Has technological progress slowed over the last 50 years?

Av Demeisen

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"To the sacred banks of the Nile..."

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Justin Swanton

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Well, I wouldn't rush to gauge scientific progress by old cartoons, any more than I would use the Flintstones to judge archaeology. :D

In the meantime, I've moved these posts from the JWST thread to keep it on topic.

Thanks for splitting the thread. I was getting uncomfortable with the extent to which the topic was getting derailed.

The Jetsons just illustrates that the future imagined in the 1950's has fallen well short of expectations. Everyone in the 50's and 60's expected things to get much further by 2000 than they have. I think this is an indication of how fast progress was moving in the middle of the 20th century, with the presumption that progress would continue just as fast in the decades ahead.
 

CupofJoe

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I would be very wary of taking any entertainment source as a reliable guide to the future. At best it is an aspiration or an ideal.
Look at Blade Runner. We are 3 years past its date and I don't see any Nexus walking about [or could I tell if they were? ;)], there are no giant floating billboard, and no-one has been to the Tannhauser Gate.
Very few have ever prophesised the future correctly. Or if they have, it was mainly by luck.
The future will far more complicated that we currently know. And it always has been.
We still don't have usable flying cars.
No-one really talks about Monorails any more [apart from The Simpsons :giggle: ]. Or Airships :(
There never were atomic aircraft or atomic rockets. Or underwater cities.
We have been promised fully autonomous vehicles for many years and they are only just becoming practical vehicles.
The same goes for robot butlers.
And superfast underground travel is still in the experimental stage, and may never work commercially.
But other things have happened.
Look at Covid. It was identified in 2019 and in about a year there there were not just one but several vaccines ready. A process that usually take several years was completed in months by using new methods of design and analysis.
There are new technologies and advancements all the time. But as others have said we take them for granted. We assume this is how it has always been.
I don't think there will be any big WOW moments for technology in the future.
People on Mars maybe... Or discovery of earth-like life elsewhere. Or maybe a real working teleportation system. But even that might just be an upgrade to your phone package.
 

Foxbat

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There never were atomic aircraft or atomic rockets.
The prophets of tech came close with this one. The Soviets flew the Tupolev Tu-95LAL around 40 times between 1961 and 65. Sometimes, the reactor was switched on but at no point was it actually used to propel the craft. The test flights were mainly to check the effectiveness of the reactor shielding.

The advent of ICBMs made the idea of a nuclear plane pretty obsolete but I wonder what kind of world it would have been if this path had been followed and atomic aircraft became commonplace. Imagine the problems of investigating a plane crash site complete with damaged nuclear reactor!!!

This document mentions the TU-95LAL and has a portion of the relevant blueprint.
 

Pyan

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However, there were several US Navy aircraft carriers that were (and are) powered by reactors, including the USS Enterprise (CVN-65) and her replacement (CVN-80). There was a cargo/passenger ship, too, the Savannah, and the Soviet ice-breaker, Lenin.
 

Judderman

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I think technological advances have accelerated over the last 50 years, as there is so much improving rapidly.
Maybe individual jumps are smaller than such as inventing the wheel, or the printing press, or the first vaccine etc. But in so many aspects if you have something from 10 years ago the technology in it can seem very dated.
We are somewhat numbed to many things in the world, including advancement, partly because we see much through media including social media. Plus most of us have comfortable lives so are not transformed by such as a first washing machine.
 

Wayne Mack

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I am a little unsure about the premise behind this thread. Perhaps it could be restated?

The idea that there has been no technological progress in 50 years, 1972 - 2022, is easily refuted. Today, we utilize a myriad of technical devices on a daily basis that would be astounding to a person from 1972. Likewise, many of the technical devices used in 1972 are obsolete. I am not sure, though, whether this is the underpinning for the raised point.

There have also been advances in scientific knowledge that have not led to new technical devices. Maybe some of this new found knowledge may never be exploited as consumable goods; maybe we never use the knowledge of sub-atomic particles or of the origins of the universe to manufacture some tangible device. Does this mean, however, that this knowledge is without value?

Instead of believing that technical advancement is the aim and basic knowledge is only valuable if it furthers that aim, I suggest that technical advances are just the lucky happenstance of gaining knowledge. I further suggest that the unique characteristic of mankind is the desire to understand the world around us. In addressing this basic need, yes, sometimes we find further ways to modify the environment around us to improve our everyday lives. This is an outgrowth of address our search for knowledge, not the purpose of it.

Thank goodness for curiosity, without we would no longer be human.
 

Justin Swanton

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Just to clarify, the thread title needs a little modification. The question is about technological breakthroughs in particular, not scientific breakthroughs in general. As stated, scientific knowledge has steadily progressed through the 20th century and into the 21st. Nobody has disputed that. There have also been some technological breakthroughs in the second half of the 20th century like the miniaturisation of computers, allowing for iphones and the internet. Nobody disputed that either. The question is whether practical application has lagged behind theoretical advances over the last 50 years, and whether the fields of technological progress are closing off, one after the other, with far less overall progress now than 50 or 70 years ago.

So perhaps rename this thread: Has Technological Progress Slowed Over the Last 50 Years?
 

Justin Swanton

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'No significant technological breakthroughs in the last 50 years' - sorry I had to groan at this statement from above, because I could write a textbook in response to this. So I'll stick to a few points.

1) The internet was invented 1st January 1983 (give or take a year or two) - which is c. 38 years ago - and look where that has got us (this forum among other things).
This was covered in post #5.

