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July 04, 2005
A Coming Dark Age for Innovation?
This will come as news to anyone whose VCR is still blinking 12:00--oh wait, who has a VCR anymore? A provocative view from Jonathan Huebner, a physicist at the Pentagon's Naval Air Warfare Center in China Lake, California, holds that technological innovation has actually been slowing down for more than a century. Huebner, whose paper will appear in the September issue of Technological Forecasting & Social Change, came to this conclusion by studying the number of patents issued per person and examining a list of thousands of innovations. Needless to say, many people disagree. I'm doubtful that Huebner's right, and in any case, measuring innovation would seem to be a highly subjective undertaking. But since I can't find the working paper, it's tough to sort out the arguments myself (link, anyone?). But the controversy, like the one over Nick Carr's contention a couple of years ago that information technology is mature, should make for interesting reading.
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I heard this, and the first thing I thought was 'so what'. If the overall number of innovations is increasing, it doesn't really matter then, whether the number is increasing less per capita.
I mean, by that same measuring stick, we have fewer earthquakes, typhoons, tornadoes, hurricans, volcanic eruptions and tsunamis per capita than ever before, and that trend is certainly on a measurable downward trend.
But guess what? No one cares, because it isn't a meaningful number. Neither is Heubner's.
Posted by: John Brothers at July 5, 2005 06:25 PM
Review of "A Possible Declining Trend for Worldwide Innovation," Jonathan Huebner, Technological Forecasting & Social Change, September 2005 (forthcoming) ? 2005 by John Smart
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Posted by: Andrew D. at July 5, 2005 06:45 PM