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The world is changing, but is the rate of change accelerating or slowing down?

Are the changes that took place from the second half of the 20th century comparable to those that took place from the half of the 19th century until 1950? The world has indeed changed a lot, but at the same rate?

The world is changing, but is the rate of change accelerating or slowing down? Would a person who fell asleep in 1950 and woke up in our time be as surprised as a person who was in 1850 and woke up 50 years later would be surprised? In the photo: a monk in Myanmar takes a picture with a smartphone. Source: Jennifer Stahn.
The world is changing, but is the rate of change accelerating or slowing down? Would a person who fell asleep in 1950 and woke up in our time be as surprised as a person who fell asleep in 1900 and woke up in 1950? In the photo: a monk in Myanmar takes a picture with a smartphone. source: Jennifer Stahn.

My friend Ori Katz From the blog and Facebook page Minority opinion He recently claimed that the rate of technological change is slowing down. He quotes the economist Robert Gordon, who claims that a person who fell asleep in 1850, or 1900, and woke up fifty years later, would be amazed "by the tall buildings, carriages and tractors that move without the help of animals, cities where all the houses are connected to the sewer system and the electricity system , undercarriages, air conditioners, refrigerators, telegraph, airplanes and so on."

On the other hand, a person who fell asleep in 1950 and wakes up today, would see... computers. Smartphones. Which is nice, in Uri's opinion, but nothing compared to the far-reaching changes in all areas of life that took place between 1850 and 1950: in transportation, infrastructure, health, entertainment, etc.

And the truth? He is right, but (as usual) only partially.

First of all, it must be admitted that a large part of the changes went to the easiest place: the digital world and communication. Easy and cheap to change bits. Seals are difficult and expensive to reassemble and transport. Still, the changes in the digital world also affect the physical world. Communications and computers have meant that Amazon customers can receive packages in just 24 hours, as a result of digital optimization of the company's delivery service. Thanks to the media and computers, anyone who wants to can get an education at a high university level today, anywhere. So bits also affect the atoms in the brain (the most important infrastructure).

But there were also slightly bigger changes: those that appeared in areas that the common man is not exposed to, or takes them for granted.

Want samples? you are welcome. Let's start with infrastructure. Think there is no significant change in the infrastructure? That's because you don't think about the 2,271 satellites we sent into space, each of them the size of a small building (or a skyscraper), and thanks to which every person can communicate with every other person on Earth.

Think there is no significant change in health? Fifty years ago, there were still polio and smallpox epidemics, and no pacemakers, heart surgeries, organ transplants, or antidepressants. As a result of all these technologies and more, people in their sixties behave today as forty-year-olds would have behaved only a generation or two ago. "Sixty is the new forty", as they say. But we don't even notice it, because simply - everyone around us on the street looks healthier and younger. We cannot compare to what was fifty years ago.

Think there is no significant change in culture (part of Uri's claim)? Tell that to the first black president. Tell that to the women who went to work instead of staying at home, and became senior managers. Tell that to the kids who take selfies everywhere, who share pictures and videos of themselves with millions of people around the world, who chase virtual Pokemon in the physical world.

Think there is no significant change in the means of warfare? Tell that to the power plants in Ukraine that were shut down remotely through a cyber attack a year and a half ago. Tell that to the health systems in England that were brought to a standstill because of an autonomous weapon that spreads and replicates itself through a network that heals itself so that it continues to exist even under attack (the "Internet", as it is known today, and as the US Department of Defense initially marketed it).

So there are definitely changes. I would guess that the rate of infrastructure change is really lower in the developed countries, but the rate of cultural change is only increasing. My bet is that whoever goes to sleep today for fifty years, will wake up to a world in which the infrastructure will be similar in appearance - but in which the culture is completely different, the eighties will be the new forty (and maybe twenty), and everyone in it is connected - from big to small, from Australia to Sudan.

So don't go to sleep even for a moment. The change may catch you by surprise.

Link to Uri's post

10 תגובות

  1. Aria, the 747 and 737 you flew in 50 years ago had time to replace almost every part and system. But outwardly they look the same. What's more, you still fly with them at subsonic speed, and what's more, today you have less legroom, and not necessarily because you've grown... but who said that technology develops continuously and smoothly? In the evolution of technology as in the evolution of life, leaps occur. That is why you are invited to take solace in a number of jumps in the field of traffic, some of them led by the genius of the generation Elon Musk.

  2. Everything is progressing and improving in the world and in our country, technology, health, life expectancy, medicine, standard of living, personal security...
    But what always remains and never changes is the amount of people who grumble about the situation, and the amount of people who will say how good it was in the past.

  3. I suggest a slightly different parameter for the changes.
    I will call him: Wow.
    If at the beginning of the 18th century they didn't believe it was possible to create a 'wagon' or a mechanical horse, and then came the train and the car, then that's wow.
    Or before the invention of the camera they would have said wow about the idea of ​​a mechanical (ie not human) 'painter'.
    My suggestion is to try to identify things that are 'wow' at the time, as well as to assess whether there are more or less changes in this or that period.

  4. The pace of change is really accelerating (for now) at the global level.
    Today, technologies are rapidly penetrating the whole world, even the poor or technologically backward parts.
    In the past, the technological differences between 1850 and 1900 or between 1900 and 1950 were almost only in the West.
    Today the most expensive and sophisticated smartphones within 3-4 years are sold in the poorest places in the world (either second-hand devices or very low market devices with the same technology as the old flagship devices) People who live in mud houses own a smartphone and can use it to enjoy banking services, be exposed to modern ideas, etc...

  5. Everything progresses, except the human soul. Maybe it depends on the size of the head, and the size of the head depends on the size of the opening to the world's air.

  6. 12 years ago, I heard a lecture by an Israeli team that participated in the challenge (along with teams from all over the world and top-notch hi-tech companies) to cross several kilometers in the desert in an autonomous drive. No one made it to the finish line. Today this challenge seems so simple as the companies face driving on urban roads while integrating into the traffic.

  7. Continued
    In conclusion:
    The future is changing at an ever-increasing rate since science is advancing and developing at an ever-increasing rate, however, technological developments cannot be predicted in advance, since scientific discoveries cannot be predicted in advance.

  8. From the past we can learn that predicting the future is a task that is doomed to only little success.
    You can try and explain it like this:
    In predicting the future we tend to present the solutions to the unsolved problems that preoccupy us today. We tend to think that research will try to solve the problems that preoccupy us today, but in fact research progresses in a completely different way, research relies on discoveries, which are unexpected, and uses them to create the technological progress that they make possible.
    Other words:
    Technological progress relies on what scientific discoveries make possible and not according to a plan that people make in advance.
    for example;
    I remember that the most common fantasy in the books of the 70s was a mass transportation system based on the ability of all people to fly in the air in compact personal aircraft, which would eliminate the need for ground transportation and solve the problem of traffic jams.

  9. In 2050 children will not believe that humans were once allowed to drive on the roads.
    They will not understand why they needed keyboards, mice and screens to communicate with the computer, and why they needed a smartphone when you can do everything simply using the sixth sense (data communication).

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