Hacker News new | past | comments | ask | show | jobs | submit login

I wrote something with a very similar title in 2009:

https://www.takimag.com/article/the_myth_of_technological_pr...

I've considered turning it into a book, since it is almost self-evidently true and saying it out loud seems to piss people off.






Frankly, the dismissals you use for insulin (“allow fat people to eat more sugar without slaughtering horses and pigs”) and smartphones (“can we really do anything with computers now that we couldn’t have done 30 or even 50 years ago?”) kind of destroy the legitimacy of your article.

Readily available insulin (along with automated pumps) allows folks with type 1 diabetes (you know, not the “fat people”, but the almost-died autoimmune people) to live quasi-normal lives.

The point of smartphones isn’t that they’re small versions of regular computers, the point is that they’re everywhere. Do you not see that as categorically different? You could not, for example, hail a cab from a mainframe in 1959. Whereas now you have a device in your pocket that connects you with a cabbie with a similar device in their pocket. The fact that they’re computers using radio networks (old tech that makes it “not progress” to you) is completely irrelevant. That’s to say nothing of the fact that in 1959 cabs wouldn’t stop for black Americans, or visit gay neighborhoods in the ‘80s, etc. etc. — smartphones have completely changed the landscape there.

These kinds of dismissals are like sitting in 1959 saying that planes aren’t that fundamentally different from cars — sure they’re faster, but they’re still fuel-powered engines that take you from point A to point B! And they’re more expensive! Radio is just a telegraph with no wires! The smallpox vaccine is just so that those slummy “urban dwellers” can avoid spending time with cows while they’re kids!

All technology development is path dependent, and looking at the path and saying “therefore this isn’t progress” is not a particularly valuable insight in my humble opinion.


In 1959 there were public phone booths or stands in the cities, or the cab companies installed dedicated ones by themselves at public places. I have seen them maybe up to around 2000. In less dense places it probably wouldn't have made sense, because the cost of the ride were too expensive, prohibitive for most, except in emergencies. For which other services did and do exist, at least in developed countries. Where there is no cell phone reception now, a cab/taxi/uber is probably still too expensive nowadays. So i'm not getting why you are using this as example, while ignoring the fact that you are carrying a f..(-word).. Orwellian TELEVISOR with you, while the usefulness leaves much to be desired because of the formfactor even with good eyesight/vision. I don't want to read books on smartphone. Why would i? Do you read books in the size of a cash reciept/sales slip? Oh yes, there is navigation! But it's often wrong. I know this goes against the grain of most of you, because it's your source of income(Mobile First!1!!) or you've grown up with them, without knowledge of the times before cell/smartphones. But you know what? For all i care you can shove those things where the sun doesn't shine!

(Edit: I hear teledildonics are a thing now. The last sentence was meant as an insult, not endorsement. Just to be clear about that, k?)


or you've grown up with them, without knowledge of the times before cell/smartphones.

Guess what the “74” in my name signifies?

Where there is no cell phone reception now, a cab/taxi/uber is probably still too expensive nowadays.

There are very few populated areas on the earth without cell phone reception from at least one provider.

I don't want to read books on smartphone.

My phone is about the size of a page in a paperback book and the words are definitely the size of normal text. Also, any modern phone you can increase the size of text if your eyesight isn’t good.


Yawn. With the exception of so called 'phablets' i doubt that, because the aspect ratio usually doesn't fit. Anytime i'm trying that it just feels wrong. As i mentioned before, like staring at a cashiers receipt/sales slip.

Takimag audiences appreciate non politically correct jokes; a man writes for his audience. If you don't like it, well, I'm sorry you're so sensitive I guess. I'm not sorry for making jokes. That statement also makes an important point: diabetics had solutions back in the old days 40 years before 2009, and there sure were a lot less people with self-inflicted diabetes then.

My dismissals are simply the magnitude of the difference. The comparison class for nerd dildos is ... the invention of the computer and networking technology in the first place in the decades before. The invention of the computer and associated networking technology is a vast increase in human power. Smart phones are a convenience, and a democratization of old technology; not a categorically new thing which insanely changes people's way of life. Even in 1969 (now that it's been 50 years), one could put a nickel in a pay phone and summon a cab. It worked about as well as Uber does in most circumstances. In cities, where you're most likely to use such services, you could also just wave at a taxi. I did it for 3 months earlier this year in Lisbon: it worked just fine, and was often faster than uber!

The sad thing, to me, is people really think their networked electrical dingus is comparable to something like computers -to say nothing of antibiotics, the atom bomb, spaceflight and so on. I mean, you're in good company: no less a personage than Jerry Pournelle made the same argument you are making here. But it's still wrong!


Takimag audiences appreciate non politically correct jokes; a man writes for his audience.

Is your audience filled with intellectually non curious people? Your description of insulin is factually incorrect, leads to more ignorance. I knew there was a difference but many don’t.

Smart phones are a convenience, and a democratization of old technology; not a categorically new thing which insanely changes people's way of life.

Having a phone in everyone's pocket -- especially in developing countries has led to a completely new economy for the unbanked.

In cities, where you're most likely to use such services, you could also just wave at a taxi. I did it for 3 months earlier this year in Lisbon:

Unless you're a person of color and statiscally, cab drivers were less likely to stop for you....


So instead of being 'banked' by some institution with actual businesses in places they now have to make sure their phone is always on/loaded when it has to, have to rely/trust some online services which probably costs them money for transactions/credit, and whatnot else. So instead of being unbanked they are banked online which has other hassles.

I can see conventional banking shrinking where i am, by closing off branch offices, offering appcrap instead. I RESIST! Because it changes parts of the banks responsibilities over to me, reversal of evidence/shifting the burden of proof. Over to gadgets which are inherently incecure. Nice try...



Yes, i have. Looked interesting at first, like skipping the technological steps older economies had to develop, and are stcuk with it because of sunken costs, regulatory capture, thereby overtaking them. Sounded reasonable, intelligent, smart.

But i also recently read something about debt traps, maybe even here. But am to tired to search for that now. Anyways, would it matter? Should i have to hide my opinion behind some link i can point at, and say 'there, they said so too!'

