Tag Archives: lack of technology innovation

Debatable: Technology Innovation Stagnation, Slowdown– Fiction or Fact– But Does it Really Matter?

The current pace of technological change make one’s heads spin, and it’s easy to think of the digital age as the most innovative ever, e.g.; smartphones, supercomputers, big data, nanotechnologies, gene therapy, stem-cell transplants… But despite these seemingly advancing technologies and hyper-connected economies… the data show that the world is really in long-term period of slower growth, and pundits suggest the reason is because of slower breakthrough technology innovation…

Hence, two questions: 1.) Is there a slowing of technology innovation? 2.) Is there direct link between the rate of technology innovation and economic growth?  

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According to Irving Wladawsky-Berger; data suggests that growth in world economies that operates at technology leading edge are slowing down… Of course, there may be, and probably are, many different explanations for slowing economic growth, but given the emphasize that most economists place on importance of technology innovation as the ultimate source of long-term growth; the obvious question; Is slowing economic growth due to slower technology innovation?

According to Tyler Cowen in his book, The Great Stagnation; most world economies have already ‘picked low-hanging fruit’ of technology, so it’s inevitable that technological progress and growth is slowing…

According to Marc Andreessen; innovation is far from dead and to say that we are entering period of innovation stagnation is hard to equate with smartphones in hands of nearly 2 billion people, worldwide…

According to Peter Thiel; current innovation has not created enough good jobs, or produced revolutionary improvement in overall productivity, or improved the living standards of most people… Yes, the Internet is ‘a net plus, but not a big one’… We wanted medical breakthroughs, but instead we got 140 characters… we are no longer solving big problems.

In the article What is Innovation Stagnation by Stian Westlake writes: Since the financial crisis there’s been wave of worry that technology innovation has slowed down. High-profile proponents of the ‘Great Stagnation’ theory, include; Silicon Valley svengali Peter Thiel, and economist Tyler Cowen, and economic historian Robert Gordon.

The subject has also piqued curiosity of economic heavyweights who are concerned about a wider economic slowdown, e.g.; Paul Krugman, Larry Summers, Martin Wolf… But strange thing about this discussion is that none of it seems to have cast much light on whether or not the phenomenon is actually happening. In the absence of real data, it’s almost impossible to prove whether innovation is slowing down, or not…

Even contributions from luminaries like; Joel Mokyr (who argued against a slowdown) have felt surprisingly general and not terribly compelling. Indeed, one of the most fact-based contributions came from Bill Janeway, who drew on historical examples to argue that it’s too early to say… Yet although no one has much evidence as to whether or not a technology slowdown is happening, people seem surprisingly sure of opinions and keen to discuss the subject. There are no knock-down arguments, but plenty of conviction…

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In the article The Golden Quarter of Innovation by Michael Hanlon writes: We  live in a golden age of technology innovation– medical, scientific, consumer, social progress… Just look at the smartphone! Twenty years ago the Internet was a creaky machine for geeks. Now we can’t imagine life without it. We are on verge of many medical break-throughs that would have seemed like magic only half a century ago, e.g.; cloned organs, stem-cell therapies to repair DNA… Even now, life expectancy in some countries is improving by five hours a day: A day! Surely immortality, or something very like it, is just around the corner…

The notion that the 21st-century world is one of accelerating advances is so dominant that it seems churlish to challenge it. Almost every week we read about ‘new hopes’ for cancer sufferers, developments in the lab that might lead to new cures, talk of the new era of space tourism and super-jets that can fly round the world in a few hours. Yet a moment’s thought tells us that this vision of unparalleled innovation can’t be right, that many of these breathless reports of innovation are, in fact, mere hype, or speculation, or  even fantasy…

Yet there once was an age when speculation matched reality, but it spluttered to halt over 40 years ago… Most of what has happened since has been merely incremental improvements upon what came before… That true age of innovation call it– ‘the Golden Quarter’ ran from about 1945 to 1971. Just about everything that defines the current modern world, either came about or had its seeds during this time…

Consider; the pill; electronics; computers; birth of the Internet; nuclear power; television; antibiotics; space travel; civil rights… There is more; feminism; green revolution; decolonization; mass aviation… Also, birth of gay rights movement; cheap reliable autos; high-speed trains; man on the moon; probe to mars, beat smallpox; discovered the double-spiral key of life….

The Golden Quarter was unique period of less than a single generation, a time when innovation appeared to be running on a mix of dragster fuel and dilithium crystals… Whereas, today’s innovation is defined almost entirely by consumer-driven, often banal improvements in information technology…

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In the article Technology Slowdown by David Rotman writes: No wonder so many people are upset. They sense that they will never be as financially secure as their parents or grandparents… Anger over the stalled economy is certainly manifesting itself in the current presidential election… However, speculating on how the lack of economic progress has affected the mood of the country is risky… Although intense political anger had also broken out during periods of strong growth, such as; the 1960s… So today’s economic morass cannot be blamed entirely on lack of innovation… But does any of this really matter? So what if white heat of technology innovation is cooling off a bit?

The world is, in general, far safer, healthier, wealthier and nicer than it has ever been… We are living longer; civil rights are so entrenched that gay marriage is being legalized in many places; old-style racist thinking is met with widespread revulsion… The world is better in 2016 than it was in 1971… And yes, we have seen some impressive technology advances… But it could have been so much better, if pace of change had continued– it maybe a world where Alzheimer’s was treatable, where clean nuclear power ended threat of climate change, where the brilliance of genetics would bring benefits of cheap and healthy food to the bottom billion, and where cancer would really be on the back foot…

Could it be that the attitude towards risk (risk-aversion) has changed? People, often the young, then were prepared to take huge, physical risks to right the wrongs of the pre-war world. The early civil rights and anti-war protesters faced tear gas or worse. In the 1960s, feminists faced social ridicule, media approbation and violent hostility… But  now, mirroring the incremental changes seen in technology, social progress all too often finds itself down the blind alley of political correctness. Students used to be hotbeds of dissent, even revolution; today’s hyper-conformist youth is more interested in the policing of language and stifling debate when it counters prevailing wisdom…

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Today’s social media seems, despite democratic appearances, to be enforcing a climate of timidity, encouraging group think… According to Daron Acemoglu; it’s time for a health debate… techno-optimists have had too much of a run without being challenged… and it’s hard to think that we are in an age of paucity of innovation…

According to Michael Lind; government must play a greater role in initiating and supporting innovation at all levels… and it must promote collaboration among– itself, business, universities… to come-up with innovations that boost productivity and quality of life… Innovation isn’t over; but it won’t continue at all on its own, either…