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Has the Rate of Technical Progress Slowed?

timothy posted more than 4 years ago | from the now-we're-just-building-better-coffins dept.

Upgrades 712

Amiga Trombone writes "An article in the IEEE Spectrum argues that the rate of technological progress has slowed in the last 50 years. While there have been advances in areas such as computers, communications and medicine, etc., the author points out that these advances have largely been incremental rather than revolutionary. He contrasts the progress made within the life-span of his grandmother (1880-1960) with that in his own (1956-present). Having been born the year after the author, I've noticed this, too. While certainly we've produced some useful refinements, little of the technology available today would have surprised me much had I been able to encounter it in 1969. While some of it has been implemented in surprising ways, the technology itself had largely been anticipated."

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712 comments

Flying Car (5, Interesting)

corsec67 (627446) | more than 4 years ago | (#29283499)

Where is my flying car?

Honestly, in a few ways we might be considered to be going backwards:
I have seen the end of supersonic passenger aircraft (for the time being, with no resumption in sight).

The last time man was on the moon was before I was born.

Re:Flying Car (5, Insightful)

courteaudotbiz (1191083) | more than 4 years ago | (#29283541)

Well, this is all linked to economy...
  • Supersonic flight costs a lot more than subsonic
  • Flights to the moon cost a lot of money and you don't make a penny out of it

This is obvious that progress alone does not drive decisions. Money does.

As for your flying car, you'll start seeing it when we have drivers who can safely drive on 3 dimensional roads, and for that, you have to be able to do it safely on 2 dimensional roads first, which can be far, far away...

Re:Flying Car (4, Interesting)

biryokumaru (822262) | more than 4 years ago | (#29283605)

I would contend that it is much simpler to avoid accidents in three dimensions than two: you have significantly more options should a collision be imminent.

Re:Flying Car (2, Insightful)

GigsVT (208848) | more than 4 years ago | (#29283663)

You are assuming equal freedom on every axis.

An airplane can use climb or dive quickly, or bank, and that's pretty much it. And none of those operations can really be done on a dime.

Re:Flying Car (1)

SQLGuru (980662) | more than 4 years ago | (#29283817)

And a car has brake, accellerate, swerve left, and swerve right. And that really can't be done on a dime, either. The amount of "on a dime" is based on speed -- faster travel means less maneuverability which is why planes can't turn on a dime; they are travelling much faster.

It should be relatively easy to establish "rules of the sky" where the northern/eastern most plane can take either up or North/East and the southern/western most plane can take either down or South/West to avoid a collision much like (in the US) a driver should steer right to avoid one.

Re:Flying Car (5, Funny)

CarpetShark (865376) | more than 4 years ago | (#29283823)

An airplane can use climb or dive quickly, or bank, and that's pretty much it. And none of those operations can really be done on a dime.

You're flying in the wrong mode. Switch to arcade.

Re:Flying Car (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29283745)

More to the point (especially since hovering vehicles aren't generally viable), it's less a problem because 3-space is really big, and thus really sparse compared to 2-space.

Alternatively, if aerial roads are implemented, they can have an order of magnitude more lanes, both by sprawling out over buildings, and by stacking lanes in 2d instead of 1d.

Re:Flying Car (4, Interesting)

Lord Bitman (95493) | more than 4 years ago | (#29283747)

Though there's this whole class of accidents which come about when a 3rd dimension is involved. "Stalled vehicle on highway, traffic backed up for ten miles, delayed for fifty miles, more minor accidents as a result of the start and stop flow" becomes "Stalled vehicle on highway, traffic continues to move smoothly. Hundreds dead as stalled vehicle crashes into St Baby Fluffy Kitten's home for dyslexic cute animals during a field trip from the Orphanage For The Quite Uninteresting But Still Adorable (OFQUBSA)"

Re:Flying Car (4, Interesting)

necro81 (917438) | more than 4 years ago | (#29283697)

As for your flying car, you'll start seeing it when we have drivers who can safely drive on 3 dimensional roads, and for that, you have to be able to do it safely on 2 dimensional roads first, which can be far, far away...

Not to mention a flying car that can fail safe, so that a mechanical mishap or minor accident doesn't prove invariably fatal from, ya know, falling out of the sky.

Re:Flying Car (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29283717)

yeah, because going to the moon didn't result in billions or trillions in profit. Of course, it's hard to calculate when it's an organization which has a huge stigma against writing the word "profit" over a column, but with a couple of basic assumptions about where money "would have gone" vs where money "went instead", it's very easy to estimate "trillions" were moved around to the taxpayer's net benefit.

Re:Flying Car (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29283849)

We enjoy a standard of living far beyond that of the '60s when supersonic commercial flights and moon shots occurred. Why can't we still afford these?

Re:Flying Car (4, Funny)

wstrucke (876891) | more than 4 years ago | (#29283901)

Well, this is all linked to economy...

  • Supersonic flight costs a lot more than subsonic
  • Flights to the moon cost a lot of money and you don't make a penny out of it

This is obvious that progress alone does not drive decisions. Money does.

So what you're saying is... in reality we are the Ferengi [memory-alpha.org].

Re:Flying Car -get busy (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29283555)

To the author of the slashdot post, I recommend that if one thinks technology is slowing
down, you better get busy and start inventing something. Moreover, don't copy or rehash
other peoples opinions since your opinion above is one that gets rehashed just about
every other year on the same topic. No article originality either.

Re:Flying Car (4, Insightful)

itsdapead (734413) | more than 4 years ago | (#29283725)

I have seen the end of supersonic passenger aircraft (for the time being, with no resumption in sight).

The last time man was on the moon was before I was born.

I think what both of those have in common is that, although they were astounding technical achievements, they were both unsustainable "gimmicks" driven by political pissing contests rather than by any actual demand.

The progress we do have is that we've sent robot probes to most of the solar system (good) and subsonic air travel now costs less than rail travel (maybe not so good). Don't undervalue these.

Oh, and we have vastly improved inflight entertainment systems to keep us sane on subsonic flights :-)

Progress! Sure,but leave our business models alone (0, Troll)

FriendlyLurker (50431) | more than 4 years ago | (#29283749)

Some advancements at odds with large well financed corporate business models are buried before they get off the ground. Others are bought out and ripped up for competing [wikipedia.org]. Where the cat is already out of the bag, war is waged against the advancement to try and control the damage (*IAA Vs the Internet). These anti-competitive practices have only got worse as the decades roles by and as we can see from all the *IAA lawyers in the DOJ, appear to have the full backing of government, regardless of who is in power (a vote for anti-progress perhaps?).