Edit: Anyways, cash is king. It's simple. It works. Electronic cash seems simple, and may work. Or not.


Except cash is easily stolen, and can’t be sent over along distance safely. What do you think “cash” is? It’s just a common accepted way to store value. Do you really get paid in paper currency and keep it all on you all the time?

And your gadget is safe from being stolen? And you can't be forced to give the pin, password, fingerprint, whatever? I don't know where you are, but from the place where i am this whole paypal thing made no sense because we already had the possibility to 'wire' money relatively fast and cheap. Which can work even faster now with SEPA instant payments. Not to forget: credit cards! I know i'm sounding old and cranky, but most of that new stuff made NO REAL SENSE WHATSOEVER for most people in my region. That is why they are slow to adopt, because they don't need to!

There is no need for something like 'payday loan checks' around here. And no need to plug in some upstarts which are trying to circumvent established infrastructure by going exclusively mobile, while in reality using established credit card companies also. They are just one additional man in the middle, snorkeling up data, and adding fees. What do you think Apple Pay is?

Edit: Of course i don't carry all my money with me all the times. Why should i? I do have a banking account. But when i need it, there usually is an ATM somewhere within 10 minutes max pedestrian distance from a network called 'Cash Group' which my bank is a member of. You know? Physical ATMs, installed in branch offices of members of Cash Group. If not there are others, and i maybe have to pay EUR 1 for drawing EUR 100, or something like that.And not some freestanding suspicious thing, riddled with skimming devices and dirty, operated by some suspicious entity. I'm used to this sort of physical infrastructure and think that is how it should be. Not out of stubbornness, but after evaluating the pros and cons of alternative systems. Going fully cashless may appeal at first because of convenience, and in theory it may be implemented right. But usually history shows 'worse is better'. Where does that leave the 'unbanked'? Yah, well, with something worse?

Edit: Maybe i'd see it different when i'd have traveled to Sweden, the Megapolises of China, or having used some card for a public transportation network which doubles as convenience cash for other things as transport. But it wouldn't change my principal criticism of that stuff. If only usable by Smartphone you are F..... when that is without power, broken, stolen, stuck in some digital mess by either Telco/ISP, online banking account by upstart which does banking in a lazy way, or some such.

I repeat: cash is simple. It works. Use it when you can.

Maybe think about antifragility and resilience for a while.


And your gadget is safe from being stolen? And you can't be forced to give the pin, password, fingerprint, whatever? I don't know where you are, but from the place where i am this whole paypal thing made no sense because we already had the possibility to 'wire' money relatively fast and cheap.

So you wire money to every random merchant? And what's the difference between wiring money and mobile payments? If your gadget is stolen they still need to get your authentication information. The money is not stored on your gadget. They just pick up another $10 phone and log into their account. This isn't a new thing. Developing countries have been doing this for a decade.

installed in branch offices of members of Cash Group. If not there are others, and i maybe have to pay EUR 1 for drawing EUR 100

And if you're talking about euros, you're not in a "developing country". You know the whole topic of the conversation?

The "upstart online banking infrastructure" has literally been in place for a decade in some developing countries.

What do you think happens if the credit card infrastructure goes down? Of course you can still get paper currency.

Not to forget: credit cards! I know i'm sounding old and cranky, but most of that new stuff made NO REAL SENSE WHATSOEVER for most people in my region. That is why they are slow to adopt, because they don't need to!(

To use credit cards you have to have credit. To have credit, you have to have a "credit history". To have a credit history, you have to have a reliable infrastructure to record your history of payments....

There is no need for something like 'payday loan checks' around here. And no need to plug in some upstarts which are trying to circumvent established infrastructure by going exclusively mobile, while in reality using established credit card companies also.*

Payday loans have nothing to do with mobile payments. Neither are they using the (non existent) credit card companies to facilitate mobile banking.

I do have a banking account.

So you have a central authority to hold your money and then you can transfer your money to pay your goods. Exactly how mobile banking works.

They are just one additional man in the middle, snorkeling up data, and adding fees. What do you think Apple Pay is?

Apple Pay is no different than any other "merchant account" that's been around forever. Every merchant goes through a middle man to get on the credit card network. They have forever.


'Wiring' is called 'Überweisung' here and the most common way to do banking without incurring additional fees. There are no cheques anymore, which were never that common around here, with the exception of 'Postbarscheck', which are gone since the split up of the former Deutsche Bundespost into Briefpost, DHL(Express), Telekom, T-Online, and their pseudo privatization. Regarding trusting random merchants, i can give them a one time account number, dispute any suspicious bookings within a timeframe of at least two weeks, and so on.

Again, from the point of view of someone who despises to have an orwellian tracking device with him at all times, i prefer to go to the branch office, use some self service terminal, and be done with it, without having to care about the infrastructure.

If i'd order something via internet from some shop now which is 4:09 AM localtime it wouldn't be processed anyways until a few hours later, and then i'd maybe have the option of paying per invoice a few days later, or paying the postman when he brings it. Or i'd go to some self service terminal in a branch office of my bank some time during the day to initiate the 'push', the 'Überweisung' which is elsewhere known as 'wiring'. If i'd want to do that right now, i'd have to walk about 30 minutes, or use my bicycle for maybe 10 minutes to do that, because some self service terminals are closed over night because of vandalism, homeless ppl sleeping there, or something like that. Only cash withdraw works then.

Regarding credit history, you don't really need one here, because the bank which issues the card has it, vouches for you, and only if you fail some payment you'll get one via a hand full of companies. But that is a negative one then.

That's how it works for me. And that's OK.


Again, from the point of view of someone who despises to have an orwellian tracking device with him at all times, i prefer to go to the branch office, use some self service terminal, and be done with it, without having to care about the infrastructure.

How well do you expect that to scale in a country with over one billion people like India or China? How safe do you think it is to even have paper currency at banks or “self service terminals” You do realize that mobile phone penetration is over 90% in developing countries (https://www.theregister.co.uk/2017/08/03/itu_facts_and_figur...). You are the outlier, not them.

