Monday, December 17, 2012

No flying cars, but there is still progress

Virginia Postrel writes that a spate of gloom about the rate of technological innovation is wrong. People lament the fortieth anniversary of the moon landings.

“You promised me Mars colonies. Instead, I got Facebook,” reads the cover of the current issue of MIT Technology Review. In an essay titled “Why We Can’t Solve Big Problems,” editor Jason Pontin considers “why there are no disruptive innovations” today.

But we hardly notice many of the improvements around us, she says.

The world we live in would be wondrous to mid-20th-century Americans. It just isn’t wondrous to us. One reason is that we long ago ceased to notice some of the most unexpected innovations.

Forget the big, obvious things like Internet search, GPS, smartphones or molecularly targeted cancer treatments. Compared with the real 21st century, old projections of The Future offered a paucity of fundamentally new technologies. They included no laparoscopic surgery or effective acne treatments or ADHD medications or Lasik or lithotripsy -- to name just a few medical advances that don’t significantly affect life expectancy... The glamorous future included no digital photography or stereo speakers tiny enough to fit in your ears.


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