrate a larger lesson: Without feedback from precise measurement, Rosen writes, invention is “doomed to be rare and erratic.” With it, invention becomes “commonplace.”