In Evanston IL, Joel Mokyr thinks one of his colleagues by the lake, has made a mistake;
Has technological progress slowed down? Have we really picked all the low-hanging fruit? This column argues that technological progress is in fact not a thing of the past. Far from it. There are myriad reasons why the future should bring more technological progress than ever before – perhaps the most important being that technological innovation itself creates questions and problems that need to be fixed through further technological progress. If we rethink how innovation happens, we have every reason to suspect that we ain’t seen nothing yet.That would be aimed at Robert Gordon's recent paper arguing we're doomed to decline. And it's a pretty strong argument;
Inventors, engineers, applied chemists, and physicians all need access to best-practice science to answer an infinite list of questions about what can and cannot be done. Search engines were invented in the 18th century through encyclopaedias and compendia that arranged all available knowledge in alphabetical order, making it easy to find. Textbooks had indexes that did the same. Libraries developed cataloguing systems and other techniques that made scientific information findable.
But these search systems have their limitations. One might have feared that the explosion of scientific knowledge in the 20th century could outrun our ability to find what we are looking for. Yet the reverse has happened. The development of searchable databanks of massive sizes has even outrun our ability to generate scientific knowledge. Copying, storing, transmitting, and searching vast amounts of information today is fast, easy, and practically free. We no longer deal with megabytes or gigabytes. Instead terms like petabytes (a million gigabytes) and zettabytes (a million petabytes) are being bandied about. Scientists can now find the tiniest needles in data haystacks as large as Montana in a fraction of a second.
And if science sometimes still proceeds by ‘trying every bottle on the shelf’ – as in some areas it still does – it can search with blinding speed over many more bottles, perhaps even peta-bottles.Let's do lunch, Bob. You can have the low hanging fruit, and I'll have the plat de demain.