Tuesday, June 17, 2014

The Future of Technological Innovation

Economist Robert Gordon, left, and  Economic Historian Joel Mokyr
There is an interesting article in the Wall Street Journal about the debate between these two distinguished experts about the future of innovation. Gordon is a skeptic, while Mokyr is more optimistic about the rate of future innovation.

I have two reservations:

  1. Economists tend to focus on GDP, and Gordon in particular is portrayed as doubting that the level of technological innovation will allow continued economic growth (as measured by growth of GDP) comparable to that of the last couple of centuries. I am not sure that is the best measure of the objective of technological innovation. I am 17 years past my early retirement from government and a dozen years past the formal retirement age, not yet unable to think, and glad that advances in hygiene and medicine have allowed me to live this long. As Mokyr seems to be saying, technological advances that reduce the externalities (not measured by GDP traditional measurements) have been important recently. Perhaps the Internet which makes knowledge and entertainment less costly and more available is also valued but not measured by GDP.
  2. It is hard to predict future waves of technological innovation. Sometimes when one is in the early stages of such a wave, especially clever people can extrapolate into the future (e.g. Moore's Law on the trends in chip power and cost). I think we still have advances from biotechnology, neurobiology, cognitive science, nanotechnology, genomics as well as continuing innovation based on the Internet, sustainable energy technology and other areas.

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