The 21st century turned out to be completely different from the forecasts of fifty years ago. There are no intelligent robots, no flying cars, no cities on other planets. Worse, we are not a step closer to such a future. Instead, we have an iPhone, Twitter and Google, but is this an adequate replacement? However, they still use the operating system that appeared in 1969 year.
More and more people are starting to suspect that something is wrong. It seems that technical progress, if not stopped, then at least failed. Frivolous gadgets change every month like a clock, and significant problems, the solution of which seemed close and inevitable, are somehow forgotten. Writer Neil Stevenson tried to formulate these doubts in the article “Innovative starvation”:
“One of my first memories: I sit in front of a bulky black and white TV and watch one of the first American astronauts go into space. The last start of the last shuttle I saw on the widescreen LCD panel when I was hit by a 51 year. I watched the space program decline, with sadness, even bitterness. Where are the promised toroidal space stations? Where is my ticket to mars? We are unable to replicate even the cosmic achievements of the sixties. I am afraid this indicates that society has forgotten how to cope with really complex tasks. ”
Stevenson is echoed by Peter Thiel, one of the founders of the Paypal payment system and the first external investor to Facebook. The article he published in the National Review is firmly titled “The End of the Future”:
“Technical progress is clearly lagging behind the majestic hopes of the fifties and sixties, and this is happening on many fronts. Here is the most literal example of slowing progress: the speed of our movement has ceased to grow. Centuries-old история the emergence of increasingly faster modes of transport, which began with sailboats in the XNUMXth-XNUMXth centuries, continued with the development of railways in the XNUMXth century and the advent of cars and aviation in the 2003th century, it reversed when, in XNUMX, the Concord, the last supersonic passenger plane, was decommissioned. Against the backdrop of such a regression and stagnation, those who continue to dream about spaceships, vacations on the moon and sending astronauts to other planets of the solar system seem aliens themselves. ”
This is not the only argument in favor of the theory that technical progress is slowing down. Her supporters propose to look at least at computing equipment. All fundamental ideas in this field are at least forty years old. Unix will be 45 in a year. SQL came up in the early seventies. At the same time, the Internet, object-oriented programming and graphical user interface appeared.
In addition to examples, there are numbers. Economists estimate the impact of technical progress in terms of productivity growth and changes in the gross domestic product of countries where new technologies are being introduced. Changes in these indicators during the 20th century confirm that the suspicions of pessimists are not unfounded: the growth rate has been falling for several decades.
In the United States, the impact of technical progress on gross domestic product reached a peak in the mid-thirties of the 20th century. If labor productivity in the United States continued to grow at the rate set in 1950 — 1972, by the year 2011 it would have reached a value that is a third higher than in reality. In other countries of the first world, the picture is about the same.
In 1999, economist Robert Gordon published a paper in which he suggested that the rapid growth of the economy, which is commonly associated with technical progress, was in reality a time-limited surge:
“The reason for the acceleration that occurred around 1972 and opened the brilliant sixty year period between World War I and the early seventies, during which labor productivity growth in the United States was ahead of everything that was observed before or after times. "
Gordon believes that the surge caused a new industrial revolution that occurred in this period. Electrification, the spread of internal combustion engines, breakthroughs in the chemical industry and the emergence of new types of communications and new media, in particular film and television, fell at the end of the 19th and the first half of the 20th century. Growth continued until their potential was consumed to the end.
But what about electronics and the Internet, which have become truly massive only in the last twenty years? From the point of view of Gordon, they had a much smaller impact on the economy than electricity, internal combustion engines, communications and the chemical industry — the “big four” of the industrial revolution of the early 20th century — and therefore far less important:
“The Big Four have been a far more powerful source of productivity growth than anything that has emerged lately. Most of the inventions that we see now are “derivatives” of old ideas. For example, video recorders combined television and cinema, but the fundamental impact of their appearance cannot be compared with the effect that the invention of one of their predecessors produced. The Internet, too, basically leads to the replacement of one form of entertainment by another - and nothing more. ”
Peter Thiel is of the same opinion: the Internet and gadgets are not bad, but by and large there are still trifles. This idea is succinctly expressed in the motto of his investment firm Founders Fund: “We dreamed of flying cars, but received Twitter 140 signs.” The column in the Financial Times, written by Thiel in collaboration with Garry Kasparov, develops the same idea:
“We can send photos of cats to the other end of the world with the help of telephones and watch the same old movie about the future, while being in the subway, built a hundred years ago. We can write programs that realistically simulate futuristic landscapes, but the real landscapes around us have hardly changed in half a century. We have not learned to defend ourselves from earthquakes and hurricanes, to travel faster or live longer. ”
On the one hand, it’s hard to disagree. Nostalgia for the simple and optimistic retro-future is completely natural. On the other hand, the complaints of pessimists, despite the numbers and graphs that they cite, do not fit well with the insane reality outside the window. It is not really very similar to the dreams of the sixties, but the similarity with outdated dreams is a dubious criterion for determining value.
Ultimately, futuristic spaceships and flying cars are pretty simple ideas. Both are merely an extrapolation into the future of what existed in the past. A flying car is just a car, and some starship with Captain Kirk at the head is a fantastic variation on the theme of a warship of the Second World War.
If you just read today's newsIt turns out that:
- Autonomous self-driving cars that are able to drive on ordinary roads without human help are successfully tested. Local governments in the United States are already discussing what to do with them: cars without drivers do not fit into the usual rules of the road.