Re:Flying Car (1)

dissy (172727) | more than 4 years ago | (#29283783)

Where is my flying car?

It's at the airport, waiting on you to spend the 1.5 million dollars on it.
I would also imagine pilot training as well would have an additional cost, even if only of time.

Re:Flying Car (3, Insightful)

4D6963 (933028) | more than 4 years ago | (#29283899)

It's not because what you expected didn't happen that things are going slower. People always make wild predictions, they fail to happen, and something that they had never thought about happens instead. Sorry, no flying car for you, here, have a multiplayer game of GTA IV with some a bunch of foreigners, or download and watch a movie with your pocket telephone.

Fast forward 30 years later: "Oh noes, we're nowhere near getting our Skynet/Singularity. You suck, ghost of Kurzweil! (Oh yeah, in the future we're totally getting devices to communicate with spirits, space aliens and other ethereal beings. You heard it here first!)"

Re:Flying Car (1)

Blakey Rat (99501) | more than 4 years ago | (#29283911)

I have seen the end of supersonic passenger aircraft (for the time being, with no resumption in sight).

People who lament about this usually couldn't have afforded a Concorde ticket anyway.

"OH NOES! Super-rich people can't buy a ticket for the exclusive airliner anymore!!!"

Fuck supersonic flight, is what I'm saying.

Yes (4, Insightful)

Carewolf (581105) | more than 4 years ago | (#29283501)

Yes, it has. I wouldn't emphasize 50years though. Just look at computers the last 10years and computers 20years ago. In 1999 I was on slashdot from a computer not much different from this one. In 1989 I was trying to get a dial-up modem so I could connect to a BBS from my Amiga.

Re:Yes (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29283597)

Yes, it has. I wouldn't emphasize 50years though. Just look at computers the last 10years and computers 20years ago. In 1999 I was on slashdot from a computer not much different from this one. In 1989 I was trying to get a dial-up modem so I could connect to a BBS from my Amiga.

That would be incremental progress.

Another way to look at it is we're still using silicon microchips. We're just adding cores and whatnot to work around the physical limitations of the current CPU manufacturing methods.

Where are our light based computers? Where are out bio based computers? Silicon?!? That's soooo 20th century.

TCP/IP and ethernet are decades old. We're just at a gigabit? We should be at terabyte bandwidth in our homes. And it should be cheap - $5/month.

All the above and MORE if progress kept at its pace from the 1960s.

Re:Yes (2, Insightful)

ILongForDarkness (1134931) | more than 4 years ago | (#29283851)

Dude you don't have a terabyte connection yet? One could argue that cars haven't changed that much in 50 years either. They still have 4 wheels, still use gas and oil, stearing system is essentially the same etc. For the most part we've just replaced manual parts with computer controlled parts (which enables for example on demand 4WD, ABS etc). Anyways, once a problem has been "solved" with a technology it seems that technology changes slowly. We just need to find some new things that we just have to have to get the new technology. I vote for an electric accordian: it would possibly make Oktoberfest music less annoying.

Re:Yes (4, Funny)

tpgp (48001) | more than 4 years ago | (#29283627)

In 1999 I was on slashdot from a computer not much different from this one.

Yes, but in 1999 did you have twitter? Facebook? Now that's progress.

Why - just think, by 2029, you might be able to let everyone know the consistency of your latest shit, just by thinking about it!

Re:Yes (1)

corsec67 (627446) | more than 4 years ago | (#29283649)

Or your toilet might keep track of that, and let your doctor know if you are having problems. (So, letting people that might care know about the condition of your last shit)

Re:Yes (1)

mikael_j (106439) | more than 4 years ago | (#29283733)

I've heard people call twitter "IRC with a clunky user interface" and I'm inclined to agree to a point, there is nothing marvelous about the tech behind Twitter.

As for Facebook, there were communities with guestbooks, private messages, galleries and a lot of the "standard" Facebook features in 1999 (although I've gotten the impression that this was less true in the US as Myspace seems to have been the first community website for "regular" people (as opposed to geeks and specific subcultures) that actually gained some popularity there).

In any case, both Twitter and Facebook are really just incremental improvements of existing technology and ideas.

/Mikael

Re:Yes (1)

Lord Bitman (95493) | more than 4 years ago | (#29283883)

You think you're joking, but just because technology has moved beyond "here's a neat thingy made from shaping two other thingies and sticking them together" and into the realm of pure development (you know, /Software/), doesn't make the progress any less important.
Social technologies have progressed in revolutionary leaps and bounds, algorithms have improved to extents that were only "not unexpected" in 1969 because people have unrealistic and downright stupid expectations about what 1995 would look like ("You can make a box with lights on it that displays a picture of a cat OR a duck? That definitely means I'll be able to talk to it like a normal person, but it will be so super-smart that I can just ask it to build me a spaceship and it will do so instantly! Out of dirt!") Nobody foresaw social networking in the form we have today.

Mathematics, Computer Science, Biology, and several fields which didn't even bother too much to even exist fifty years ago, these have done far more than "incrementally improve" in the past 50 years, and the only real difference is you can't pick it up and hold it in your hands. Detaching the process of development from the necessity of "building a thing out of wood and metal, then pushing it off a cliff to see if it works" doesn't mean progress has slowed, it has instead allowed it to increase exponentially. The only thing that's slowed down is how often we build a thing out of wood and metal.

Re:Yes (1)

itsdapead (734413) | more than 4 years ago | (#29283827)

Yes, it has. I wouldn't emphasize 50years though. Just look at computers the last 10years and computers 20years ago. In 1999 I was on slashdot from a computer not much different from this one. In 1989 I was trying to get a dial-up modem so I could connect to a BBS from my Amiga.

Yes - I think computers started to hit the buffers circa 1999. On the other hand, computer development from 1980-1999 was so frenetic that a break from the "if it works it is obsolete" principle would be a good thing.

It would be nice to start a 2-3 year development project in the knowledge that the skills and experience you gain will still be applicable to the next project :-)

I think that, if you look at the smartphone market, for example, you already see more focus on usability than horsepower (say what you like about Apple, the iPhone has raised the bar: Android and the Palm Pre wouldn't be as good without that target to aim for). That is a good thing - the old priorities gave us Windows Mobile (incredibly powerful and flexible but barely usable).

