Is the tempo of scientific and technological progress accelerating or slowing down?
Is the pace of scientific and technological progress accelerating or slowing down?
The pace of scientific and technological progress is not accelerating or slowing down. It stagnates.
Despite the huge increase in money spent on research and development (R&D), advances are barely keeping pace with previous breakthroughs discovered in the past.
The R&D World surveyed 93 physicists from the world’s leading academic physics departments and rated 1,370 pairs of discoveries. The bars in the figure below show the values for each decade. A decade’s score is the probability that a discovery from that decade was judged more important than discoveries from other decades.
Basic physics reached its peak of discoveries in the 1920s to 1930s. The field became commercialized in the 1950s and 1960s and began to gain economic benefits, but the situation became less promising over time.
The graphic ends in the late 1980s. The reason for this is that in recent years the Nobel Committee has preferred to award prizes for work from the 1980s and 1970s. In fact, only three discoveries have received the Nobel Prize since 1990. The same situations with other sciences.
Despite the huge increase in the time and money spent on research, progress is barely keeping pace with the past. What went wrong?
Major technological changes are rarer and further away than they used to be. In our century, progress, for better or for worse, is no longer what it used to be.
When Ernest Rutherford discovered the atomic nucleus in 1911, he published it in a work with only one author: himself. In contrast, the two papers published in 2012 announcing the discovery of the Higgs boson had about a thousand authors each, like it at the detection of gravitational waves happened, which Einstein discovered in 1915.
Economists Tyler Cowen and Robert Gordon point out in their books The Great Stagnation and The Rise and Fall of American Growth that by the beginning of the 20th the internal combustion engine, radio, telephone, air travel, assembly line, fertilizer and much more.
Yes, we have made advances in two powerful general purpose technologies: the computer and the Internet. But many other technologies have only improved incrementally.
Well, as for the big machine learning discoveries, as part of the tight artificial intelligence in recent years. These include improved ability to recognize images and human language, and the ability to play games like Go better than any human. But it has taken too much hype, time, money, and effort to get these results as there is little with real and genuine artificial intelligence.
We need to prepare for a life of slowed economic growth and overcome the notion that this is only temporary. The negative dynamism that the industrialized countries have experienced since the 1970s is not the result of incorrect economic policies. It’s a deep and serious trend. The technology boom of the 2030s will improve the dynamism of the global economy, but will not reach the levels of the 2000s, let alone the peak in the mid-20th century.
Science and Technology 21, New Physica by Azamat Abdoullaev – Read the e-book version here.