Many people take it as an article of faith that technology is changing the world, but in his new book, The Rise and Fall of American Growth, economist Robert Gordon says otherwise. He points out—accurately—that productivity, which surged between 1920 and 1970, has stalled since then and is likely to stay that way.
The reason, he argues, is that earlier technologies, such as electricity, the internal combustion engine and antibiotics, had far ranging effects while digital technology is fairly narrow by comparison. It’s a serious argument and he may well very be right, but it also fails to take into account important second order effects.
In his 2005 book, The Singularity Is Near, computer scientist and inventor Ray Kurzweil explained that the endpoint of digital technology wouldn’t be better devices and apps, but new technologies such as genomics, nanotechnology and robotics. Today, these are just beginning to have an impact, but over the next decade they will determine whether Gordon is right or not.