Re:Yes (5, Insightful)

smallfries (601545) | more than 4 years ago | (#29283835)

But you've hit the nail on the head. In the fifty year span that the author considers (taking liberties with certain invention dates to improve his point) he ignores communication technologies.

The phone (fixed-line) gets a mention as part of his grandmother's lifespan, but mobile phones? Didn't happen. The Internet? Didn't happen.

Those two inventions alone are signs of huge progress. I'm not sure how they could be labelled as "incremental evolutions" of the phone and the computer. One meant that people stayed in contact with each other regardless of location, and the other meant that we automate communication tasks. Both complete revolutions that have changed our lifes completely.

(yes, in the space of 50 years. If you look at 20 then for early adopters of these techs it would look more like a flat plateau).

The irony is that his claims will have been read casually by millions using these technologies, where-as 50 years ago they would have been printed and distributed to a few locations.

Maybe we have changed (1)

jDeepbeep (913892) | more than 4 years ago | (#29283513)

While some of it has been implemented in surprising ways, the technology itself had largely been anticipated.

This can also be an indicator of how we now interface with technology conceptually, more than a quantitative measure of said technology.

Re:Maybe we have changed (2, Interesting)

plover (150551) | more than 4 years ago | (#29283807)

Also consider that back then there was a very wide acceptance curve separating the "haves" from the "have nots", and the gap has been steadily narrowed ever since. Reductions in poverty and gains in inexpensive manufacturing have brought more technology into the hands of more people.

I also don't think the implications of the instant copy and transfer of information were predicted or understood. The closest we came to predicting 2009 back then was the fear that automation would close our factories and cost us jobs. Nobody saw that the ability to copy or transfer information would transform society the way it has, from the slow collapse of the music industry to the outsourcing of information jobs.

How could this be? (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29283515)

The patent process and IP lawyers help create innovation.

Re:How could this be? (3, Funny)

zach_the_lizard (1317619) | more than 4 years ago | (#29283539)

Of course! The granting of legal monopolies in the production of something is just bound to lead to an explosion in innovation. No one would ever invent one obvious thing and sit on it forever, never producing anything ever again.

Re:How could this be? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29283579)

no one would ever invent one obvious thing and not make any money from it.

and, btw, using the same argument as you do for copyright is out of line here. learn something about the law.

Re:How could this be? (1)

Aim Here (765712) | more than 4 years ago | (#29283679)

I dunno about copyright, there are plenty of superannuated (ex-)musicians *cough*SonnyBonoCliffRichardJohnnyHalliday*cough* demanding perpetual extensions of copyright terms just so that they can continue receiving rent on the music they made forever ago instead of making new music and being paid for that instead.

Re:How could this be? (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29283767)

This is why I boycott Sonny Bono's music. Actually, so far I have been surprisingly strong in this.

Re:How could this be? (1)

value_added (719364) | more than 4 years ago | (#29283787)

The granting of legal monopolies in the production of something is just bound to lead to an explosion in innovation.

I know you're trying to be funny, but words have meaning and legal terms doubly so. Mixing technical terms with their colloquial counterparts yields a curious but not uncommon situation in which people talk past one another, unable to agree on WTF they're really talking about.

Put another way, if "patent" was synonymous with "legal monopoly", how would you explain the successes of Bell Labs [wikipedia.org]?

Re:How could this be? (3, Insightful)

eldavojohn (898314) | more than 4 years ago | (#29283681)

The patent process and IP lawyers help create innovation.

Actually, the article did point out capitalism

So on what do intelligent people base the idea that technological progress is moving faster than ever before? It's simple: a chart of productivity from the dawn of humanity to the present day. It shows a line that inclines very gradually until around 1750, when it suddenly shoots almost straight up.

But that's hardly surprising. Since around 1750 the world has witnessed the spread of an economic system, by the name of capitalism, that is predicated on economic growth. And how the economy has grown since then! But surely the creation of new markets and the increasingly fine division of labor cannot be equated with technological progress, as every consumer knows.

At least in the United States [wikipedia.org], patents have been granted as far back as 1646 with the first patent act being put in place in 1790. The concept of patents has been around as long (maybe even longer) than this explosion of technological progress the article talks about. And you can argue both ways quite easily that it promotes inventing. The first being that with patents I have such a huge reward waiting for me that I am driven to invent and license patents because it is so lucrative and there's a system in place to protect my interests. The second being that I can take other people's inventions and modify them or mash them together without having to pay royalties or worry about litigation. In the United States we currently have the former while in China you might find a mix of the two to foster growth at different levels. I'm not arguing for or against either idea but I don't think that really has a proven effect for or against inventing. I will say that the first patent act in the U.S. was passed in 1790 [wikipedia.org], 40 years after the "productivity" explosion in 1750 that the article mentions. Just something to consider.

Re:How could this be? (1)

gbjbaanb (229885) | more than 4 years ago | (#29283877)

Capitalism had sweet FA to do with it. What we need to re-encourage technological growth is a war. No, make that 2 wars. 2 wars involving pretty much everyone on the planet. *

Perhaps we could start things off with a war against Patent and IP lawyers? ...

* ok, it might not have been the wars that drove innovation but a metal arm, or a saucer-shaped craft, or Megatron stuffed in a basement lab, desert base or under the Hoover Dam; but I still prefer the war against lawyers option.

Twenty-first century arrives after slight delay (2, Funny)

David Gerard (12369) | more than 4 years ago | (#29283517)

After a minor shipping delay [today.com], flying cars have arrived for all. As of today, all major cities also feature moving pavements and weather control and commuter flights to the Moon will be commencing tomorrow.

Earth President Barack Obama welcomed the representatives of the Galactic Brotherhood to Washington, assuring them that the many wars on Earth were now to be conducted entirely by robots, though the robots would be carefully monitored and pulled out of battle and granted citizenship the moment they achieved sentience. He also offered the galactics free access to Google, with only the requirement for tasteful contextually-attuned text advertising to be imprinted on their DNA.

The reactionary forces of the twentieth-century United States finally conceded defeat and shut down the Five-Year Plan Tractor Plants of Detroit, where ridiculous oversized transport was bashed together by semi-literate peasants between fifths of vodka from the nerve gas factory next door, and the Five-Year Plan Software Plants of Redmond, where ridiculous oversized operating systems were bashed together by semi-numerate fresh graduates between fifths of Red Bull. The record and movie company back catalogues have been placed into the public domain for the preservation of human culture and the comic-book capitalists of Wall Street have been sent to calming, soothing, humanistic re-education facilities. "We'll teach them to love again," said Mr Obama.