- The lion's share of exchange operations is turned not by people, but by special programs that commit thousands of transactions per second. At such a speed, they cannot be controlled, so most of the time they act on their own. Unforeseen combinations of algorithms have already led to instantaneous collapses of the market, and even long investigations do not always find the cause of the incident.
- the main weapons The US in the Middle East imperceptibly became unmanned aerial vehicles, controlled by satellite from another continent. And this is the technology of the nineties. In laboratories with might and main they test autonomous robots - both flying and ground.
- Google has released electronic glasses that automatically find and show the user information that, in their opinion, is most useful to him at the moment. In addition, glasses are able at any time to write down everything that he sees. Oh yeah, they also have a built-in voice translator into many languages.
- 3D-printers, on the one hand, have fallen in price to such a level that almost everyone can buy them, and on the other hand, they have reached a resolution, at which it is possible to print objects with details about 30 nanometers in size. In order to photograph printed, an electron microscope is required.
- The idea that a normal video cable could hide inside a full-fledged, but very small, computer running under Unix, would have recently seemed absurd. Now it is a reality: it is easier for developers to take a ready-made single-chip system than to develop a specialized microcontroller.
This is not a listing of the most amazing things, but only that which lies on the surface itself. In fact, this list can be continued indefinitely - especially if, in addition to information technologies that are close to us, we can touch on biotechnologies, materials science and other rapidly developing, but not very understandable to people from the street areas of knowledge.
Is it boring This is because a lot is seen at a distance, and we are at the very epicenter. Habit keeps us from seeing how weird things are happening around.
Calling all this little things that do not deserve special attention, as Til does, will not work. Each of these inventions, even frivolous at first glance, has (or at least is capable of having) a huge impact on how people live.
See for yourself. What will be the consequences of spreading Google Glass Electronic Glasses? Even if you do not take into account the fact that they are constantly studying their owner, to better understand what information and when he may need (and this in itself is a very interesting direction for the development of interfaces), think about the camera built into the glasses. Add face recognition and Internet search to it - and think about how this will affect the daily life of the user of such a device. And the possibility of creating a continuous video archive of your own life (this is also called life-blogging)? It is no coincidence that some people are already sounding the alarm and calling for banning Google Glass - they understand that if such a device becomes popular, it will be harder to ignore it than mobile phones today.
A self-guided car is also a blow to the traditional way of life. All the consequences to which the general availability of such technology may lead, it is difficult not only to list, but also to predict. Here are a couple of popular predictions. Firstly, it is not necessary for a self-driving car to wait for the driver in the parking lot. It may well serve not one, but several people. This, in turn, will lead to a complete change in the very approach to owning a car. Secondly, robots behave on the road where people are more careful. This means that you can forget about the hundreds of thousands of accidents per year ending in the death of people. Finally, do not forget about the time that people spent behind the wheel. It will be free for other activities.
Even such an ordinary thing as a cable with a built-in computer is not a trifle at all. Little things in such matters does not happen. The effect of reducing the cost of existing technology is often completely unpredictable and may be superior in effect to the emergence of new inventions. What will be the consequences of further reducing the cost and power consumption of single-crystal computers capable of running Unix? Read about ubiquitous computing and sensor networks.
Mobile phones that Til so easily swept away, really allow "to send photos of cats to the other end of the world." But not only cats. With the same ease they allow you to copy and publish on the Internet gigabytes of classified information, causing an international diplomatic scandal. And frivolous means of communication like Facebook, text messages Blackberry and Twitter with its 140 signs reduce the complexity of mass communication, reducing the need for conscious organization of joint actions of groups of people. Even the iPhone, an exemplary symbol of senseless consumerism, on closer examination turns out to be a very important milestone: it was he who pushed the development of a new generation of computers after a quarter of a century of stagnation.
Why is this not reflected in economic indicators? Most likely, he finds it, but not the way economists expect. Previous industrial revolutions led to increased productivity and the emergence of new industries. This - on the contrary, makes whole industries unviable and displaces a lot of things beyond the limits of the monetary economy.
The first to feel it was easily copied by content producers — the music industry, the media, book publishers, Hollywood. Their business models on both sides are devouring ubiquitous illegal copying and a huge number of amateurs who suddenly got the opportunity to compete on equal terms with professionals for the attention of viewers.
Look in the folders where you keep pirated movies and music, and calculate how much you would have to pay for their legal versions. This is the amount that economists could not take into account when calculating the gross domestic product per capita. The value of the product you consumed did not diminish from the fact that you did not pay a penny for it, but it was taken out of the economy.
Each successful technology company destroys the potential revenues of thousands of competitors operating in the same market with traditional methods. Craigslist almost single-handedly ruined the market for paid advertisements, from which American newspapers have lived for a hundred years. No traditional encyclopedia can compete with Wikipedia, which formally is not even a commercial organization. AirBnB knocks the chair out from under the foot of the hotel industry (so far only in some niches, but it still will), and Uber has significantly complicated the life of a traditional taxi. And so on and so forth.
Meanwhile, industrial robots, the introduction of which has been delayed due to the availability of cheap labor in Southeast Asia, are becoming more attractive. Foxconn, one of China's largest electronics manufacturers, is threatening to replace hundreds of thousands of workers with machines. If this happens, the labor market will go after other markets that are killed by new technologies, and economists will have to invent some other economy.
At least, then surely no one will come to complain that progress has ended. It’s not over, it’s just not going where you thought it was.