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Friday, September 11, 2009


This is a comment run by Jerry Pournelle. He had been running correspondence on whether technological progress is slowing down - this from an article elsewhere claiming that most apparent technological breakthroughs in the last 50 years actually started before then. Dr Pournelle didn't really agree with it & neither, strongly, do I.
On the Slowing or Otherwise of Progress

There are certainly governmental/socially induced brakes which were less prominent in the past. You have discussed how, if government invested in space, via X-Prizes we could have colonised the system by now. We could also have cheap nuclear electricity worldwide & I think an international grid. The only thing preventing the widespread use of modular housing & GM plants (for food & other things barely under discussion) is government regulation. I am convinced that without damaging regulation western economies would be growing faster than China. Even if government was always this parasitic & I don't think it was, then the growth of government produces stronger brakes.

On the other hand

For a decade world AVERAGE growth has been 5%. 30 years ago when Japan & Singapore were growing at nearly 7-10% this was an "economic miracle" but it is becoming commonplace. Increasing growth rates alone suggest to me we may still be on the lower side of the S curve. See world growth rates
This suggests that while particular highly visible new technologies get stamped on the underlying rate of progress is not only continuing but increasing. We also see Moore's Law & strength of materials increasing fast (Clarke originally posited a space elevator in the 22nd century yet we are within reach of having materials to build one now).

Because they are starting from a lower base it is not surprising that the fastest developing countries are not revolutionizing technology but as they reach western levels we must expect they will (eg South Korea becoming a leading nuclear reactor manufacturer). If this means the eclipse of the West, which I regret, it means good things for the human race.

Neil Craig

I tend to agree. In the stories and novel that make up EXILE -- AND GLORY! I postulate that we would be a lot further into space in 2010 than we are going to be, despite political problems and a depression. There's no real reason we couldn't be where I thought we would. On the other hand, there are no technological reasons why we can't get there yet. In my stories I assumed a bit more freedom than we have now.

I am surprised & disturbed that he feels we are, in reality, less free than in his story, which is society in a state of terminal collapse, with a "leftist", "environmentalist" big government presidency. My feeling is that we are at about roughly the same level of freedom, with a similar degree of overgovernment This article however is about one way, the emasculation of the military in the name of our health & safety obsession, which is certainly very much worse than in many of his books, written by a man with experience on the ground, which often have as themes the need for a traditional military or some other way to protect property.

The reference to the S-curve, classic in most growth functions, came from an earlier comment by somebody else, who said we were reaching near the top (85%) where the rate of slope is declining. I, more optimistically, think we are at about the 20% level where the rate of technological increase is still rising.

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