Robot housecleaners are now universally available at quite reasonable prices. The robot companion for your child, designed to say "I LOVE YOU" while the child hits it repeatedly, was an early release for Christmas 2007. The new model features the voice of Justin Fletcher from CBeebies and is designed for parents to hit repeatedly.

Future innovations for the century include the rise of the Great Old Ones from their eternal sleep to take back the Earth and consume the souls of all humanity, first driving them slowly insane. The citizenry is being prepared for this eventuality using repeated broadcasts of Teletubbies, Waybuloo and In The Night Garden.

Re:Twenty-first century arrives after slight delay (5, Funny)

paiute (550198) | more than 4 years ago | (#29283841)

It turns out that the Galactic Brotherhood is here to get compensation for our theft of their IP. Seems that SETI@home wasn't recording noise but the encoded libraries of several thousand civilizations, and we at home were processing a lot of copyrighted material. With damages and interest, we owe them everything from the center of the Sun out to about Saturn. And we get disconnected from the electromagnetic spectrum.

Lately (5, Insightful)

Nerdfest (867930) | more than 4 years ago | (#29283521)

We seem to be specializing in making things cheaper, not better ... perhaps it's economy or globalization related. I just don't think think we're spending the research money that's needed to continue the pace of previous decades. We are getting quite good at combining the work of others ... and even better at patenting it.

Re:Lately (4, Insightful)

courteaudotbiz (1191083) | more than 4 years ago | (#29283613)

I just don't think think we're spending the research money that's needed

No, we're spending on marketing to sell the cheap stuff...

Re:Lately (3, Insightful)

tomtomtom (580791) | more than 4 years ago | (#29283683)

Another way to put this though is that we're democratizing technology. 50 years ago, only the wealthy could afford to own a car, or a television, or a computer, or to travel by air. Today, everyone except for the very poorest can afford all of those things. I'd argue quite strongly therefore that cheaper is better.

Re:Lately (3, Informative)

necro81 (917438) | more than 4 years ago | (#29283815)

This comment dovetails nicely with a recent article in Wired: how Good Enough [wired.com] is taking over. Call it the MP3 effect - the smaller file size and increased portability of compressed audio won out over fidelity. The sound quality wasn't Great, but considering that you could get your entire collection into your pocket and listen anywhere, anytime meant that it was Good Enough.

Where is the fastest growth in video cameras: the Flip and mobile phones, not pricey 1080p camcorders. Fastest growth in computers: netbooks, not high-powered desktops. Biggest thing in health care: clinics to handle minor ailments, not full-service hospitals. So-so call quality from Skype? No problem. MSWord getting too bloated and expensive by feature creep? Try Google Docs, even if it is slow, requires an internet connection any time you want to do something, and was perpetually in Beta.

I'm not sure I agree with this thesis entirely, but is does make some interesting points.

This is not exactly to say that Good Enough doesn't represent technical progress. Indeed, the ability for Good Enough to be good enough is a testament to technical progress, because that has allowed computer power to become cheap and ubiquitous. In some cases, like the Flip, some might say that creating a simple device that actually does what it is supposed to, simply and easily, is progress compared to a device that tries to do everything, but is a total kludge.

seeing the graph, (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29283547)

I miss some things of the latest decades : LED's/OLED, TFT, solar cells, double- and triple-pane glass; all important stuff, but most of those things are IMPROVEMENTS of older technology, not really NEW stuff (except solar cells, those are really important)

Re:seeing the graph, (1)

biryokumaru (822262) | more than 4 years ago | (#29283669)

Wow, an incredible post from a century ago, where the invention of Solar Cells [wikipedia.org] is considered a recent development! Unless, of course, you're talking about modern Solar Cells, which were developed during the aforementioned grandmother's lifetime (1954).

I believe so yes, specifically the last 5 years. (4, Interesting)

AbRASiON (589899) | more than 4 years ago | (#29283561)

Not much more to say really, things are slowing down, improvements to products are minimal.
Actual, genuine newfangled technology what is there? Everything is an iteration upon an iteration.

We still use the microwave, we still use the freezer, the cooktop, the oven, we mostly use the combustion engine, we still mostly use steam for power plants, computers have gotten faster and we have LCD's now but nothing huge has hapenned, we don't have anti-gravity, we don't have teleportation, we can't change one thing in to another (easily), medically we still aren't growing replacement bodies.

Yes things have gotten better but I haven't seen a huge revoloutionary change to be honest in my lifetime, maybe the mobile phone I guess.

Re:I believe so yes, specifically the last 5 years (3, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29283707)

that's because every improvment has a huge impact on economy and let's face it, stock markets is world wide now it's not just local like 70 years ago.

Hydrogen car----Pretty sure it,s being held back by oil companies because they would lose it all
Flying cars-------Anti-gravity no but alterbative plane/cars are in progress.
Body parts--------Well, they have done some interesting things with mice but religious groups are blocking growth in this area every step of the way.
Disease-------------Same as the above, God is in the way of progress.

So major things have not happen because of GOD and MONEY that's it.

the day GOD is not over the law anymore and human beings are ready to accept casualty of progress like losing your job to a better cleaner energy, then, maybe, we'll see major improvment.

Re:I believe so yes, specifically the last 5 years (2, Insightful)

FTWinston (1332785) | more than 4 years ago | (#29283813)

Mobile phone and internet are certainly revolutionary from a social point of view.
Technologically, however, pretty much all progress is incremental.

Tele-visual radio transmissions built upon radio transmissions of sound, which built upon radio transmissions of morse, which built upon wired transmission of morse, so on and so on. Each of these had dramatic social consequences, but technologically, they were still incremental - even if the increment was large in some cases

There are obvious reasons that the internet wasn't invented in the 19th century, or that television wasn't invented in the 17th. They had to invent microchips and radio first.

I'd contend that it isn't possible to say that the rate of technological progress has slowed significantly in the last 5 years, as to do so properly would require enough time to observe the full range of social effects, once economics and continued development allow things to propagate out of the lab and into society.

Everything has been invented (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29283571)

Everything that can be is already known. It's the reason why the patent office only grants crap patents now. Otherwise, they'd be out of a job.

porn (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29283577)

Well, there are thousand and one ways to consume porn today. I call that progress.

