Economist Tyler Cowen makes the case that the pace of innovation has slowed, and that we are now on a “technological plateau” that makes further growth challenging. There is a detailed review by Chuck Crane.
The USA has eaten low hanging economic fruit since the 1700s.
1. Free land (Homestead Act, etc.)
2. Technological breakthroughs (electricity, motor vehicles, telephone, radio, television, computers etc.)
3. Smart, uneducated kids (who were made productive through excellent public education).
4. Cheap fossil fuels.
In his book The Great Stagnation Cowen says Tyler says his grandmother saw greater changes. She lived during the birth of airplanes, skyscrapers, suspension bridges, radio and television, antibiotics, atomic bombs and energy, interstate highways, jet travel and a moon landing.
In contrast, a child born in 1970, a year after the first moon landing and the Boeing 747’s first flight, has seen the personal computer, biotechnology, cellphones, Web browsers, search engines and nanotechnology (the current weak version of nanotechnology and not full blown molecular nanotechnology).
I would note that we have layers of technology (civilizations technology and solution stacks) that exist from different times which make up the stack of technology that we use today. This can be thought of the way archeologists will dig through layers of history, except this is the layers of living technology. This can also be related to the stack of hardware and software that exists in a computer solution (an example is LAMP – Linux, Apache, MySql, PHP).
We have the bodies and minds from evolution that have existed for tens of thousands of years.
We have clothes, agriculture and language that have been around for many thousands of years.
We have electricity, engines, cars, planes, television and highrises from the time of our grandparents.
We have computers and the internet and biotechnology.
Usually when new technology comes along there is some shift from old technologies and some other technologies are adapted. We collectively will resist changing technologies and structures that are deeper in the stack. Many older ways and processes have been perfectly adapted into how people live. There is no desire to change. This can be seen in the regulations in France or in Palo Alto, California to changing buildings and landscape. The owner may want to change something but the neighbors or the workers resist change. There is also the resistance to changing anything that is “good enough” with anything different.
So progress should not just be measured by how powerful is the next layer of technology that we add on top. We also need to look at how well we can innovate and upgrade the heck out of the older layers. Also, the best versions of the older technology may not be distributed to everyone to enable maximum productivity.
Factory mass produced deep burn nuclear fission reactors with 100 year lifespans could bring the cost of energy to less than one cent per kwh. It would not be energy too cheap to meter but we can work and coordinate and enable energy to be five times cheaper even without a “super breakthrough”. We also need to work towards super-breakthroughs.
Policies and planning to achieve faster economic growth
Accelerating the economy while maintaining or improving safety will require coordination and effort. Just like being able to have trains move faster and with fewer delays requires planning, coordination and effort.
Each of the levels of faster speed would require consideration.
10 times faster construction would mean – less time for various checks from weeks to days.
100 times faster means minutes for turnarounds or everything pre-checked and approved.
1000 times means all interested parties must have their issues pre-thought out for work in the pipeline up to one year in advance. A pre-planned city wide wiki of intersection projects. New software and new project planning may be required to enable each level.
Plans would be going into a queue for simulation, software-agent first pass comments and validations.
How modularized and disconnected can things safely be? The more compartmentalized things can be then the more simplicity and speed can be retained. There is value to higher safe development speeds.
20% growth – 1997-98 Internet time across the whole economy
There are a lot of inefficient processes that are making things relatively stagnant.
Capturing higher GDP from Megacities – better planning
Computer driving technology is basically within reach of doubling (or more) the capacity of a road lane to pass cars. Pundits don’t seem to realize just how big a deal this is – it could let cities be roughly twice as big, all else equal. Doubling the population of any city requires only about an 85% increase in infrastructure, whether that be total road surface, length of electrical cables, water pipes or number of petrol stations. This systematic 15% savings happens because, in general, creating and operating the same infrastructure at higher densities is more efficient, more economically viable, and often leads to higher-quality services and solutions that are impossible in smaller places.
China has noticed one-city GDP growth effects from high speed rail linking cities. According to initial research and estimations, upon the completion of the Beijing-Shanghai High-Speed Railway, the “dumbbell effect” will lift the GDP growth rates of the regions along the railway by about 19 to 21 percentage points.
Upgrading Infrastructure can be done faster than upgrading people
Until we get major transhumanist technology it will be faster to upgrade infrastructure to make people more productive and to enable greater wealth and welfare. However, there should be DARPA like efforts to revamp education and to find ways to enable people to rapidly get new and improved skills.
Boston University post-doctoral fellow Kazuhisa Shibata designed and implemented a method using decoded fMRI neurofeedback to induce a particular activation pattern in targeted early visual areas that corresponded to a pattern evoked by a specific visual feature in a brain region of interest. The researchers then tested whether repetitions of the activation pattern caused visual performance improvement on that visual feature.
The result, say researchers, is a novel learning approach sufficient to cause long-lasting improvement in tasks that require visual performance.
Is hypnosis or a type of automated learning a potential outcome of the research?
“In theory, hypnosis or a type of automated learning is a potential outcome,” said Kawato. “However, in this study we confirmed the validity of our method only in visual perceptual learning. So we have to test if the method works in other types of learning in the future. At the same time, we have to be careful so that this method is not used in an unethical way.”
At present, the decoded neurofeedback method might be used for various types of learning, including memory, motor and rehabilitation.
More Tyler Cowen and Peter Thiel Videos
Brian Wang is a Futurist Thought Leader and a popular Science blogger with 1 million readers per month. His blog Nextbigfuture.com is ranked #1 Science News Blog. It covers many disruptive technology and trends including Space, Robotics, Artificial Intelligence, Medicine, Anti-aging Biotechnology, and Nanotechnology.
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