TECHNOLOGY THEN AND NOW: WHY THE TECHNOPESSIMISTS ARE WRONG.

bouncerarcheryΤεχνίτη Νοημοσύνη και Ρομποτική

14 Νοε 2013 (πριν από 3 χρόνια και 6 μήνες)

61 εμφανίσεις

Technopessimism

1

TECHNOLOGY THEN AND NOW:

WHY THE TECHNOPESSIMISTS ARE WRONG.




Joel Mokyr


Departments of Economics and History

Northwestern University


Technopessimism

2

A new wave of Technopessimism is upon us.

They are, on the whole, serious scholars and sources:


Jan
Vijg
, a Dutch
-
born molecular biologist in
his The
American Technological Challenge: Stagnation and Decline in
the 21st Century


Tyler Cowen in his
The Great Stagnation


My esteemed colleague Robert J.
Gordon in his “Is U.S.
Economic Growth over? Faltering Innovation confronts the six
Headwinds”.
NBER Working paper series
, 18315 (Aug. 2012).


The Economist
(Jan. 12 issue).

Technopessimism

3

Innovation pessimism

Has the ideas machine broken down?



Technopessimism

4

There are three brands of techno
-
pessimism:

One school says, if not quite that “everything that can be
invented has been invented,” but at least that the low
-
hanging fruits have been picked and the rest of the new
inventions won’t have nearly as radical a welfare effect.

Technopessimism

5

Another school says that, au contraire, there are lots of
things we still
can

invent, but we
won’t.



This is because we are getting too risk
-
averse, too
complacent, too regulated, and our institutions are turning
anti
-
innovative and sclerotic.


So, much like ancient Rome and Qing China, we are a
once
-
dynamic world in decline.


Technopessimism

6

And finally there are those who think that the new brave
technology
actually will come
, but that it will eliminate our
jobs and turn us into a
Player Piano

kind of dystopia in
which all labor is replaced by machines and robots and
humans will become marginalized.

Technopessimism

7

Let me first deal with the Gordon
-
Cowen argument

They are NOT alone. Many feel disappointed. Peter Thiel has
famously remarked “we wanted flying cars, instead we got
140 characters.”


To which I would reply: wait till you need a hip replacement,
buddy.


The
Economist

sided (cautiously) with the optimists, but it did
so (mostly) for the wrong reasons.

Technopessimism

8

Is the world running out of ideas?


Perhaps the low
-
hanging fruits have been picked: running
water, chlorination, electricity, etc?


But science and technology’s main function in history is to
make taller and taller ladders to get to the higher
-
hanging
fruits. They are just as juicy.


Moreover, these trees keep sprouting new fruits, if only we
give them proper care.

Technopessimism

9


Economic Historians should not make predictions.



That said, from a purely technological point of view, I
would expect the rate of technological change to
accelerate over the next decades, even if it would be
foolhardy to be more specific than that.





Technopessimism

10

Why is this?


Because of the particular dynamic of “useful
knowledge”

Technopessimism

11

Historians of technology have pointed out that the
two mutually affect one another in complex ways.

Derek Price and Nathan Rosenberg have noted that
technology affects science as much as the other way around.
It did so through what Price called
“artificial revelation.”


Science depends on technology no less than technology on
science: we were not hard
-
wired to see microbes, to watch the
moons of Jupiter, to store terabytes of information in our brains
and do 54 petaflops of calculations: tools and machines we
build do this for us.

Technopessimism

12

Throughout modern history, the tools and instruments
devised to do science have determined how fast
science would advance.

The best
-
known examples are of course the
telescope and microscope, but there are many
others. Let me give you a few lesser
-
known
examples from the era before and during the
Industrial Revolution to drive the point home.

Technopessimism

13








Robert Boyle’s famous
airpump, built in the
late 1650’s, which
showed once and for
all that
contra Aristotle
,
nature did not abhor a
vacuum, and thus
paved the road for
atmospheric (steam)
engines.

Technopessimism

14









3

15

Laplace

s calorimeter











Calorimeter: first used
in the winter of 1782
-
83, by Antoine
Lavoisier and Pierre
-
Simon Laplace, to
determine the heat
evolved in various
chemical changes;
calculations which
were based on Joseph
Black

s prior discovery
of latent heat.