Almost all of your response is either still using the electronic infrastructure, or based on a trust relationship. No one in a developing country is going to “issue an invoice” to random people.

And no one is concerned about your needs as individual, we are talking about 2-3 billion people in developing countries.


Well... I don't care?

A general discussion forum where people talk about trends and longitudinal behaviors is not about any single anecdotal poster on HN.

Ahem! The whole topic was 'The myth of inevitable technological progress' where i latched on somewhere and ranted about online banking via smartphones, and then it went sidewards into different areas of need/applicability and whatnot.

Let me put it another way. Aside from the orwellian aspects of voluntarily carrying a bug with one all the times, the dumb feature phones lasted about a week on one charge with maybe 30 minutes to one and a half hour daily phone and/or texting usage, depending on the model and sufficient for most use cases. Got that? ONE WEEK! (and no fucking updates!)

Let's take another gadget, wristwatches. One just had them, and put them on, or off, usually not caring about battery, or winding them up, because they either wind themselves up if mechanical, or last anywhere from one to two years with one battery. And then some years, or even decades more, maybe exchanging the wristband, or a scratched glass. Got that? ONE TO TWO YEARS! (and no fucking updates!)

What else? Music players after Walk-/Discman where you SIDELOADED (OMFG!) media from whereever you saw fit, not necessarily bound to some online store/streaming service, which invalidates yor media/playlist if the business shuts down for whichever reasons. Usable playtimes up to a week on one charge within reasonable usages, maybe one to two hours daily. Sansa Clip/Zip/Plus f.e. Got that? ONE WEEK! (and no fucking updates!)

There probably is more, but i can't remember right now, or didn't use it to begin with.

Now one can argue that all these functions and MUCH MORE (like digital photography) have been consolidated into smartphones, but this also comes with more hassles.

1.) They usually last only a day on one charge if used as advertised.

2.) After about two years the devices are obsolete, at least for their advertised uses.

3.) They are obviously insecure, because why else do

4.) They come with updates, which often crap makes?

5.) They are expensive

6.) They come with

[1] http://www.androiddocs.com/google/play-services/id.html

    if they are running any form of Android.
7.) If they are not running Android they are even more expensive, or irrelevant, at least currently.

8.) If you care about privacy, security, cost, sustainability you shun that crap and live happily ever after :-)

Seen like this, anything relying on smartphones simply makes no sense at all, if only for the inconvenience of the need to be charged daily. Which is no progress, but a downgrade.

Don't even get me started about the 'internet of (crappy) things', 'cyberphysical systems', 'smart assistants', and so on.

Anyways. I'm seeing it fitting to call it Android, because its users mutate to puppets which are yanked this and that way by all sorts of algorithmic strings. To use other devices opens other cans of worms, if only used to access the same crap the androids do.

Good Night. :-)

Edit: spacing/spelling


Again, every single point you are making ignores developing countries. There are phones on the market for developing countries that have solar charges and that are less than $50. The average cheap smart phone now is no more expensive than old dumb phones and are actually cheaper considering inflation. Until we figure out how to make rechargeable batteries last forever, they will still need to be replaced.

On the high end, it’s only Android phones that are obsolete after 2 years. Apple just released an update for the 2011 iPhone 4s this past July.

You’ve always been able to sideload music on MP3 players. When the iPod was at its height in 2007, Jobs himself said that only 4% of the music came from iTunes. Even today you can mix your personal music library seamlessly with Apple Music.

And if relying on smart phones makes no sense to you even though the worldwide penetration of smart phones is above 80% for adults, have you ever thought that you might be wrong?


Again. I don't care. Most of that does not apply to me because it is elsewhere. I have no use for some phone which only works in some far away software and services ecosystem which are not available where I am. And why should i care about being wrong when so many ppl doing something, which i won't?

Ever heard of the prase 'Billons of flies eat shit. Therefore shit must be good!'?


No one is concerned about you as an individual. In a general discussion forum, how does it add to the conversation about general technological trends discussing outliers?

How does it add to the conversation where the topic was 'The myth of inevtitable technological progress' where i picked ONE thing out of many to choose, and stated that i think of it as overhyped, because lots of strings attached, unforeseen consequences, and in general not implemented in ways which should be trusted, and you latching onto it like i have hurt you in some personal way?

If this is your thing, then i can't do anything about it. OTOH there were many threads on HN also discussing the pros and cons of it, of being always on, connected, reachable, where i can't remember anyone being so offended. I may have choosen harsh words, but what to do when you perceive something like a crass mistake? Sugarcoating it?

I know i'm not being alone with my opinion, there are many more outliers than you think. (I think!)


I refuse to engage with your ridiculous virtue signalling. You can do that somewhere else with someone who will be impressed.

Nobody is denying smart phones have had a large impact on the world. I do deny they are anywhere near in importance to, say, the invention of the computer, space flight, the atom bomb or antibiotics. There is absolutely no comparison.

It's like comparing the invention of a specific kind of internal combustion engine to ... the invention of the heat engine in the first place. The harnessing of heat into mechanical energy was a cataclysmic event for humanity. It made possible industrial civilization. The invention, say, of the diesel engine was an improvement which also had consequences. It's not really comparable to "heat engines" though!


So it’s “virtue signaling” that a goal for a blog that you hope to turn into a book should be factually correct?

[flagged]


So yes, I have this crazy idea that it’s a “virtue” to present facts when it comes to stuff like insulin.

How much “usefulness” are you “getting done” by spreading scientifically proven false information?


Which fact did you "prove" false, please? Be specific.

“allow fat people to eat more sugar without slaughtering horses and pigs”

- there is gestational diabetes that has nothing to do with weight

- also certain diseases, medications, surgeries, and infections can cause diabetes.

- type 1 diabetes also has a genetic component.


Uhhh, that was a joke, bro. Yes I am aware of the etiology of diabetes.

But ultimately: my point is factual and stands -the main result of using biotech to treat diabetes is to allow more fat people to make themselves sick without killing more pigs and horses. Which is how diabetics were treated in the old days; with pig and horse insulin.