Back on topic: It's all about virtual things like money, ethics and laws. Before it was ok to launch chimps to space at great expanse, just so you can beat the russians. Today, you'd upset the tax payers and peta.

perception != reality (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29283581)

It's easy to get carried away and say that all our great technologies were dreamt of during the 60s (or whatever time period suits you) but there is a very big difference between dreaming of new technologies and actually implementing them. By this article's line of thought, we won't have any progress until the star trek era because some people have already thought of technologies until then? Nonsense.

Also, I'd like to bring up the fact that there are many many fields in which technology can advance today and even with incremental progress, it's harder and harder to keep track of everything. To say it simply, there's just no way you can be a multi-field specialist anymore the way there were back in the renaissance era when knowledge was a thing for the elite.

Bad news for Mr. Singularity (1, Insightful)

wondercool (460316) | more than 4 years ago | (#29283583)

Oh no, this will mean Raymond Kurzweil has to eat even more vitamin pills (exponentionally??) to sit it out until they find a cure against mortality!!!

Wrong metric (1)

omarch (1599035) | more than 4 years ago | (#29283585)

"Cool" or "surprises me" may be not the best metric for measuring technology progress. Maybe if you cut off Internet, TV and other sources of information for 5 years you would be as much surprised as your grandmother

Are Failures More Costly Today? (4, Interesting)

eldavojohn (898314) | more than 4 years ago | (#29283587)

What if the author had found data on inventions that failed? Would the author see a huge amount in the lifetime of his grandmother (if those records exist) and very few during his own lifetime (per capita in both time periods)?

Sometimes it feels like for every one hobby project I take on there are nine more that die at some point in development. Perhaps today we bet on sure things -- like incremental developments on things already existing -- instead of investing our time in risky ventures? Possibly because development and production of an idea is a costly venture with many people needed along the way. It gets harder to be a one stop shop as we're trained to be specialized and therefore our failures become more costly. Our economic system has evolved to reward only those that succeed and really really punish those that don't.

Probably not an adequate explanation but may explain part of it.

thought experiment (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29283609)

I often do a thought experiment and compare multiple fields in roughly similar intervals:
American Revolution, American Revolution #2 (aka Civil War), WWI, Vietnam War, Present

In each field I list, we have made vast strides, for example in Communications:
    American Revolution: letter, signal lanterns, flags (much like the Romans)
    Civil War: electronic telegraph
    WWI: radio, telephone
    Vietnam War: TV, satellite, limited computer communications
    Present: cell phones, sat phones, GPS, Internet, etc.

To someone living in the present, the pace seems to be slower as you don't realize the life/world changing events until a few years down the road, yet much is happening.

No world wars (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29283631)

The pace has slowed because it doesn't need to be so fast. You are always going to get more done if you feel the survival of your culture and independence depends on it.

Lets try a list (5, Insightful)

AHuxley (892839) | more than 4 years ago | (#29283639)

Germans where spooked in 43-45, tried a lot.
Soviets and Americans (Brits and French too) took what they could in tech and people, building on what they could.
Soviets raced the USA in anything and everything, this saw a big push for real science education (GI bill helped ect).
End of the cold war, no need for an educated public, a gov/private push to get science back as an arts subject and the population spending, dumb and greedy again.
If you cant understand it, it cannot harm you, rust belt production lines can stay open, profits are safe.
So now we have gone from a Unix like brain to a MS like gui slop.
No need for deep understanding, just spend, point and click.
The problem is science spending is just not an easy sell to the east or west coast or middle America.
The east and west coasts want to keep the existing power/profit structures, the middle America just wants "science" in the dust bin and back to safe, faith based engineering subjects.

Faith engineers (2, Funny)

SpeedyGonz (771424) | more than 4 years ago | (#29283839)

...the middle America just wants "science" in the dust bin and back to safe, faith based engineering subjects.

Can you even imagine a faith based engineer?:

- The Lord will split the river in two for us to build the dam, amen.
- Let's pray to Jesus Christ this holy bridge, made in the image of Moses' Ark, holds its own.

Might sound silly, but if some zealots have their way in changing education content, say, with stuff like intelligent design... who knows

Resources are finite (5, Insightful)

HuguesT (84078) | more than 4 years ago | (#29283645)

I'd mostly agree with the recent lack of "big invention" like the aeroplane or the car, however the author underplays the role of the computer and associated communication technologies. Now whether we like it or not we are moving towards a single, small world where everybody can communicate with everyone else and can access most of the world's public knowledge cheaply and effectively. This is increasingly replacing travel and having profound effects at every level of the society. Furthermore, whereas the car and the aeroplane were used for war, the computer so far has mostly been used for peace. As a result we have avoided a third WW so far that would have destroyed us utterly. Of course this is not strictly true but by and large not altogether incorrect.

At the same time we are becoming aware that the world is small, exeedingly finite and that resources are scarce on the one hand, and that expanding our universe to other planets is extremely difficult on the other. We are at an important point in history. Either we rise to the challenge of providing cheap energy, food, shelter, clothes, learning and health for everybody, or in a few short decades we will be all dead. We do not have another couple of millennia ahead of us.

The good thing is that we have now more thinkers, scientists, engineers and industrialists than at any point in history, by several orders of magnitude. However, we are all driven by greed. The odds are almost even, but maybe I'm an optimist.

World War III? (1)

Mc Fly (52238) | more than 4 years ago | (#29283647)

Many of the breakthroughs of the past century were done in times of war (between WW1 and WW2), since there was a real interest in having applicable research. From this perspective, I'd rather have slower progress rates...

Re:World War III? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29283721)

you mean the shadows were right, and the vorlons were wrong?!

Holy unreadability, Batman! (2, Interesting)

consonant (896763) | more than 4 years ago | (#29283655)

I can't believe a tech magazine has gone OUT OF ITS WAY to make this article practically unreadable.

Nothing works - Single page view [ieee.org] still shows me about 65% page-width of sidebar, there is no print view to speak of, only a "Print" option that I could use to make a PDF, except even that is too shittily formatted to read, and for some reason the text column decides it's a good idea to get even narrower at some point after the insanely difficult-to-decipher timeline image. Of which a convenient PDF download is linked to, which is THREE FRAKKIN MEGABYTES and still a total disaster to read.

Is this some sort of test about who RTFA and who doesn't?

Well, even TFA is one meandering, rambling muse better suited for a blog, which is a real pity, as the writer Alfred Nordmann has two reasonably well written essays up on his site [uni-bielefeld.de]. *sigh* Some people are just better at papers than articles with word-limits.

