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 http://www.geographyiq.com/ranking/
ranking_GDP_real_growth_rate_dall.htm 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.
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.