They say that you learn something every day. Let us help you with your quota.

Friday, February 15, 2013

16 February 2013

Welcome back to Sardonic Saturdays - where every silver lining has a cloud.

Today's Daily Quota explores contemporary innovation; in particular, how innovation has stagnated as of late. The article is from the January edition of The Economist and poses the question 'Has the ideas machine broken down?'

The 20th Century inarguably saw the greatest spike in innovation, from the proliferation of electricity (okay, that was late 19th Century, but I said proliferation), automobiles, firearms, nuclear energy, radio and digital broadcast, the internet...the list goes on.
However, has innovation hit a plateau? Surely not, I mean what about the iPad and Facebook and all those cool apps that listen to music and can identify it?
Don't forget the plethora of fart sounds that you can store in your own pocket, ready to be enjoyed by all in mere seconds.

The author outlines three arguments for his 'Innovation Pessimism':
  1. Growth Statistics - This can be separated between extensive growth (how much is innovation expanding the GDP overall) and intensive growth (is each unit of labour, capital etc being used to its maximum efficiency). Over the past decade or so, the world overall has plateaued, except for the US in the latter. 
  2. Innovative Output -  How much invention are we outputting? By invention, the author refers to new patents that not only hit market, but contribute to overall GDP growth. Software has obviously been a big one, but given that most of it is open source (Android is free!), are these figures reliable?
    A 2002 paper identified the biggest contributors to innovative growth as a rise in education attainment and a greater proportion of the labour force being allocated to research. As these plateau, so too will innovative output.
  3. 'Evidence of our Senses' - This the most interesting and subjective argument of the three. Have the 'inventions' in our day-to-day lives really improved that much?
    The 1950's-70's saw a huge proliferation in lifestyle innovation - from Japanese manufactured colour televisions and radios to dishwashers, microwaves, refrigerators, medicine, jet engines, again the list goes on.
    However, have cars or planes changed that much since their inception? They still take us from A to B, except quicker and in greater luxury.
    Radio, television, the modern kitchen? Life expectancy has only crept up a few more years in almost half a century, whilst electricity remains sued largely the same way, with the same methods. The internet is the most obvious exception - it has revolutionised the way we interact, pay, store and send information. It is also full of superfluous crap that is largely entertainment, not pragmatism. Mr Thiel of the Founders Fun put it quite eloquently - 'We wanted flying cars, instead we got 140 characters'.
A very interesting, yet somewhat Americanized argument, backed by a nice combination of quantitative and qualitative factors. Perhaps the pessimism is justified?
If the modern world has taught us anything, however, is that the next big thing is only around the corner...


No comments:

Post a Comment