WAR, what is it good for? (4, Insightful)

owlnation (858981) | more than 4 years ago | (#29283661)

War is probably the greatest catalyst for change and technological advancement. The period from 1880 to 1960 was one of the most turbulent in World history. Both the Great War and WWII spurred a lot of tech, not just killing machines, but also in medicine and materials sciences amongst many other things.

I guess it is a good thing that we have lived in relatively-speaking peaceful times in comparison. However, hopefully there is a way of humanity getting its act together to precipitate change without the need for life and death conflict. The cynic in me however, suggests that maybe war is a necessary mechanism for social change. Kind of like forest fires, plagues, etc, in the ecosystem.

Re:WAR, what is it good for? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29283857)

The cynic in me however, suggests that maybe war is a necessary mechanism for social change.

The millions of innocent human beings slaughtered in other people's wars unfortunately don't agree with you.

What a childish, unthinking, selfish position to take.

green stuff (4, Insightful)

hey (83763) | more than 4 years ago | (#29283665)

Finally running out of (cheap) oil might cause some innovations.

Not so excited about excitement as I used to be (1, Informative)

ciaohound (118419) | more than 4 years ago | (#29283667)

I'm feeling lately that a lot of "advances" haven't really improved our lives. Our "technologically advanced" running shoes don't offer any more protection than what Roger Bannister wore fifty years ago when he ran a four minute mile. (See "Born to Run", Christopher McDougall). Our food supply system as a result of the "green revolution" (by which I mean industrial agriculture following World War II, not the environmental movement) that was supposed to feed the world is actually making us less healthy than the family farms that used to supply our food. (See "The Omnivore's Dilemma", Michael Pollan). Plastic, what was enthusiastically proclaimed as "the future" for Benjamin in "The Graduate" in 1968, turns out to be the bane of living things when it disrupts our endocrine systems. (See "Our Stolen Future," Theo Colborn, et al). I'm not a Luddite. I just don't see all technology or "The Future" in general exclusively through rose-tinted glasses.

Science Fiction as Prep? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29283677)

I doubt your grandmother had an industry of science fiction writers and movies to prepare her. My grandmother never used a computer and barely used the telephone.

I believe that science fiction is a larger driver for break through work than anything else. I've seen high ranking generals in the military discussing the latest scifi movies at dinner parties and wishing they had access to some of those tools.

For example, all the RPVs used today were discussed at parties in the late 1970s. The goal was for video games to become the method of control for these vehicles.

BTW, we can already see through building walls. I'm just waiting for large scale deployment by public safety teams to be caught on TV. Wouldn't it be good to know where people were inside a crack house before breaching?

If it has, has patent law had an effect on this? (1)

MartinSchou (1360093) | more than 4 years ago | (#29283685)

And to some extent, there's no harm in asking the same question for copyright and trademark laws respectively.

And don't lump them all together in a reply - specify why this is (not) the case for the three subjects.

Re:If it has, has patent law had an effect on this (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29283735)

I wouldn't argue much with the assertion that Thomas Edison would find it impossible to innovate with todays Intellectual Property laws. Similarly, I can't launch a product without hiring a bunch of lawyers. Currently, in the space I'm inventing in a company has patented the use of server-side code to validate data before submission to a database. So that means I have to work around this patent with Ajax. There are other lovely little patents of horribly obvious things that I have to work around to avoid a law suit.

And to some extent, there's no harm in asking the same question for copyright and trademark laws respectively.

And don't lump them all together in a reply - specify why this is (not) the case for the three subjects.

Depends on the point of view (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29283693)

When we look at what happened before we were born, we only see the big steps. But our own time, we've been living through gradual changes, that we don't notice. When we think about the future, we again see the big steps.

It's the same as when you see a kid growing up. It's a gradual change, you don't really notice. But if you haven't seen the person for a while, suddenly it's a huge change.

All progress is gradual, although sometimes there is an enabling invention, that later can be seen as a huge step, when you know the progress that it enabled. But at the time it was just a crazy idea.

Example: Cars. The enabling invention was basically a horse-carriage without a horse. A crazy idea to most people at the time. From then to now, we have the gradual progress. But those of us who didn't see that progress, tend to combine the two. So suddenly we have this huge invention, that replaced horses.

Example: Computers. Wasn't it IBM's Thomas Watson who said something about there being a world market for five computers? At the time, computers were a crazy idea. But as gradual progress improved the capabilities and size of computers, now we all have at least one. Look back at it. I'm sure those of you who started on PC's think of PC's as gradual progress, where as PC's were a revolution compared to what came before them. I started on the C64, and to me, the PC is not much different. The first PC's weren't much faster, and it actually took PC's some time to catch up with the C64 when it comes to graphics and sound. But the C64 was a revolution. Likewise to someone who has grown up with mainframes, then minis, supermicros, micros, PC's, it will all have been a gradual progress. To him, the revolution lies in the step from vacuum tubes to transistors.

Those of you who have children, tell them the stories from your childhood, then you'll find out where the huge revolutions happened. My guesses: Cell phones, the Internet, MP3 music.To us, they are just a gradual evolution, to them, the thought of being without either is like the dark ages.

Not so much (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29283695)

The mapping of the Human Genome, the creation of software/hardware that understand the concept of following faces, Robots that actually have been accepted into homes, and the photographing of individual atoms... Every generation wants to say that they aren't as good as what came before, but I would argue that if we transplanted a person from 1969 to the year 2009, they would think differently.

measuring progress (1)

lapsed (1610061) | more than 4 years ago | (#29283705)

To those who want their flying cars: you can't measure progress by looking at science fiction and lamenting that it's not yet fact. The concepts of 'impact' and 'progress' aren't really the same. Technological progress -- whatever that means -- is usually measured by the productivity of some factor, like labour or raw materials. Impact suggests that an innovation has to diffuse and have a broad social and economic effect. Inasmuch as impact is socially constructed by our own wants, it's possible we're disappointed because we spend so much time talking about the future, and because rapid progress has become normal.

basic research and physical sciences (5, Insightful)

Cuprous (74856) | more than 4 years ago | (#29283711)

If you look at the technical advances of the first half of the 20th century, there is a common thread. Many (most?) were the direct result of basic science research (antibiotics, pasteurization, lasers, radio, even flight). Furthermore, many benefited from our dramatic increase in knowledge of the physical world. You can look at the list of Nobel prize recipients in physics, etc and thank them for research which directly improved your life.

