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Post by Chicago Astronomer Joe on Jul 4, 2005 1:13:12 GMT -6
Entering a dark age of innovation
Jonathan Huebner, a physicist working at the Pentagon's Naval Air Warfare Center in China Lake, California. He says the rate of technological innovation reached a peak a century ago and has been declining ever since. And like the lookout on the Titanic who spotted the fateful iceberg, Huebner sees the end of innovation looming dead ahead. His study will be published in Technological Forecasting and Social Change.
It's an unfashionable view. Most futurologists say technology is developing at exponential rates. Moore's law, for example, foresaw chip densities (for which read speed and memory capacity) doubling every 18 months. And the chip makers have lived up to its predictions. Building on this, the less well-known Kurzweil's law says that these faster, smarter chips are leading to even faster growth in the power of computers. Developments in genome sequencing and nanoscale machinery are racing ahead too, and internet connectivity and telecommunications bandwith are growing even faster than computer power, catalysing still further waves of innovation.
But Huebner is confident of his facts. He has long been struck by the fact that promised advances were not appearing as quickly as predicted. "I wondered if there was a reason for this," he says. "Perhaps there is a limit to what technology can achieve."
Actually, Huebner is basically correct. Computer chips increasing in capacity is not an example of a major technological innovation. That does not create major lifestyle changes. Now, the original invention of a computer chip, that was major.
I was born in 1945. Technological changes have been quite modest in my lifetime compared with what was experienced by those folks living during the 125 years before I was born. What major differences have I seen? My TV became color rather than B&W and added a remote control - big deal. Cell phones are still phones; walkie-talkies and pay-phones have been around for a long time. Computers were in use before I was born. Yes, they have taken over more and more. But most of that is hidden away in chips in machines that are now simply more efficient. The fact that my car today has computer chips does not make driving that much of a different experience from when I first learned to drive. Now, the adaptation of the computer to the internet: that is major - perhaps the only lifestyle changing innovation in my lifetime.
Since the invention of agriculture about 10,000 years ago until roughly 1820, the average person's life hardly changed. Most folks had to work all day to grow their food, then went to bed early since lighting was crude. Horseback was the fastest means for both transportation and communication. Then suddenly in the 19th century we had the railroad, steamship, telegraph, telephone, electric light, motor car and tractor. These were part of an industrial revolution that not only produced useful items, but greatly changed most people's daily work habits almost overnight. The early 20th century saw widespread electrification, radio, television, airplanes, computers and advances in medicine.
The understanding and acceptance of natural law, rather than divine providence, set up the industrial revolution. Not to be overlooked is the development of personal property rights, particularly related to patents. If inventing something makes you rich and not your overlord, the incentive to invent is immensely increased. Also, the development of efficient capital markets made it possible to create factories and infrastructures for actually producing and using modern innovations.
Those generations living from about 1820 to 1950 experienced huge lifestyle style changes that totally dwarf anything we have experienced in our time. Many of those changes were related to electricity and its applications. Thank Ben Franklin. His influence on our lives would have been monumental even if he had not been dean of our nation's founding fathers.
It’s possible that most of electricity’s major uses have been discovered. It may require some huge new scientific breakthrough that is currently unimaginable before another round of major technological advances can take place that might have profound effects on daily human activity.
Post by Chicago Astronomer Joe on Jul 4, 2005 21:33:33 GMT -6
It's all true.
In terms of electrical innovations, there is still tweaking left I think. Just The works of Telsa alone is amazing. Too bad the big power companies stomped on him.
There's got to be more than just this we have presently. Perhaps we are just not ready yet to comprehend the next leap in advanced technological inventions. Like a farmer and horse...all he could do was to implement with better accoutrement's, but still it was the horse doing the labor.
What else are we in need of? You know...mother of invention and all that. Where's Ben Franklin when you need him?
Grady, when the time comes...would you like imported, domestic, micro-brew or the old standards? Teleporting is the way to go!
Curt put it all in good perspective...
Chicago Astronomer Joe Founder, Administrator and Chief Astronomer
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What else are we in need of? Teleportation. That and creation of large quantities of matter from zero point energy. Imagine being able to create water out of nothing when you're in the desert. Or gasoline at the filling station instead of trucking it in from the refinery.
If the universe is a ball the size of America, then the solar system is almost as large as the smallest cell in the human body.