(Via NewScientist) Jonathan Huebner, a physicist working at the Pentagon's Naval Air Warfare Center thinks, far from being in technological nirvana, thinks we are fast approaching a new dark age of innovation as the rate of technological innovation reached a peak a century ago and has been declining ever since & sees the end of innovation looming dead ahead. Web surfing, VoIP, Wifi, Ipod - all make us think that we are enjoying a golden age. Human inventiveness is so finely honed, and the globalised technology industries so productive, that there appears to be an invention to cater for every modern whim. Most futurologists say technology is developing at exponential rates. Moore's law, Kurzweil's law all confirm this. 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."
Rather than growing exponentially, or even keeping pace with population growth, major innovations & scientific advances peaked in 1873 and have been declining ever since. While examining number of patents granted in the US from 1790 to the present. when he plotted the number of US patents granted per decade divided by the country's population, he found the graph peaked in 1915.Huebner says,The global rate of innovation today, which is running at seven "important technological developments" per billion people per year, matches the rate in 1600. Despite far higher standards of education and massive R&D funding "it is more difficult now for people to develop new technology". Extrapolating Huebner's global innovation curve just two decades into the future, the innovation rate plummets to medieval levels. "We are approaching the 'dark ages point', when the rate of innovation is the same as it was during the Dark Ages," Huebner says. "We'll reach that in 2024." Ray Kurzweil thinks Huebner has got it all wrong. "He uses an arbitrary list of about 7000 events that have no basis as a measure of innovation. If one uses arbitrary measures, the results will not be meaningful."
Eric Drexler, says nanotechnology alone will smash the barriers Huebner foresees, never mind other branches of technology. It's only a matter of time, he says, before nanoengineers will surpass what cells do, making possible atom-by-atom desktop manufacturing.Innovation may seem to be slowing even as its real pace accelerates, he says, because it's slipping from human hands and so fading from human view. More and more, he says, progress takes place "under the hood" in the form of abstract computing processes. Huebner's analysis misses this entirely.Take a modern car. "Think of the amount of computation - design, supply chain and process automation - that went into building it," Smart says. "Computations have become so incremental and abstract that we no longer see them as innovations. People are heading for a comfortable cocoon where the machines are doing the work and the innovating - But we're not measuring that very well." My Take: I think that the way to look at this is the reach of some breakthroughs today are felt more widely than say a hundred years back. The power of the inventions are also more potent compared to in the past and the rate of absorption very high Also patents and inventions are not only US centric( Looks like Heubner has based his judgement on US data alone) –while the number of patents filed outside the US are dramatically increasing.