If you want more advances, call your congressman and tell them that you want increased funding to the NSF, NIH, NIST, DOE, and NASA for basic research. Then sit back ten or twenty years.

Stuttered progress (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29283729)

I don't think it has at all - the thing is, in terms of revolutionary inventions we've picked off all the low hanging fruit. Biomedical science and Physics seem to suffer from this 'problem' to a huge extent. The research is still being done (much more so, and with more investment, and much better equipment), into the truly toughest, most complex systems mankind has ever tried to understand.

We'll get our revolutions, but they'll be far more infrequent, and far far bigger.

You geeks need to learn that the world doesn't work like a bad scifi novel.

The article's author is confused (4, Insightful)

ShooterNeo (555040) | more than 4 years ago | (#29283741)

A better yardstick for technological progress is not the utility of technology, but the internal complexity of the technology. A Mercedes today may still be an internal combustion engine automobile - but far more engineering has gone into the design of the auto than into a mercedes of 1959. There's far more sophisticated embedded systems inside it, from electronic keys to a sophisticated crash mitigation system. Aerodynamics and reliability and numerous other factors have had countless iterations of engineering put into them.

Yet, of course, the actual improvement in your life if you owned either car is small. You're more likely to survive a crash in the newer automobile - but crashes don't happen every day, and people drive more dangerously today, so the death rate is comparable. Either car can go 70 mph on the interstate.

All the rest of technology today is similar. A lot of things don't seem to have improved much - but the complexity of the internals have increased. Doctors and hospitals today have a much longer list of things they worry about when they treat for a disease - although outcomes are only slightly better.

He is right about one thing. For the nanotechnology and flying cars and other wonders of the "singularity", the internal complexity of that technology will dwarf anything we have today. Human beings, even working as large teams, don't really have the brain power to create technology this complicated within a reasonable investment timespan. That's why the first stage of the singularity is information technology : we first have to augment our ability to handle complexity (whether through AI or cyborgs or whatnot). The flying cars and the immortality granting nanotechnology come later.

Of course it slowed -- we have been too busy (3, Insightful)

martijnd (148684) | more than 4 years ago | (#29283759)

In the space of less than 15 years we have more or less put online the combined sum of all human knowlegde ; made it accessible and searchable. And for good measure we added instant and nearly free communication (remember when long distance was expensive?) and wired to the Internet everyone with a monthly income over US$ 100. Personal networks are no longer limited to your church community or secret society -- a typical family keeps in daily contact with its members around the world.

You can moan about flying cars all you want, but creating those billions of webpages has kept busy all of Generation X&Y.

Still waiting for Generation Z to get bored with playing online games... common you slackers.

Computers have stopped. Biology has not. (4, Interesting)

MoobY (207480) | more than 4 years ago | (#29283775)

Answering this question from the viewpoint of IT, CS or electronics in general, yes, I have the same feeling.

However, if you look at other sciences, like biology, there's an amazing evolution of technologies, methodologies and revolutionizing new insights that are going to change the world around is, possibly in more disruptive ways than computers have. If the 20th century is the century of computers, we're still strongly believing that the 21st century will see (and is seeing) a lot of revolutions in biology.

So if you feel, like me, that CS is dead and still want to go on a technological quest, try something else.

Screenplay about the rate of change (1)

paiute (550198) | more than 4 years ago | (#29283781)

My friend S.A. Scoggin wrote a screenplay once about this subject:

I want my hoverboard. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29283789)

If they're going to be a popular kids' toy in 6 years, shouldn't there be an expensive research/early-adopter version in the works by now?

Kind of, but not really (2, Insightful)

WindBourne (631190) | more than 4 years ago | (#29283803)

America, along with western EU, were the most innovative countries going. The reason is that we had the infrastructure to building ideas in a reasonable fashion. We had lots of cheap raw material and we encouraged it by pushing engineers. As such, it was the lone innovators that pushed thing. Also, the US gov had until 1982, pushed all sorts of RD for the basic science. America was primed to be a technical innovator.

But under reagan and then under W, America backed off from basic science RD. In addition, we have been allowing our manufacturing to flow to China and Software to India. Neither of these countries have the infrastructure that the west has, BUT they will get it. Once it is there, then you will see a resurgence in technical progress.

Obviously it has... (1, Insightful)

ciggieposeur (715798) | more than 4 years ago | (#29283805)

...and because of corporatist capitalism. We have two major things going on:

1. Technology of the 1970's can provide enough food and shelter for the entire world. However, we cannot employ the entire world in the production of food and shelter, because at some point we have all the food and shelter we need and thus people become unemployable again. The obvious solution of "making basic stuff for no cost to consumers" would drastically undermine the economic pyramid, so that cannot be pursued. Therefore, the only way to maintain the existing economic pyramid is to slow down the pace of technology until such time as other social controls (e.g. consumer debt) can become more effective. Call this is the Conspiracy Theory version of why we don't develop technology advanced enough such that we no longer need to work for The Man.

2. Globalization's "race to the bottom" has produced a business culture that values short-term profits over long-term progress, such that it makes more economic sense to squeeze a little more money out of what we have than take the risk of shooting for something much better. Thus it is more profitable to make things last just until the manufacturer's warranty runs out than as long as possible, partly due to existing infrastructure but also largely due to consumer preferences for newer-is-better (who still wants power tools from the 1950's even if they continue to work well?). This has led to the death of craftsmanship and the skills necessary for significant innovation. Call this the Idiocracy Theory of why it doesn't make business sense to fund R&D.

We can thank "Capitalism"... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29283821)

I would say, yes, the rate of technological progress has declined but not for the reasons you may think. The largest economy in the world, the U.S., has typically driven innovation. With the extreme emphasis (you might suggest "Fiduciary Responsibility") of Corporate America to make a profit, at any cost, the goal is not to innovate, but to create a better mousetrap in order reap the rewards of large market penetration and profitability. You didn't think we'd be able to do both, did you?

The only fool-proof way to progress (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29283825)

We need to find that monolith on the moon. This is the only fool-proof way of evolving the human race.

Surely that must have been the main objective of W. when he decided to send a man back there.

No. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29283829)

No. The author is just fixated on certain aspects of advancement that apparently don't include the extroidinary advances in semiconductor technology that we've made. I can fit a computer in my pocket that is more powerful than anything 20 years ago. I'd say that some pretty swift advancement. The author disagrees. We've changed the focus of our technology, not the pace.