Technopessimism

16











3

17

Another example:

Alessandro Volta, 1745
-
1827
















3

18

Volta’s “pile” (1800)

Volta’s battery provided
chemists with a new
tool, electrolysis,
pioneered by Humphry
Davy. He and other
chemists were able to
isolate element after
element, and fill in
much of the detail in the
maps whose rough
contours had been
sketched by Lavoisier
and Dalton.

Technopessimism

19

In our own age, technology has continued

this trend in spades.

Scientists have arsenals of tools that we could not have
dreamed of even a few decades ago, measuring, observing,
calculating, modelling, creating laboratory experiments in
physics, microbiology, and nanochemistry that nobody
thought off a few decades ago, let alone in 1800.


Here is one example that I just heard about this summer:

Technopessimism

20

Adaptive optics:









Technopessimism

21

1.
These are two images of the planet Uranus, one using
an ordinary telescope, the other one in which the
blurring caused by atmospheric distortions are
corrected.

2.

Adaptive optics technology sharpens images by
changing the shape of telescope mirrors up to 1,000
times per second.

3.
It is believed to have more potential than Hubble’s
telescope (and a
lot

less expensive).

Technopessimism

22

Another example how technology helps science:










Automatic Gene
sequencing machine,
first developed at
CalTech in 1986 by Dr.
Leroy Hood’s
laboratory.

Technopessimism

23

A last example: synchotron


A synchrotron is a
stadium
-
sized machine
that produces many
beams of bright X
-
ray
light.



Synchrotrons provide
flexible, powerful
methods for learning
about the structure and
behavior of matter at the
molecular and atomic
level.





Technopessimism

24

The significance of ever
-
growing artificial revelation:

The implication is simple: if the positive feedback loop
between technology and science is getting stronger all the
time, science will continue to expand at ever faster rates,
and it is plausible that technology itself will do the same,
even if we cannot tell in which directions and how fast .


It is hard to see this dynamic system ever settling down on
an equilibrium.

Technopessimism

25

My second reason for being a techno
-
optimist is
similar but not quite the same

Here is a simple argument:


What is the total
social

useful knowledge that an economy
has access to?

Answer: it is the
union

of all individual sets of useful
knowledge.

Corollary: some very important pieces of knowledge are
only possessed by very few extraordinarily smart
individuals (most of them at CalTech).

Technopessimism

26

This does not matter as long as those who need this
knowledge have access to it.

1.
But access can be costly. What determines access costs?


2.
Among many factors, clearly the cost of storing information
and searching through it figure highly.


3.
In the past, the most important advances in search
-
engine
technology were these:

Technopessimism

27

Paper


Chinese manufacturing of
paper, woodcut from Ming
dynasty era (c 1400)

Technopessimism

28

Printing Press and moveable type, invented by

Pi Sheng ( 1st half,11th c.)










Technopessimism

29

But knowledge needs to be organized if access is to be fast
and cheap.

Technopessimism

30

Encyclopedias and technical “lexicons.”











Technopessimism

31

If there is anything where we have made progress in
the past two decades, it is access technology.

We no longer deal with “data” ̶ we have “meta
-
data,”
amazing quantities of information that can only be
accessed with sophisticated searchware. We can search
for extremely small needles in gargantuan haystacks.


This has political and commercial applications that have
been discussed in recent weeks ad nauseam.


But it has also enormous implications for further
technological advances.

Technopessimism

32

Access matters…

1.
First, any inventor must be sure she is not re
-
inventing the
wheel and that nobody else has already done this.

2.
Second, many inventions are recombinations and
analogues of existing technological components and
devices. Again, finding out easily and cheaply what is out
there makes the process easier.

3.
Third, despite what some people believe, a lot of
technological progress still depends on “trying every bottle
on the shelf.” Modern storage and access creates
very

large shelves and
many

bottles (think: petabottles).


