The End of Innovation?

Are we Entering a dark age of innovation?

The global rate of innovation today, which is running at seven “important technological developments” per billion people per year, matches the rate in 1600.

The period between 1873 and 1915 was certainly an innovative one. For instance, it included the major patent-producing years of America’s greatest inventor, Thomas Edison (1847-1931). Edison patented more than 1000 inventions, including the incandescent bulb, electricity generation and distribution grids, movie cameras and the phonograph.

Extrapolating Huebner’s global innovation curve just two decades into the future, the innovation rate plummets to medieval levels.

Several thought occur (usually all at once!) :

1) How do you define important developments – this may not be possible to measure until some time passes : was the importance of the telephone, the light bulb, or the transistor clear right away? or not until some decades after.

2) Perhaps we have innovated all the easy stuff from the mechanical / electronic era, and are still in the very early stages of a new computing / Biological / Nanotech era? So this seeming slow down is “just” a pause (for how long?) while the new tool set is invented to do all the Innovation.

3) Perhaps not all of those billions of people are pulling their weight and fully contributing “important technological developments”? Stop watching TV and get cracking.

Anyone hopping that the rate of innovation is slowing it likely to be disappointed. (or worse : dead – we may need a whole raft of innovation to save the species and / or the planet! See Global Warming, Black Flu, Ecological Exhaustion…) Or in could be a side effect form the Rise of Lawyers over the last century. (see : Grokking Grokster.) Tags: ;Technorati Tags:

2 Replies to “The End of Innovation?”

  1. I think that Ray Kurzweil would disagree very strongly. As I understand it from reviews, his latest book argues that technological innovation is accelerating so fast that true machine intelligence and effective human immortality are just decades away. Not that I necessarily believe him, but he’s been a pretty smart guy and a real innovator.

  2. The innovation problem is widespread. It is also affecting music, movies, novels and the arts.

    And the cause is always the same: Intellectual Property Laws.

    Despite our accellerating culture, we are driving with one foot firmly on the brake. Everytime gov’t extends greater “protection” for ideas, innovation is impeded since it takes nearly 100 years before the public domain is allowed to freely tinker with a “protected” idea.

    Copyright, patents, and similar restriction all equate to an innovation tax–a tax that the future can’t afford to pay.

    The countries of the world where such “protection of ideas” is weakest (eg. China, India, etc.) will be the most innovative in the coming years.

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