It's more a matter of perspective. (2, Insightful)

Eskarel (565631) | more than 4 years ago | (#29283831)

There have been any number of absolutely amazing and revolutionary changes in the last 50 years, they just haven't been as "in your face" as the ones in the previous 50 years.

In the last 50 years, we've had cures for diseases they didn't even know existed 50 years ago. We've had degrees of miniaturization which are just ridiculous, as well as increases in efficiency which are monumental. Yes these may seem like refinements in their results, but the technology behind them has been absolutely amazing. No one realistically predicted things like integrated circuits 50 years ago, even if they predicted the kinds of things that would be made with them. There's no car, or plane, or anything like that, but it doesn't change the fact that revolutionary discoveries have been made.

There's also the sci-fi factor. The 20th century, particularly the second half, was really the peak science fiction, people envisaged all sorts of things, many of which are probably impossible, they just imagined everything. This make it seem like everything we have was old hat, whereas just because an author came up with the idea it doesn't mean that making it work wasn't revolutionary. We've been fantasizing about flying cars for probably as long as there have been cars, but that won't mean that if/when they actually work it won't be a revolutionary discovery.

NO. (4, Insightful)

192939495969798999 (58312) | more than 4 years ago | (#29283833)

Not only has the rate not slowed, but the rate has never been higher. I can present two different arguments to how wrong it is to assert that the rate is slowing, etc.

1. 10 years ago, we all would have been thoroughly shocked to walk into a store and get a 1TB drive for our PC's for under $100. To say that in 1969 there wouldn't have been widespread shock at the current state of the Internet, PC's, automotive technology, etc. in general is nothing short of utter rubbish. Let's take another example: cars. Do you think that drag cars in 1969 could do a quarter mile in under 4 seconds? That would have crushed the low 7 second times at the time, and it would have blown everyone's mind that you could even get to a speed like 330 mph in just a few seconds without a rocket engine.

2. This is just a more specific form of an argument that has been made every few decades since the beginning of written history, the argument that "we have done everything". This argument was made by famous physicists in the early 1900's, before Einstein and quantum physics. This argument was made about locomotive trains, or any vechiles for that matter, ever reaching over 50 mph without sucking people's lungs out from the high rate of speed. This argument was made about achieving mach 1 in an airplane. This argument is made about the progress of fine art.

Here's why the argument fails. Human history as written is fixed. The future of humanity is not fixed and has not been written yet, and extends infinitely far into the future compared to any of our lifetimes (end of the world theories aside). Thus, the sum total of human knowledge approaches zero compared with the sum total of what may exist into the future, depending on how far out you want to look. Not only have we not invented everything, we kinda "haven't invented anything yet" compared to what the future will bring.

I disagree (1)

captainpanic (1173915) | more than 4 years ago | (#29283837)

We do have new technology, but we fail to implement it. New types of energy could, and should, be implemented a.s.a.p.

Right now, we have an economy that aims to produce more for less. In the good old days, there was energy to spare, and it was quality that mattered. But in order to get quality, you need to spend more energy. And since energy is the bottleneck nowadays, we should be tackling that first.

With a nice new shiny infrastructure for clean energy, we can again send people to the moon and build flying cars. But I wouldn't even want a flying car if that means I have to spend 200 euro on gas just to get to work and back.

A second remark:
While we don't all have DNA analyzers at home, some serious advances have been made in the medical field. While we didn't put another man on the moon, 2 rovers have been driving around Mars for several years. While computers have been around for years now, they do start to resemble a tricorder in many ways (except that we still can't set our blackberry to stun).

I think that we're just getting very used to technical progress... and if you want a "revolution"... the internet itself is one.

A last remark:
The more stuff you have, the more you need to spend on maintenance. In the good old days, people just didn't have so much, and spent all their efforts on creating new stuff. Now, we spend all our efforts just to keep all the stuff we built over the last decades up and running.

of course things like (1)

nimbius (983462) | more than 4 years ago | (#29283863)

the DMCA and "intellectual property rights" cant possibly have caused a lull in innovation. those are around to protect your "freedoms." theyre certainly not designed to corner the market on an idea and lock users into a product or service that never changes for 20 years.

The Internet (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29283865)

I would argue that the Internet is changing the world just as much as any other advancement in the last 500 years. Globalization has fundamentally changed society, and the world at large. While not being hard technology, information exchange is what will shape our future. Since the Gutenberg bible, there hasn't been such an advancement.

I blame patent trolls... (4, Insightful)

Vandil X (636030) | more than 4 years ago | (#29283867)

... and all the "safety first" crap that's been going on in recent time. (e.g. the NASA of today would have never made the 1969 deadline for Apollo, it would have failed with the Apollo 1 fire and subsequent 3-4 year safety meeting and canceling launches because of lightning 100 mile away.)

Two reasons (4, Insightful)

Eudial (590661) | more than 4 years ago | (#29283869)

There's a couple of reasons why technology has sort of fizzled out, as I see it.

First of all, DIY is dead or dying. Electronic components are harder to get hold of, and information about electronics is harder to get hold of (Internet is all good, but it really doesn't compare to the old electronics magazines). Heck, even the toys that 20th century kids engineering, like Lego and Meccano, have been either mutilated beyond recognition, or canceled.

Secondly, patents. For every technological invention, there's a fair chance that someone has patented something in a way that they at least think they own they invention. Not only is it a turnoff to have to jump legal hurdles all the time, it's also really expensive and most people just don't have the resources.

Cha-Cha-Changes (2, Insightful)

drewsup (990717) | more than 4 years ago | (#29283873)

Well for one thing technology has had to "dumbed" down for average consumer, that in itself will dampen big advances like we used to have. It seems to me that we were smarter on the whole when men used slide rules to build things, you REALLY had to know what you were doing. In the age of point of point and click, it's no wonder we aren't progressing more rapidly. On the other hand, technological evolution does seem to go in fits and spurts, it takes a while for a culture to "digest" new technologies and then want more. Right now in the age of consumerism, we have fabulous technology at our fingertips, game consoles that rival supercomputers of 20 years ago, cell phones that do extraordinary tasks, big ass TV's that hang on the wall, Mp3 players the size of matchboxes, sure it's no flying car, but would you really want your dumb ass neighbor to be buzzing your house everyday anyway? patience my padawan, patience....

duh... (1)

StripedCow (776465) | more than 4 years ago | (#29283881)

Of course the rate of technological progress has slowed down...

Lately, all the smart people are being hired by an advertisement company!

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