Know-how is superb. And it appears to get much more spectacular yearly. Day-after-day, there’s some new gadget or breakthrough within the information price 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 continually takes us to new heights. And we’re informed that this technological curve is constant – that we’re nonetheless rising exponentially, with massive leaps forward 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 should be ready for the results 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 challenge. 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 unravel different, usually unrelated issues.
For instance, the event of the web was revolutionary for technological improvement general. Individuals now can overview large databases of knowledge, 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 potential.
However this trajectory is proscribed. 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 manner. As early human beings started exploring new territory, they discovered themselves surrounded by an abundance of sport animals, bushes, 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 pressured 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 could possibly be nearly completely centered on low-hanging fruit. We’re fixing the best issues first, and we’re fixing them in fast succession. However the exhausting 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 tell you that every one of humanity’s issues could be solved ultimately. However we now have to grasp that our tempo of innovation tends to decelerate as we grasp all of the “straightforward” issues and begin wanting on the “exhausting” ones.
Digital Innovation vs. Chemical Innovation
We additionally want to grasp that a lot of the tech progress we’ve seen previously 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 nearly been completely centered on digital communication effectivity. The web, software 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 stage of physics hasn’t modified a lot, if in any respect, for the reason that Nineteen Eighties. 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 by way of which we resolve all different issues, proper?
That will not be the case. For almost all of the digital age, we’ve depended on the momentum of Moore’s law. Moore’s regulation is an off-the-cuff 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 a lot of totally different applied sciences.
Nevertheless, 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 area on a transistor chip. With exponential development for the reason that Nineteen Sixties, 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 gear and innovate solely new manufacturing strategies. Doing so will sharply enhance the price of chip manufacturing, finally negating the cost-effectiveness advantages.
After all, there’s a strong counterargument right here. It holds that digital innovation could proceed on the similar price of exponential development even when we’re unable to take care of the consistency of Moore’s regulation; even when the variety of transistors on a chip stays roughly stagnant, we will discover new methods to make use of the chips we have already got.
Shopper Merchandise and Perceptions
We see an endless conveyor belt of new gadgets and new consumer-facing applied sciences rising on a relentless foundation. However how revolutionary are all these merchandise, actually?
Apple launched the iPhone, a game-changing new kind of know-how, again in 2007. It mixed a number of present applied sciences into one, complete unit, and adjusted the way in which we take into consideration cell tech without end. Prior to now 14 years, how a lot innovation have we actually seen on this area? 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, “revolutionary” smartphones solely make marginal enhancements to the unique components. Their cameras are sharper. Their processing energy is beefier. Their storage capability and battery life are extra sturdy. However they will hardly be thought of new know-how, at the least not on the similar groundbreaking stage of their predecessor.
As customers, 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, quite than fully altering the sport – and that is sufficient for us to proceed considering that we’re dwelling in an age of exponential know-how development.
What Does a Tech Slowdown Imply?
So what does all this imply? Is it actually an enormous deal that there’s a significant tech slowdown?
A lot of our financial development will depend on technological innovation. Numerous retirement plans like 401(ok) rely on the expansion of the inventory market, which in flip will depend on baseline financial development; a slowdown in tech innovation results in a slowdown in GDP, leading to a cascade of financial results that might cripple the financial system at massive.
The bigger hazard is that we don’t notice 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 pattern, they multiply in value in response to even essentially 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 once investors begin realizing simply how gradual our development has crawled.
After all, this slowdown could also be merely a short lived lull. Simply because the digital period sparked the launch of one million 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 area.
Our half-century lengthy honeymoon with explosive tech development within the digital period has been unimaginable, but it surely’s nearing its finish. If we need to hold shifting ahead (as we should always), we have to reset our expectations, redouble our analysis efforts, and begin wanting into new territory for technological growth.