So it was “a joke”, factually incorrect, but you still defend it and say that by pointing out that you were factually incorrect, it prevented you from “getting anything useful done” and that it was “regressive”.

And if you are aware of the “etiology of diabetes” how was it useful to spread a falsehood?

You asked which fact was proved false - here it is.

Would the book you want to write also be full of factually incorrect “jokes”?


As I said: there is nothing factually incorrect in my statement, and it's not my fault you can't parse humor.

How is it not factually incorrect that diabetes - and thus the need for insulin - is not always caused by overeating, is factually incorrect?

That was not even remotely my statement. Why are you persisting in this?

“Making insulin in toilet water is a neat trick, but all that really does is allow fat people to eat more sugar without slaughtering horses and pigs.”

Great; I'm glad we're all on the same page now! Please tell me how this is a statement on or misunderstanding of the etiology of diabetes? Or is your argument "I am offended by Locklin's jokes?"

Really? The “etiology of diabetes” is not about just “fat people”.

Would it also be a "joke" to say autism is caused by vaccines just because some ignorant people think that?


Scott, from the perspective of some hitherto unwired second or third world country (ie Indian Kashmir) it’s probably a lot bigger deal than some OECD country ca. 1979

Is the point about insulin not a fact?

Btw. ancient greeks already had a form of steam engine: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aeolipile. Why it didn't produce an industrial revolution is debatable (they had slaves, for one).

There's a decent book on the history of steam engines called "The Most Powerful Idea in the World" which answers the question fairly convincingly.

You are missing my point, or at least not really addressing it, so perhaps I wasn't clear.

Your dismissals are "just about magnitude of difference", but your supporting examples are also about magnitude of difference, you are just choosing not to frame them that way.

> That statement also makes an important point: diabetics had solutions back in the old days 40 years before 2009, and there sure were a lot less people with self-inflicted diabetes then.

> Smart phones are a convenience, and a democratization of old technology; not a categorically new thing which insanely changes people's way of life. Even in 1969 (now that it's been 50 years), one could put a nickel in a pal phone and summon a cab.

I can make this argument about anything you listed as being "progress" from 1909-1959. People who now fly could have driven, or taken the train, or rode on horseback. Flying is just faster, right? The jet engine is just an evolutionary change over the turboprop. The atom bomb is just a really big bomb, right? Couldn't you just drop 10,000 equivalent bombs? And that's me trying to take you seriously -- one of your examples is "fuel-injected internal combustion engines", which you claim is a bigger "invention" than anything that's happened in computing since 1959.

In 1959, computers did almost nothing for almost nobody. You are taking an entire half century of advances in computing and saying they are irrelevant because you can draw some "fundamental" line in 1959 that everything was done before. But if we still had 1959-level computers our society would be, to use your words, insanely different. So what makes 1959-2009 "not progress"?

You started with a thesis and selected your evidence to match. What you write is "almost self-evidently true" because your examples are extremely selective. It "pisses people off" because you're trying to deceive them and they can see it.

Look, the ridiculous part of this argument is that I actually agree with you: I think the pace of technological development has slowed and that it's a problem. But you're making extreme claims that are just wrong, and your argument is based in some kind of weird definition of the world looking different than before that I can't relate to.

You write in your piece: "as such, I don’t think the world of 50 years hence will look very technologically different from the world now."

If you already don't think 2019 looks very different from 1969, then, sure, 2069 might not look very different from 2019 either. But I venture that if we transported you back to 1969 you're be complaining about the lack of progress since 1919 too, because you can make that same argument by cherry-picking facts. Each half-century of technological progress has looked different from the last. If you're looking for the type of progress that happened in the previous 50 years you'll miss the forest for the trees, just as you've done here.

Some of the grumpy people who were expecting the continuation of development of the railroads and giant industrial machines from 1859-1909 probably looked at the bio breakthroughs and jet engines and electrification of 1909-1959 as not being the same kind of progress. ("Planes were invented in 1903!")

We won't really know what mattered from 1959-2009 until 2059, and I suspect we will see a ton of groundbreaking "invention" work making real changes in people's lives when we look back from 2059. (Just look at the ads from 1959 and tell me how much of that garbage really still matters.)

And also:

> Takimag audiences appreciate non politically correct jokes; a man writes for his audience. If you don't like it, well, I'm sorry you're so sensitive I guess. I'm not sorry for making jokes.

That's nice. I'm glad there's an audience out there for you that also finds humor in mocking human illness. Diversity provides strength.


>I can make this argument about anything you listed as being "progress" from 1909-1959. People who now fly could have driven, or taken the train, or rode on horseback. Flying is just faster, right?

Flying is categorically vastly different than ... taking the train. So is space flight.

>The jet engine is just an evolutionary change over the turboprop.

Um, the jet engine came before the turboprop, so, in fact, no. The jet engine was indeed an improvement over other kinds of heat engines; not only were they more efficient (which is why they're used in energy production, and, say, turboprops), they enabled vastly faster and safer flight, are vastly more reliable (which is why they're used on ships and in prop driven planes instead of piston engines), and are very, very physically different from more complex internal combustion engines. It's not the atom bomb, but there sure aren't too many commonly used things invented between 1959 and the present which have increased human power over nature the way the jet engine did. Even if you put the cell phone in the same class of improvement as the jet engine (I don't, but I'd concede the point for the sake of argument): that's one thing.

> The atom bomb is just a really big bomb, right? Couldn't you just drop 10,000 equivalent bombs?

Of course not: this is ridiculous. With 10,000 nukes you could pretty much wipe out civilized life. It is categorically vastly different. It is a factors of 100000 difference in power available to human beings. There has been no such change in the most recent 50 years which can compare to the bomb at all. And that's just one of the cataclysmic inventions of the 1919->1969 years.

> In 1959, computers did almost nothing for almost nobody. You are taking an entire half century of advances in computing and saying they are irrelevant because you can draw some "fundamental" line in 1959 that everything was done before. But if we still had 1959-level computers our society would be, to use your words, insanely different.

