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A Coming Dark Age for Innovation?

Posted by: Rob Hof on July 4, 2005

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.

Reader Comments

John Brothers

July 5, 2005 6:25 PM

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.

Andrew D.

July 5, 2005 6:45 PM

Review of "A Possible Declining Trend for Worldwide Innovation," Jonathan Huebner, Technological Forecasting & Social Change, September 2005 (forthcoming) © 2005 by John Smart
(This article may be reproduced for noncommercial purposes if it is copied in its entirety, including this notice.)

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Bloomberg Businessweek writers Peter Burrows, Cliff Edwards, Olga Kharif, Aaron Ricadela, and Douglas MacMillan, dig behind the headlines to analyze what’s really happening throughout the world of technology. Tech Beat covers everything from tech bellwethers like Apple, Google, and Intel and emerging new leaders such as Facebook to new technologies, trends, and controversies.



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