We are indebted to one Jonathan Huebner, a physicist working at the Pentagon’s Naval Air Warfare Center in China Lake, California for bringing to our attention the fact that technological innovation reached a peak a century ago and has been declining ever since.
I sure hope he isn’t working on anything important. I would hate to think that our next missile defense system would involve wearing hardened leather hats and carrying shields.
According to this report in NewScientist.com, Jonathan is basing his conclusions on a lot of hard data like US patents granted per decade divided by the country’s population. He says the rate of technological innovation reached a peak a century ago and has been declining ever since. And like the lookout on the Titanic who spotted the fateful iceberg, Huebner sees the end of innovation looming dead ahead. His study will be published in Technological Forecasting and Social Change.
If Huebner really said this and it isn’t just a media spin by NewScientist, I think John Huebner lives in an alternate reality from the one in which we exist.
I left a comment on Fred Giasson’s weblog. Here is an excerpt:
If Huebners ideas are being accurately presented, then he will not be the first to stand in the midst of an enormous paradigm shift and exclaim, "Why…nothing is happening!"
Too many experts get stuck in the last paradigm they recognized; invention of fire, vulcanization, whatever, and fail to see that paradigms shifts, almost by definition, cannot be evaluated from pre-shift viewpoints.
This quote from Huebner gives it away: "It doesn’t matter if it is humans or machines that are the source of innovation. If it isn’t noticeable to the people who chronicle technological history then it is probably a minor event."
The people who chronicle technological history are probably still stuck in dead-tree media.
From my experience they tend to determine whether something is historically significant, by what degrees the inventor has and what prestiginous universities he attended.
The fact that Huebner considers that machines are a source of innovation reveals his disassociation with the innovative process!
What do you think?
Think about it as you work from home and do business with your friends around the world.
Let me know.
By the way, check out Fred Giasson’s excellent weblog, Fred On Something. It has at least three other related blogs and they are all worthy of study.