You really need to read up on your history. In 1959, computers were doing: atomic weapon and nuclear reactor design, networked atomic weapon defense (the SAGE system was in place and operational -and ran until the 1980s, FWIIW it also had a graphical user interface, not conceptually unlike that on your nerd dingus), running large corporations, guiding missiles and other autonomous vehicles, running banks, it was being used for early AI experiments, it was being used in engine design, climatology, it had huge impact on physics and engineering and pretty much everything else. It made things possible which were simply impossible in the 1919 date 50 years prior. The things we've done since then in computation are obviously progress, and important, but there have been no huge category changes such as the invention of the computer.

> So what makes 1959-2009 "not progress"?

I never said those years were not progress. Fourier transforms, coding theory and so on were great leaps forward that made new things possible. But they were nowhere near the leap forward that the invention of the computer was in the first place. The invention of the computer happened in the years before 1959; it really did change everything in a categorical way. I can't think of a single thing since 1959 which compares to the invention of the computer. Or antibiotics. Or the human harnessing of atomic energy. Or space flight.

> I venture that if we transported you back to 1969 you're be complaining about the lack of progress since 1919 too...

In 1969, absolutely nobody could make the argument that antibiotics, the atom bomb, computers, space flight, (autonomous) guided missiles meant there was no progress since 1919. Most people in 1969 fully expected we'd live in the world of "2001 a space odyssey" by 2001; with sentient computers, nuclear interplanetary flight, space tourism, moon bases, routine hypersonic flight, suspended animation, video calls (which didn't become routine until ~ 10 years later). Lots of people thought Clarke/Kubrick were too conservative in their predictions! They did get flat screens right though!

The reason everyone thought the world would be so ... futuristic in 2001 -futuristic to the point these innovations are now considered to be ridiculously optimistic, is because the years between 1919 and 1969 (to say nothing for 1869->1919) had so much ridiculously and egregiously giant progress. That's my point! Progress has inarguably slowed: the end. Denying it is silly. If you're not denying it, well, I'm glad we agree! If you agree and are saying you don't like my arguments; which arguments would you make?


In this post you looked at an argument that was essentially Reductio Ad Absurdum, and then argued that those things were absurd.

Yes, they are. That’s the whole point being made, and that strengthens your opponents argument, not yours.

If it’s absurd to say that a propeller and a jet engine are equivalent, then it’s just as absurd to claim a mainframe and an iPhone are equivalent.


I'm confused about your computer point. Anything done with a computer could have been done by hand, manually. How is there any category difference? Is it because it's 1000x faster instead of non-categorical "10x faster" faster changes?

Flying is different because it's what...in the air? Surely not that it's only 5x faster than the train, or doesn't require tracks or roads, because speed and wireless alone aren't enough for today's computers to be categorically different from 1959.

My point is that you are making up categories to fit your argument, but you think the categorical differences are obvious. That makes it a weak argument.

Apologies about the error re: turboprop, I was thinking of regular propellor engines and miswrote. But this is a great example: how is the jet engine categorically different compared with a propellor plane? What does it enable aside from going higher and faster? What's the "category"? You just keep repeating the word "vastly" in your argument.

And how is a fuel-injected ICE "categorically" different?

You are full of examples of changes in "category" that don't make the impossible newly possible, just easier -- I don't think you actually have an articulable definition of "category" that fits.

> In 1969, absolutely nobody could make the argument that antibiotics, the atom bomb, computers, space flight, supersonic air flight, (autonomous) guided missiles meant there was no progress since 1919.

Nobody is making the argument today that there's been no progress, either.

My point is that we can't measure the rate of progress by only looking at the past 50 years. Something feels slower, sure. I bet in 1969 something felt slower than the previous 50 years too, to some people. We won't know until we know the actual implications of the last 50 years, and that will take a while.

That we're also using tech to make useless things is not a marker of slowing progress.


> Anything done with a computer could have been done by hand, manually.

No, that's not true at all. It was true in ~ 1945... sort of. By 1950, there were plenty of calculations happening which, even if you harnessed the entire planet's educated population and gave them marchant calculators, they couldn't have produced the answer. That's a category difference. It also planted the seeds for the present day when it is obvious you're not going to get your 3-d porn videos via heliograph and human marchant calculator computer.

A similar category difference is the atom bomb. If the entire industrial output of the world were dedicated to making TNT for decades, it couldn't compare to the power of nuclear weapons in existence today. Categorical difference.

>My point is that you are making up categories to fit your argument, but you think the categorical differences are obvious. That makes it a weak argument.

If by "making up categories" you mean "using real world examples and assuming people can tell that the use of antibiotics is more important to humanity than cell phones" -I guess I agree with you. Seriously man: people used to routinely die like flies of infection. What compares to that change? Name one thing invented after 1959 which compares to this! My use of this example isn't making up a category: it's stating the obvious. If you really think cell phones or the fast fourier transform are more important than antibiotics, well, "that's just, like, your opinion, man." Billions of people who would otherwise be dead disagree with you.

You can nitpick about flying (which is not an example I actually used, FWIIW; people were flying in 1919) if it makes you feel better. I suppose taking the train is equivalent to the ICBM and having artificial satellites around the earth?

>My point is that we can't measure the rate of progress by only looking at the past 50 years. Something feels slower, sure.

This doesn't make any sense. OK, don't use 50 year intervals. Use 10 year increments. I am naming the somethings which make things "feel slower" -I don't know how you could possibly disagree with any of them. If the substance of your disagreement is "Scott is a dick and I don't like his tone" -that's OK; many people agree with you.

> I bet in 1969 something felt slower than the previous 50 years too, to some people.

You're on. Find an example. Peter Thiel and Tyler Cowen are examples from more or less current year who have written books and essays more or less saying what I just said above (FWIIW, both after my essay). Elon Musk is someone who has made it his life's mission to reverse this trend. There were links to IEEE spectrum in the original article arguing against "the singularity" more or less making my argument for me as well; I could track them down somehow. There are no examples from 1969, because in 1969, unlike today: it simply was not true.


