Is the pace 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 neither accelerating nor slowing down. He stagnates.

Despite large increases in research and development (R&D), progress is barely keeping pace with previous breakthroughs discovered in the past.


The R&D World interviewed 93 physicists from the world’s top university physics departments, and they evaluated 1,370 pairs of discoveries. The bars in the figure below show the scores for each decade. The decade score is the probability that a discovery from that decade was deemed more important than discoveries from other decades.

Fundamental physics reached its peak of discovery in the years 1920-1930. The estate became commercialized and began to yield economic benefits in the 1950s and 1960s, but the situation became less promising over time.

The graph stops at the end of the 1980s. Indeed, in recent years, the Nobel Committee has preferred to award prizes for work carried out in the 1980s and 1970s. In fact, only three discoveries made since 1990 have been rewarded. by Nobel Prizes. The same situations with other sciences.


Despite a huge increase in the time and money spent on research, progress is barely keeping pace with the past. What didn’t go well?

Major technological changes are fewer and more widely spaced than they once were. In our century, for better or for worse, progress is not what it used to be.

When Ernest Rutherford discovered the nucleus of the atom in 1911, he published it in an article with one author: himself. In contrast, the two 2012 papers announcing the discovery of the Higgs particle each had around a thousand authors, as happened with the detection of gravitational waves discovered by Einstein in 1915.

Economists Tyler Cowen and Robert Gordon in their books The Great Stagnation and The Rise and Fall of American Growth pointed out that the early part of the 20th century saw the large-scale deployment of many powerful general-purpose technologies: electricity, combustion engine , radio, telephones, air transport, assembly line, fertilizer and many more.

Yes, we have had advancements associated with two powerful general-purpose technologies: the computer and the Internet. But many other technologies only improved gradually.

Now, as with the major discoveries in machine learning, within the framework of narrow artificial intelligence in recent years. They include an improved ability to recognize human images and speech, and the ability to play games such as Go better than any human. But it took too much hype, time, money, and effort to generate these results, with little real and genuine artificial intelligence.


We need to prepare for a life of slowing economic growth and overcome the idea that this is temporary. The negative dynamics experienced by developed countries since the 1970s are not the result of bad economic policy. It is a deep and serious trend. The technology boom of the 2030s will improve the dynamics of the global economy, but will not reach the level of the 2000s, let alone the peak reached in the mid-20th century.


Science and Technology 21, New Physica by Azamat Abdoullaev – Read e-book version here.



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