After the publication of the book The Rise and Fall of American Growth by economist Robert Gordon our technology-studded society was tread on its toes once more with his, historically repetitive, conviction that all major technologies have already been invented. In his book he quotes PayPal founder Peter Thiel on the disappointing innovations of today: "We wanted flying cars, instead we got 140 characters". Gordon rejoices the economic growth after the second industrial revolution and the prosperity it brought the average joe, but on the flip side argues that we have arrived at a period of technological stagnation. Although his discourse is valid and substantiated, his point of view is essentially flawed simply because he is a human being.
What is striking about Gordon’s argument is that his analysis of economical and productivity growth goes back to well over a century ago, while his predictions only reach a mere 25 years into the future. His disparate comparison of the past century and a half with the next quarter of a century is inadvertently arguing that the rate of change caused by new technologies is as fast as ever, otherwise he could have easily predicted at least a century into the future. But apparently revolutionary progress can be as quick as evolutionary or incremental progress.
The limited scope of the predictions made by Gordon could also be due to his human life-span to which every length of time is relative. One can fit a million years of history in a comprehensive summary of a single page and not be baffled by the relative amount of time, but try predicting one million years into the future without feeling dwarfed as a two-digit year old person. Predicting 25 years is a manageable amount of time for humans, but 150 years is a bridge too far for us.
Perhaps Gordon is right and our lives as human beings are close to optimally assisted by the major inventions of the last couple centuries, but this doesn’t mean anything for a future where the definition of a human being itself can be radically different. Humans and technology are already inseparable; it’s a matter of time before man and machine are actually indistinguishable. Who needs a flying car in cyberspace?