> "Scott is a dick and I don't like his tone"

OK dude, this is the third time you've tried to steer this thread towards a character attack on yourself, and that's just with me--others took the bait. People can have legit disagreements with you and also think you're a "dick". That you bring it up so often suggests that maybe one person who thinks you're a "dick" is you, and maybe you should talk to someone about that.

> I am naming the somethings which make things "feel slower" -I don't know how you could possibly disagree with any of them.

I don't disagree with any of them! In fact, I already said that I agree that things feel slower. Antibiotics, vaccines, etc. are all great things! They've saved millions of lives! None of the foundational principles of biology behind them were discovered in the last 50 years, correct.

But, you know, I'm trying to figure out what's actually going on, not merely looking for evidence that already supports what I think -- I'm looking for counterexamples.

Do you disagree that the impact of a particular decade, or any time period, looks totally different when viewed from the last year of that time period, compared with 50 years later? We already know this to be true for basically any time period in the past 300 years. Are you saying recent decades are somehow immune to this effect?

Yeah, you're gonna need a much stronger argument for this than a list of things from 50 years ago that are obvious huge inventions and...what, a much shorter list for the last 50 years?

> Find an example. Peter Thiel and Tyler Cowen are examples from more or less current year who have written books and essays more or less saying what I just said above (FWIIW, both after my essay). Elon Musk is someone who has made it his life's mission to reverse this trend. There are no examples from 1969, because in 1969, unlike today: it simply was not true.

What? There were a ton of people around 1900 that thought physics was "done", including respected physicists. They were wrong.

Every era has short-sighted ranters with a mouthpiece and an ego to feed. Don't be one of them, dude.

Propose a mechanism of action, ask why is this happening? What could be causing it? Come up with a definition of category -- I like your "computers are different because all the people on earth doing math couldn't do it", that's good. That works also for things that are explosive increases in energy use, but inventions that aren't that kind of thing don't quite fit that notion of category. Ask in what ways these categories make Thiel's zero-to-one changes.

There's way more depth to be explored here. If you just repeat yourself and make claims that things are obvious, and think people only disagree because you come off as a "dick", then you're not doing much more than trolling.


>I don't disagree with any of them!

Well you sure "didn't disagree" at great length above!

>you're gonna need a much stronger argument for this than a list of things from 50 years ago that are obvious huge inventions and...what, a much shorter list for the last 50 years?

I don't think I do need a much stronger argument than this: you just said above you agree with all of my examples. Now you say ... my examples aren't enough. Yet you "feel" I am right anyway? What would be "enough?" Simply looking at 1969's vision of the future is pretty damning as well.

Re your Kelvin goalposting; you don't have an example of technological pessimism from 1969, do you? You've been a reasonably honest interlocutor thus far; don't goalpoast me, bro. "So what makes 1959-2009 "not progress"?" was bad enough.

>Propose a mechanism of action, ask why is this happening?

I have my suspicions, which is why I consider writing a book on it. First, though, I'd like to get you, who agrees with me on one line, then disagrees on another (you assure me this is not routine bay area tone policing, and I'll just assume so for the sake of argument), to admit it is actually happening. What evidence besides your subjective feelings on the matter would you accept? What evidence do you, who claims to agree with me, yet disagrees on every detail, have?

I think naming a series of bonkers technological revolutions that happened in one time period with not even one comparable example in a later time period is a reasonable and strong argument. If you disagree with the time span in question, I invite you to suggest a better time span, or one going back another 50 years. 1869 to 1919 was super amazing, and nobody thought technology was over in that time period, even if Kelvin thought physics was done (which was a reasonable thing to think back then; oddly people no longer think this, despite the parallel lack of experimental results which contradict theory). Same with the 50 years prior to 1869; technological progress was vast then. Any of those 50 year periods had more important breakthroughs than today. It's the recent era which has slowed down. You'll get the same result breaking it down by decade, by 20 years or 40 as I did in the original takimag article.


I'm going to meta-level with you:

1. No one is saying that the inventions of 1909-1959 were not amazing. Yes, the jet engine is fantastic. Flying is bonkers. Antibiotics, great. No one is seriously arguing that these are not spectacular inventions that transformed humanity. You don't need to keep repeating the argument that 1909-1959 was great, by listing great things from then, because no one is arguing against that.

2. I (at least) am making an argument about the proof you offer that progress is slowing, I am saying it is weak proof. I am doing so in two ways:

(A) by pointing out that the ways you are arguing 1909-1959 things are great can also be applied to post-1959 things, and the ways you are arguing post-1959 things aren't great can also be applied to things from 1909-1959. This argument looks like this: jets are great compared with props in the same way that iPhones are great compared with ENIAC. So why is the former transformation categorically different from the latter?

You are interpreting A as me saying that things from 1909-1959 weren't great. I'm not saying that. No one is saying that. You are saying that my examples are absurd: yes, that is the whole point of this argument. It's absurd to say that jets are not great because we already had props, just as it's absurd to say that iPhones are not great because we had ENIAC (or whatever appropriate computer from 1950 you're thinking of).

(B) by pointing out that it is really hard to know the impact of many really amazing, crazy foundational things until 50 years after the fact. Not all things, of course, which is why this thread is full of examples and counterexamples. People being optimistic or pessimistic about tech in 1969 is irrelevant -- if I found someone who in 1969 thought that 1919-1969 was lame compared with 1869-1919, would that convince you of anything? No, because it's irrelevant. The whole Kelvin thing is apparently apocryphal anyway.

With that out of the way, you ask: what would be enough evidence to convince me that progress is slowing?

First, one problem is that we'd need a definition of progress. "Rate of invention of things Scott thinks are obviously amazing with 50 years of hindsight"--aka your list---is not a great definition because we don't have 50 years of hindsight on 2009. See point (B) above.

Other people have looked at counts of patents, per-capita research papers, etc., all of which continue to accelerate. But these are all also problematic, because these things can be gamed and end up correlated with other things that are irrelevant to that ineffable "actual progress" we're both arguing around.

We could go with lives saved, by which measure 1959-2009 looks amazing except that most of those lives aren't in the USA or Europe, compared with 1909-1959.

