Has Technology Stagnated?

In a recent Financial Times column, the Nobel Prize-winning physicist Andre Geim argues that the technological world has stagnated.  At the World Economic forum in Davos, Switzerland, he encountered business leaders who believed that the global economy could be rapidly fixed.  But Geim believes such faith and optimism is misplaced in light of how few groundbreaking technological developments are taking place.  While he points to social media as an obvious exception, he states that most technological development today is aimed at perfecting inventions that have been around for some time.  While improving existing products may be beneficial, it pales in comparison to the innovations in the second half of the twentieth century: computers, microchips, space exploration, the internet, and mobile phones.

Perhaps the slowdown in innovation is attributable to scientists already picking the “low-hanging fruit.”  Another possible explanation is the lack of funding for research and development.  Geim notes that businessmen at Davos fiercely opposed taxes for scientific research, even as they admitted the need for such research.  In addition, the end of the Cold War and greater peace may have reduced countries’ drive to develop technology.  The effects of reduced funding for scientific research and technological development are probably enormous, but they are hard to quantify because often research in one area has the unanticipated benefit of spurring advances in what previously seemed to be an unrelated field.

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