Is Technological Progress Slowing Down?

Know-how is superb. And it appears to get much more spectacular yearly. On daily basis, there’s some new gadget or breakthrough within the information value getting enthusiastic about. And yearly, our collective capabilities as a species appear to be getting broader and further-reaching. 

For many years, we’ve seen a veritable explosion in technological improvement – an exponential curve of innovation that always takes us to new heights. And we’re advised that this technological curve is constant – that we’re nonetheless rising exponentially, with large leaps ahead yearly. 

However is that this actually true? 

There’s a compelling case to be made that whereas technological progress continues to be shifting ahead, it’s slowing down. And if that’s true, we must be ready for the implications of such a shift in momentum. 

The Low-Hanging Fruit

Our first clue that tech innovation is slowing down is a change to the normal mannequin of tech improvement. In some ways, know-how is all about fixing issues; each new tech development is an answer for some long-standing concern. It is sensible that our present wave of tech development resembles an exponential curve as a result of new applied sciences make it sooner and simpler to resolve different, usually unrelated issues. 

For instance, the event of the web was revolutionary for technological improvement general. Individuals now can assessment large databases of data, talk with different like-minded professionals, share concepts, and even publish their concepts to a broader viewers. These capabilities have led to new concepts and new applied sciences that in any other case may by no means have been attainable. 

However this trajectory is restricted. In the midst of tech improvement, we regularly discover new territory in a short time – however just for a restricted time frame. Consider it this fashion. As early human beings started exploring new territory, they discovered themselves surrounded by an abundance of recreation animals, timber, and fish. However as they hunted, harvested lumber, and fished, a lot of these sources started to dry up. In different phrases, they’d taken all of the low-hanging fruit, and had been compelled to provide you with new concepts. They needed to discover new territory, invent new agricultural strategies, and even discover new sources of nourishment. 

Our present burst of technological progress may very well be virtually completely targeted on low-hanging fruit. We’re fixing the simplest issues first, and we’re fixing them in fast succession. However the arduous issues – like normal intelligence-level AI, environment friendly battery storage, and even discovering a treatment for most cancers – present little progress even over the course of many years. 

Any futurist will let you know that every one of humanity’s issues may be solved finally. However we’ve to grasp that our tempo of innovation tends to decelerate as we grasp all of the “straightforward” issues and begin wanting on the “arduous” ones. 

Digital Innovation vs. Chemical Innovation 

We additionally want to grasp that many of the tech progress we’ve seen up to now 30 or 40 years has been restricted to the digital world. These applied sciences have been astounding, accelerated by novel high-growth startups, however they’ve virtually been completely targeted on digital communication effectivity. The web, software program engineering, and AI have all taken superb strides ahead. However on the extent of chemistry and physics, we’ve superior little or no. 

We’re nonetheless extremely reliant on non-renewable sources to gas our consumption. We haven’t found any groundbreaking new components, molecules, or chemical processes. And our understanding of the universe on the base degree of physics hasn’t modified a lot, if in any respect, for the reason that 1980s. We’re nonetheless struggling to reconcile main physics concepts that had been first launched practically 100 years in the past. 

So what? Digital innovation could also be so extremely fast-paced that it may be the conduit via which we remedy all different issues, proper? 

That will not be the case. For almost all of the digital age, we’ve trusted the momentum of Moore’s regulation. Moore’s regulation is a casual statement that the variety of transistors that we will match on a dense built-in circuit tends to double each two years. In different phrases, our computing energy can double each two years, resulting in main breakthroughs in quite a few totally different applied sciences. 

Nonetheless, it seems that the age of Moore’s regulation could also be nearing its finish. There’s an absolute bodily restrict to the quantity of house on a transistor chip. With exponential progress for the reason that 1960s, we’ve gone from built-in circuits with 10 transistors to ICs with one thing like 10 billion transistors. How a lot additional can we actually go with out breaking the legal guidelines of physics? 

We could possibly push issues even additional, however to take action, we’ll have to spend money on high-end chipmaking tools and innovate completely new manufacturing strategies. Doing so will sharply improve the price of chip manufacturing, finally negating the cost-effectiveness advantages. 

In fact, there’s a strong counterargument right here. It holds that digital innovation might proceed on the identical price of exponential progress even when we’re unable to keep up the consistency of Moore’s regulation; even when the variety of transistors on a chip stays kind of stagnant, we will discover new methods to make use of the chips we have already got. 

Client Merchandise and Perceptions 

We see an countless conveyor belt of recent devices and new consumer-facing applied sciences rising on a continuing foundation. However how progressive are all these merchandise, actually? 

Apple launched the iPhone, a game-changing new sort of know-how, again in 2007. It mixed a number of current applied sciences into one, complete unit, and altered the best way we take into consideration cell tech without end. Up to now 14 years, how a lot innovation have we actually seen on this house? We’ve seen a flock of opponents popping out with smartphone choices of their very own. And naturally, we’ve seen Apple unveil a brand new mannequin of iPhone practically yearly. 

However these new, “progressive” smartphones solely make marginal enhancements to the unique method. Their cameras are sharper. Their processing energy is beefier. Their storage capability and battery life are extra sturdy. However they’ll hardly be thought-about new know-how, not less than not on the identical groundbreaking degree of their predecessor. 

As shoppers, we’re getting used to a slower tempo of technological breakthroughs. We’re content material to see new smartphones, new online game consoles, and new TVs that supply merely slight enhancements over their counterparts, moderately than utterly altering the sport – and that is sufficient for us to proceed considering that we’re dwelling in an age of exponential know-how progress. 

What Does a Tech Slowdown Imply? 

So what does all this imply? Is it actually a giant deal that there’s a serious tech slowdown? 

A lot of our financial progress depends upon technological innovation. Numerous retirement plans like 401(okay) rely upon the expansion of the inventory market, which in flip depends upon baseline financial progress; a slowdown in tech innovation results in a slowdown in GDP, leading to a cascade of financial results that would cripple the economic system at massive. 

The bigger hazard is that we don’t understand the tech slowdown is happening till it’s too late. Tech shares are being traded and inflated as in the event that they’re inventing basically new applied sciences; as a normal development, they multiply in value in response to even probably the most meager bulletins. If carried out for years to come back, this might end in an enormous tech bubble, or a broader funding bubble, that pops as soon as traders start realizing simply how sluggish our progress has crawled. 

In fact, this slowdown could also be merely a short lived lull. Simply because the digital period sparked the launch of 1,000,000 new problem-solving applied sciences, we could also be on the cusp of one other, equally paradigm-shifting breakthrough. To get there, we’ll have to refocus our analysis efforts and settle for the constraints of the digital house. 

Our half-century lengthy honeymoon with explosive tech progress within the digital period has been unbelievable, but it surely’s nearing its finish. If we need to preserve shifting ahead (as we must always), we have to reset our expectations, redouble our analysis efforts, and begin wanting into new territory for technological growth. 

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