In another post, you say (paraphrasing, but I think I got it) "things that give a society that possesses them a guaranteed win in a war over societies that don't" but this is a very pre-atom-bomb type of definition. At this point, the atom bomb is that thing for everyone all the time, so it makes sense that societies don't prioritize weapons like that anymore: you don't need them! We already have the bomb. Who needs a second world-annihilating type of device? So technological progress doesn't look like this anymore, post-bomb. (Even the things you list as examples of post-1969 definitely don't fit. Coding theory feels like a stretch here IMO.) I speculate that it's because societies tend to fight more in economic terms today than physical terms. So we get information-related inventions and financing inventions, not physical-dominance or energy-extraction inventions. But I digress.

I don't have a good definition of progress. But I'd love to come up with one that fits.

Second, without a definition, things are tricky, but I tend to look at proxy measures like productivity. Technology lets people do more, so, how much can people do per unit time? The rate of productivity growth has been slowing a bunch since 1970-1980. Another proxy measure you could look at is health outcomes: life expectancy at birth (reflecting childhood diseases, mostly) has basically been stagnant since 1980.

These proxy measures are what make me think that progress is slowing. But it could be the proxy measures losing their proxy-value instead.

I welcome a new definition of progress from you to argue about.


Thanks for continuing the discussion in a constructive way!

> it is really hard to know the impact of many really amazing, crazy foundational things until 50 years after the fact.

That's absolutely untrue in all of the examples I listed. Nukes, antibiotics, supersonic jets, space flight, the invention of computers; all of these things were immediately recognized as of titanic importance. There is nothing recognizable in the last 50 years as being of comparable importance. Cell phones and search engines are cool, but not hugely different from what we had before, and again: not comparable to the previous 50 years. They were minor revolutions, and how I make my living, but compared to antibiotics? Feh!

Sure there may be things in the lab now or back a few years which will eventually prove amazing. That's pretty impossible to talk about; I doubt there is even a single decent example from the prior 50 years you could name that was as hidden as these alleged breakthroughs are now. Important things aren't often kept secret. I mean, maybe the air force has antigravity UFOs like the tinfoil hat brigades say; I kind of doubt it! There is a distinct lack of obvious breakthroughs of the last 50 years. That's what I keep saying! Maybe CRISPR or whatever will change everything; but they've been saying stuff like this since the 70s, and again, the biggest biotech revolution thus far is ... as I said ... cheap insulin. Not even close to antibiotics.

Your point about us not developing super-weapons is not obviously true. The US has basically failed at this, just as it continues to fail at most things involving large scale industry: but the Russians just fielded a nuclear ramjet cruise missile (the US was working on this in the 50s) as well as a crazy doomsday torpedo and some weird hypersonic things I haven't fully parsed yet. Also, antibiotics wasn't a super weapon, nor was computers, nor any number of other examples; but these technologies conveyed huge advantages on the possessors of such technologies that have military implications. The point of measuring breakthrough techs via their military advantages is to have some obvious metric. It's a pretty good one! Nothing is perfect, but it's a decent way of pointing out why some technological innovations are more important than others; evolutionary fitness.

Re productivity; if you remove chip improvements from economic measures of productivity; things look super grim. That's what I said in the original article!


> Nukes [1940's], antibiotics [1920's], supersonic jets [1940's], space flight [1960's], the invention of computers [what are we calling this, 1950's?].

Supersonic jets do not belong on that list. I get that you like them; the world would be pretty similar if no one had ever invented them.

Personal computers ('70s-'80s) definitely belong on that list, and I'd argue that smartphones (~2007) do too but you apparently disagree. Maybe the Web too ('90s), though I imagine you definitely disagree there.

So, now that we have a list that's more evenly distributed across decades for the last 90 years, what? We just argue about what's on the list? Who cares? Is it just what I see as humanity-changing vs. you? This is exactly the kind of useless argument I don't want to have, because it tells me nothing except what Scott thinks is important.

Your military-usefulness definition is interesting, but I think limited, and ignores how competition between societies has changed in non-military ways. So, good at pointing out why some inventions are more important than others? Yeah, for some subset of inventions, but conveniently not recent ones. So I don't really think it strengthens your argument.

Further:

> Your point about us not developing super-weapons is not obviously true.

I made no such point. I said that the incentives for people to work on breakthrough inventions has shifted, and thus as a result that progress would look different post-bomb.

The US rewards invention differently than Russia, so it's not surprising that Americans aren't building superweapons, that military funding no longer produces amazing breakthroughs at the rate it did, and that the Russian military is still working on new ways to annihilate everyone.

> Re productivity; if you remove chip improvements from economic measures of productivity; things look super grim. That's what I said in the original article!

But this is wrong? Productivity stalled in the '70s, just as chip improvements really started to skyrocket!


> Nukes [1940's], antibiotics [1920's], supersonic jets [1940's], space flight [1960's], the invention of computers [what are we calling this, 1950's?].

Sputnik was in the 1950s, computers happened in the late 40s, and yes, we're calling the time period these things were invented to be 1909 through 1959 or 1919 to 1969; whatever. Compare to the following 50 years of 1959 to 2009... Or compare 1969 to 2019; whatever; doesn't matter. One chunk of time; the EARLY chunk of time demonstrates enormous and obvious progress. The other one contains the iphone and "personal computers." One of them represents a preposterous increase in actual, measurable human power over nature. New things were possible that were not possible before. The other one represents an increase in distractions available to individuals.

>Your military-usefulness definition is interesting, but I think limited, and ignores how competition between societies has changed in non-military ways.

Indeed it does ignore this change, very self consciously so. Imagine if we're playing a game of "Civilization." Which invention, which requires the limited resources of the civilization to be dedicated to its development, confers advantage over the other civilizations? Atom bombs and antibiotics and the invention of computers in the first place, or personal computers and smart phones? Pretty sure the first couple of them are giant leaps forward which means your civilization dominates the other one. Maybe networked computing helps too, if you can use them to subvert the other cultures, but it sure don't look like it from where I am sitting!

>But this is wrong? Productivity stalled in the '70s, just as chip improvements really started to skyrocket!

