Robert Fogel on Technological Acceleration and Economics
Here are a few excerpts from a very interesting interview with Robert Fogel who won the Nobel prize in economics in 1993. Fogel discusses, among other things, how accelerating technologies are influencing economics and human evolution. It seems to me that if he followed the logic of his own findings to their logical conclusions he would be a singularitarian. But, alas, he falls short of that title. Regardless, he is right on the money concerning many economic issues and I recommend reading the entire interview here at Tech Central Station.
Robert Fogel: Well it's based on a long history of improving knowledge. Your web page cites Simon Kuznets on this. The accumulation of knowledge is the basis for modern technology. Later on it becomes not just empirical knowledge, but also science which gives us theories about what to do. And these theories become increasingly effective guides to technological advance. But technological advance is the basis for all economic growth, including the derived growth that I referred to, as you will have technologies that improve productivity in agriculture. It's possible to improve human physiology so there is an interaction, a synergism.
Nick Schulz: Right, and you coin a term in this book called "techno-physio evolution."
Robert Fogel: Right.
Nick Schulz: Explain what that is and explain why it's important.
Robert Fogel: Well, it's the interaction between improvements in technology and improvements in human physiology. The average stature of adult males in Western Europe increased by close to a foot between 1864 and the present.
Nick Schulz: On the subject of techno-physio evolution, you say in the book that, "this evolution is likely to accelerate in this century." Why is that?
Robert Fogel: Well, first of all, our technology is accelerating.
Nick Schulz: How do you measure that? How do you know that it's accelerating?
Robert Fogel: Well in the book I give a diagram and show it visually. I have on the Y axis, the size of the population; and on the other axis, time. And I show the curve of population -- from about 1700 on, that curve becomes almost vertical on the scale that's shown in the book. And then along that scale, I put in scientific innovations. One of the points I make is that it took 4000 years to go from the invention of the plow to figuring out how to hitch a plow up to a horse. And it took 65 years to go from the first flight in a heavier-than-air machine to landing a man on the moon. Not only did that happen in such a short period of time, but over a billion people all over the world watched it happen. So we had communications revolution in a very short period of time. I could work out a precise metric but it wouldn't mean much. It wouldn't give you more information than that diagram does.
I believe that accelerated economic progress is a correllary of accelerated technological development. Already we have the knowledge and resources to lift the billions of humans in underdeveloped nations out of poverty. The problem is not a lack of knowledge or resources, but getting them to where they are needed and of applying them. The development of the computer, the Internet and modern communication devices together with improved search engines, electronic banking and financial transactions, automated trading, and immediate dissemination of news, opinion and advice will accelerate economic progress to levels never seen in history. Forget about China's 9% growth rate - prepare for growth rates of 15, 20 or more!
For more thoughts, see my website
I couldn't agree with you more. I might add that once the economy is fully automated, espespecially at the nano level, and once we have mastered energy production and efficiency the word "capital" will have completely lost its meaning. I can only wonder what that will do to power relations, crime,war, and the very purpose of government. I expect this condition to ge achieved around 2030 or so. For that reason I tell everyone I know to invest heavily in index funds. Just imagine the return on that investment in just fifteen years or so. It kind of makes worrying about the national debt seem rediculous.
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