Technopessimism

33

Anyone engaged in research can access vast banks of
knowledge and data. Cloud technology is just getting started.
We measure storage now not in megabytes but Zettabytes (a
million petabytes) and Yottabytes (
1000
Zettabytes) (WHO
makes up those terms?
---

there is also “Brontobytes”).


We can also consult experts half a globe away in the blink of
an eye through email, facebook, skype and what not.


So access costs have declined sharply for
both

codifiable
and “tacit” knowledge.

Technopessimism

34

Fourth, technology normally advances best if it can rely on
the results of best
-
practice science, both to know what
works and (equally importantly, what does not).


Technopessimism

35

So if everything is so good, why is

everything so bad?

Answer: it is not.

It’s just that in technology the results often are unexpected
and take forms that are not easily measured by the criteria
and measures of the technological

ancient regime
.

Imagine an Englishman at a party celebrating the
50
th

anniversary of the first steam engine.

That would be in
1762
.

He would ask: “What has that machine done for us? Made
a lot of noise, emitted a lot of smoke and stench, and
pumped some water out of a few coal mines. Big Deal.”

Technopessimism

36

We don’t know what the adoption lags are today, probably
less than then, but the really BIG results usually arrive
toward the end when the technology is fully mature.

Most of the disruptive and life
-
changing effects of
digitalization have not been fully felt.

The Digital Age will be to the Analog Age what the iron age
was to the stone age.

And we can’t even imagine what the Post
-
digital Age will
look like. No more than Archimedes could imagine CERN.


Technopessimism

37


Technopessimism

38

1.
Today we measure progress by measures such as
GDP and it’s derivative, TFP. These were designed for
steel
-
and
-
wheat economies.


2.
The digital age, largely based on a service economy,
needs other measures, that are far more sensitive to
the constant appearance of new goods and services,
incessant improvement in their quality and capabilities.

Technopessimism

39

But given the ever
-
more rapid development of access
technology and better scientific “instruments”, it seems
hard to somehow avoid the conclusion that we are in for an
ever
-
lasting rate of technological progress.

Technopessimism

40

Is this the good news or the bad news?

Here is Mokyr’s theorem: Technological progress is never
Pareto superior. There are always losers. And we rarely
compensate them.


I am not the first to argue this: Schumpeter spoke of
“creative destruction.”


So there will be losers. What we gain as consumers,
viewers, patients, and citizens, we may lose as workers.

Technopessimism

41

What will the workplace of the future be like?

Here are three things to keep in mind:


First, the “factory”, which arose in the Industrial Revolution is
slowly being phased out. We will work, wherever, whenever
it suits us. Workplace and commuting will slowly disappear.
Three
-
dimensional printers will make whatever assembly
line shopfloor workers were making.

We’ll miss the water cooler human interaction, but there is
always social networks.

Technopessimism

42

Second, robotics will be everywhere. These Robots will not
be anything like the iron humanoids that follow the Asimov
rules of robotics. Most of them will be nothing more than
little chips connected by A.I. to sensors. But they will drive
our trucks, perform open
-
heart surgeries, pick our tomatoes,
walk our dogs, and cook our meals.


But: only if we want them to. That, by definition, is a welfare
improvement.

Technopessimism

43

So, what will WE do?

Third, the post
-
digital age may be the Age of Leisure.

Remember that practically the entire leisure industry, from
videogames to spectator sports, to radio, tv, movies was a
product of the twentieth century. That’s because the workweek
(in Europe) fell from
3
,
000
hrs a year to
1
,
500
hrs.


If robots do all the production, there will be far more leisure.

Will we be bored and feel unproductive? Some will, some
won’t. Just like now…

Technopessimism

44

But remember that historically we have always had a
“leisured class”

Roman patricians, Chinese Mandarins, Medieval knights,
Eighteenth
-
century Russian landlords.


It’s just that these were a small minority. They
did

things
even if they did not have to.


Just like tenured professors doing research. And their
graduate students playing videogames.

Technopessimism

45

Thank you

Technopessimism

46


Technopessimism

47


Technopessimism

48


Technopessimism

49


Technopessimism

50


Technopessimism

51


Technopessimism

52


Technopessimism

53


Technopessimism

54


Technopessimism

55


Technopessimism

56


Technopessimism

57