Yes: that's the point! It may have stalled because the smart people were fucking around uselessly with chips and their useless biproducts when they could have been, say, building better solar or other non-carbon power technologies, or, like Gerald O'Neil's space colonies!


...and we're back to repetition. It doesn't seem like you're willing to question your assumptions, unfortunately.

Anyway, it's been fun! Thanks for the conversation.


> Your argument is specious; flying is categorically vastly different than ... taking the train

That's too strong a claim to accept immediately. 'flying is different' is acceptable if you have evidence or a strong argument. I'd also accept it as a 'fact' if everyone agreed, but they don't - I certainly don't.

Psychologically (rather than physically) taking plane is just a way of getting from here to there, no different than a train in that respect.


OK, I look forward to your surveillance photographs of enemy territory taken on a train. Bombing runs and overnight trips over the ocean in a train will also be amusing. Shooting down enemy planes in a train will also be a neat trick. So will taking the train from remote regions to the hospital. Crop dusting using a train: ditto. Just because your jetblue trips to Baltimore can be replaced with Amtrak doesn't mean the aircraft hasn't radically changed the human condition in ways something like the nerd dildo can't compare to.

Very embarrassing, I was thinking only of human transport. OK, but still, some facts.

> look forward to your surveillance photographs of enemy territory taken on a train

"In 1794, during the Battle of Fleurus, the French Aerostatic Corps balloon L'Entreprenant remained afloat for nine hours. French officers used the balloon to observe the movements of the Austrian Army, dropping notes to the ground for collection by the French Army,[3] and also signalled messages using semaphore.[4]"

from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Surveillance_aircraft#Pre_Worl...

A little more dubiously (I'd need to read up a bit to be sure it's not total tripe):

"In or around the second or third century, a prototype hot air balloon, the Kongming lantern, was invented in China, serving as a military communication station.[2][3]"

from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_aerial_warfare

> So will taking the train from remote regions to the hospital

same could be said of roads. Once a road is present new areas are immediately much more accessible. Roads are ancient.

> the nerd dildo can't compare

Dildos have been around for a long time. Not sure this ad hom adds to your point though.


You know; here's a real simple way to adjudge which technological innovations are important. I should really have thought of this before, but as they say, "stone sharpens steel." Certainly a lot of stones around here.

A categorically "important technological innovation" is the kind that, the possession of which would provide an overwhelming and obvious advantage for the society which possesses it, versus the society which doesn't, in the event of a war. Airplanes. Jets. Spacecraft. Atom Bombs. Radar. Antibiotics. Since 1969, no society on the planet has developed such a technology, or if they have, they ain't talking about it. The end.


[flagged]


You haven't made any points I can identify, so, yes indeed I did ignore them, going back to my point.

I do thank you for taking the time to share your argument; it annoyed me enough to come up with the above summarization of what technologically important breakthroughs are. It also demonstrates ably why a jet airplane is an important improvement over, say, a train; something a child would find obvious, but which some people seem to find confusing.


Since you're struggling, let me point them out.

1. aerial surveillance goes back a lot further than you realised.

Got it?

2. The vietnamese had little of the great advantages you list, yet the US which had them in spades, lost. ISIS is similarly disadvantaged but is also clinging on like the cancer they are.

So your claim there was "overwhelming advantage for the society which possesses [them]" is bunk. Got it?

> demonstrates ably why a jet airplane is an important improvement over, say, a train; something a child would find obvious

which I partly acknowledged, excepting the bits about surveillance. Got it?

The bit about you responding ad hom is dickishly annoying. Got it?


The North Vietnamese lost actually; and had they not been under the Soviet nuclear umbrella, and recipient of billions in Soviet aid, they would have lost a lot quicker to US technological superiority. There were no US troops in South Vietnam when the North entered Saigon.

I dunno what you hope to achieve here; do you think any significant population of people think jets are no big deal?


The US did not achieve their goals is the bottom line. Perhaps another example, the korean war. In both cases the US had the overwhelming advantage including nukes.

Your point is wrong, or right, or needs tightening up so that it can be decided as wrong or right. There is validity in your point but it's not the whole thing, or there would have been unambiguous victory for the US in the cases I gave.

The problem here is not jets/technology but that you won't acknowledge when you're on shaky ground; the problem is now your judgement.

You know what, that's a metaphor for so many of the ills and shortcomings of humanity. You will lose nothing and gain much by just putting your hands up to it and rethinking, but you won't (we're all guilty of that to various degrees, me also).

Your position may be wrong or right or something in between, but it needs refining and thinking through first. Bugs in software are often seen as failings, and they are, but they can be turned into an asset. People's questioning your views here may indicate where you need to rethink (not necessarily change your mind, perhaps just refine and stabilise your position, or perhaps abandon it). Treat their questions and counterclaims as an asset too.


You're refusing to see my heuristic as what it is; a scoring function. As I said above: put it in a wargame simulator like civilization. You only get so many societal resources to invest in your new technology development; only so many smart people to go around. Which would you rather have? A-bombs or iphones?

FWIIW, the US achieved all its goals in the Korean war, and persisted them to the present day, despite the Norks being supported by the Soviets as the North Vietnamese were. Had congress not decided to pull the plug on the South Vietnamese in 1975, there'd probably be two Vietnams as well.


wrt last paragraph: YES! Where is my Tricorder? Or at least modules which could plug into a standard port on smartphones, thereby extending its capabilities? The ideas have been there(and realized in spots), but there is no real (market) incentive for the corporations to do so. It's all about collecting consumer data, profiling, customer retention, rent seeking via dark patterns, bundling, delivering more ads and so on. For nothing. Except the next generation of gadgets.

Read it and I agree with the sentiment. I think the more relevant questions is why has this happened?

Also the promise of a distributed digital networked society is revolutionary. It our actualization that is a simple elaboration on the existing.

If we were all working remote, being educated online, trading digital goods and currencies, and primarily living in VR then I would say a new world had been born.




Guidelines | FAQ | Support | API | Security | Lists | Bookmarklet | Legal | Apply to YC | Contact

Search: