A plateau in technological progress

It has been argued by quite a few authors (Gordon in The Rise and Fall of American Growth for one) that we have recently seen few of the profound technological change the characterized life at the beginning of the 20th century.  For instance, between 1900 and 1950 just about every aspect of peoples’ lives in the rich world was transformed by technological, economic, and cultural change.  And most of this was progress. On the other hand, between 1970 and today (50 years!) we have seen dramatic changes in only a few areas of life.

Of course, things have gotten quite a bit better; there has been gradual change in most areas of life, and some areas (like Information Technology) has seen transformative change.  But life itself has not transformed in the way that it did between 1900 and 1950.  I was reminded of this fact while I drove back to Madison from northern WI yesterday.  It is possible that AI will soon transform transportation as we know it, but that is not especially likely.  It is turning out to be much more difficult to create self-driving cars than originally thought.  In fact, the experience of someone traveling down the highway is not tremendously different than it was in 1970.  They are a bit safer, but driving is still the relatively dangerous.  Drivers still face the basic problem of steering a large metal object down a road of questionable quality, while fighting weather, fatigue, distractions, and boredom.  Unlike in 1950, the elderly today have not experienced anything close to transformation in transportation.

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