Christopher Mims wrote an article for the Wall Street Journal titled New Research Busts Popular Myths About Innovation.

« Using both previously untapped pools of data and new analytical methods, along with the usual tools of modern-day forecasting—namely, the predictive algorithms often described as “artificial intelligence”—they are taking a quantitative approach to examining how quickly technologies improve. »

« Now Mr. Singh and Dr. Magee can answer in a fraction of a second the question of how quickly any given technology is advancing. And anyone else can too, by typing the name of that technology into a Google-like search engine the researchers created. Robotics, for example, is improving at the rate of 18.5% a year, which sounds like a lot, except that the average rate of improvement for the more than 1,700 technologies the researchers studied is 19% a year.  »

« It turns out that the number of patents in a given technological field is only weakly correlated with its rate of improvement. A far better predictor is a measure of how a patented technology borrows from seemingly unrelated technologies. Innovation, it turns out, can come from anywhere, and breakthroughs are driven by the incorporation of technologies into one another. »

«  For example, the MIT researchers have found through the patent literature that a principal driver of the steady shrinking of microchip circuitry has been improvements in laser technology. This in some ways answers the question of whether “Moore’s Law” was a self-fulfilling prophecy made by Intel co-founder Gordon Moore, or something that would have happened even without his famous prediction, as lasers got better independent of chip manufacturing, says Dr. Magee. »

« Research done by Dr. Farmer’s group at Oxford backs up one main finding of this and previous research: Viewed across decades, individual technologies change at a surprisingly steady rate. This rate is due to the underlying physics that any given technology is built on, and not to any particular genius or single breakthrough to which we might usually attribute technological advances. »

« Bill Buxton, a researcher at Microsoft Research and one of the creators of the interface on which modern touch computing is based, articulated in 2008 a theory that distills some of the insights of this research into a simple concept. He calls it the “long nose of innovation,” and it describes a graph plotting the rate of improvement, and often adoption, of a technology: a period of apparently negligible gains, followed by exponential growth. »

« “This work is valuable because it shows there are flashes of insight, and people do make changes incrementally, but in general you’re building on something that existed previously,” says Mr. Buxton, referring to the MIT research. “If we get rid of the hero worship and look at the actual process of innovation, we find that it is learnable, just like the piano is learnable.” »

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