2) One of the issues why many people think there are a lack of technological breakthroughs is the lack of popular science magazine communications that catch the people's imaginations. The science fiction publishing industry seems to have given up this function some time ago (not sure there's a UK SF publishing industry any more - but that's another issue).
Or one can argue that an overall decline in progress has rather pulled the rug from popular science magazines and SF books. Notice how nobody today is talking about a colonised solar system in 2060?

3) Quantum computers are already producing results - just they're not to problems that we've been trying on our more conventional computers because the technology deals with fundamentally different problem types. The trouble is it's the commercial people doing it, so you won't get much in the way of publicity about what's going on.
Quantum computers seem rather specialised - there are plenty of calculations a normal binary code computer can do just as well. They are enormously expensive to build and it appears very difficult to maintain the conditions necessary for them to function reliably. Time will tell whether they are the computing equivalent of a gold-plated Concord.

4) As for the laws of physics - we need to extend Maxwell's standard electromagnetic equations to include magnetic monopoles, which are required to exist because discrete electrostatic charges exist (derived through quantum physics), but we don't because there is little in the way of potential applications at the moment.
I can't comment on this. Just looking at practical applications that already exist.

5) I'd better stop here...
No! Carry on!
 

Justin Swanton

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However, there were several US Navy aircraft carriers that were (and are) powered by reactors, including the USS Enterprise (CVN-65) and her replacement (CVN-80). There was a cargo/passenger ship, too, the Savannah, and the Soviet ice-breaker, Lenin.
The Nimitz class carriers were designed in the 1960s and construction began in 1968, with the first carrier commissioned in 1975. So I would suggest it fits within the timeframe of nothing dramatic since 1970.

There have been significant advances in military tech since 1970, sure. Notice however that a longer period of time passes before the next advance, and each new advance costs more than the previous one, with the F-35 being the supreme example. Best fighter in the world but at a development cost of US$1 trillion.
 

Wayne Mack

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I suggest that there is a separation between 'technological breakthroughs' and 'technological progress.' I view technology improving on an incremental basis; the major technical capabilities of today did not come forth in some magical moment, but were the result of a slow enhancement process. What may be wonderous in the future likely exists today in a form that seems more a curiosity than a powerful tool. Furthermore, technical enhancement are bound in a feedback loop of manufacturing capability and consumer demand. A technology that can't be easily and cheaply manufactured cannot become a breakthrough. A cheap and easy to manufacture technology cannot become commonplace, if there is no consumer desire to use it. If there is no desire to use a technology, there is no reason to improve the technology nor its manufacture.

Some of the current technologies that might make the leap to being ubiquitous are: three-d printing, automated delivery (either aerial drone based device or ground based device), and virtual environments. Any of these that come to pass will occur not based on some breakthrough event at some point in time, but through incremental enhancement.
 

Pyan

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The Nimitz class carriers were designed in the 1960s and construction began in 1968, with the first carrier commissioned in 1975. So I would suggest it fits within the timeframe of nothing dramatic since 1970.

There have been significant advances in military tech since 1970, sure. Notice however that a longer period of time passes before the next advance, and each new advance costs more than the previous one, with the F-35 being the supreme example. Best fighter in the world but at a development cost of US$1 trillion.
That was just an addenda to Foxbat's post on nuclear-powered aircraft: I don't agree with the original supposition.
 

tachyon

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Radical breakthroughs have revolutionized the biological sciences and medicine in the past 50 years. PCR is less than 50 years old. The Human Genome Project and the entire field of genomics are younger than that. This has implications beyond human health and is being used in geology, paleontology, anthropology, zoology, and beyond. CRISPR is less than 30 years old. mRNA vaccines are a brand new technology that has already transformed the world.
 

Mon0Zer0

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Slowed? We're living through technological marvels that would have been unbelievable even twenty years ago except in science fiction - deep fakes, the metaverse, cellular robots, mRNA vaccines, vat grown meat, quantum computing, boston dynamics, mass adoption of electric cars, GPT-3, IoT, reusable rockets, real time photorealistic games, drones, consumer 3d printing, self driving cars, room temperature superconductors, GPU's, Amazon Dash human labour free supermarkets, organ printing, spine repair, commercial brain/computer interfaces etc.

Sure, a chip is still a chip and manufacturers have run up against physical limits of the medium, but the technological developments are increasing incrementally each year - these increases are almost taken for granted but they're huge!
 

mosaix

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Thanks for splitting the thread. I was getting uncomfortable with the extent to which the topic was getting derailed.

The Jetsons just illustrates that the future imagined in the 1950's has fallen well short of expectations. Everyone in the 50's and 60's expected things to get much further by 2000 than they have. I think this is an indication of how fast progress was moving in the middle of the 20th century, with the presumption that progress would continue just as fast in the decades ahead.

Hi, Justin. I think we've fallen short of expectations because the expectations were in the wrong areas. I'm not sure where you're based, Justin, but here in the UK there was a BBC TV program called Tomorrows World that ran for a number of decades that showcased emerging technologies. It finished, I think, in 2005. Just recently there was a radio program made looking back at the history of the program. This radio program mentioned stuff that they featured that either never saw the light of day or was superseded in a matter of a year or two by something more advanced or more useful - the fax machine was an obvious example. Also, strikingly, there were areas that were hardly mentioned in the original program that have come to dominate our lives. The mobile phone was one, and a couple of computers communicating with each other that, ultimately, became the internet, another.

The very nature of expectations involves, to a certain extent, forecasting the future - something that as a race we're bad at. The one or two, and it is just one or two, people that managed to do it (probably accidentally) are the world's current multi-billionaires. They've done it in areas where technology has just enabled the exploitation of existing human desires - shopping and chatting - rather than anything entirely new.
 
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