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October 14, 2011 6:35 PM   Subscribe

"I wonder whether the endless fake cultural wars around identity politics are the main reason we have been able to ignore the tech slowdown for so long." - Peter Thiel, The End of the Future

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posted by beisny (83 comments total) 9 users marked this as a favorite

 
I normally don't say I stopped reading at a certain point, but really?

But in practice, we all sense that such gloating belongs to a very different time. Most of our political leaders are not engineers or scientists and do not listen to engineers or scientists. Today a letter from Einstein would get lost in the White House mail room, and the Manhattan Project would not even get started; it certainly could never be completed in three years. I am not aware of a single political leader in the U.S., either Democrat or Republican, who would cut health-care spending in order to free up money for biotechnology research — or, more generally, who would make serious cuts to the welfare state in order to free up serious money for major engineering projects. Robert Moses, the great builder of New York City in the 1950s and 1960s, or Oscar Niemeyer, the great architect of Brasilia, belong to a past when people still had concrete ideas about the future. Voters today prefer Victorian houses. Science fiction has collapsed as a literary genre. Men reached the moon in July 1969, and Woodstock began three weeks later. With the benefit of hindsight, we can see that this was when the hippies took over the country, and when the true cultural war over Progress was lost.

Really? You're going to throw down......that many inflammatory and unbacked assertions in a single paragraph? If this was a Metafilter post, it'd be ripped to shreds.
posted by zabuni at 6:40 PM on October 14, 2011 [27 favorites]


So... according to this guy, the hippies won and scientific progress was halted forever.

I'm not sure what fantasy world he's performing his Andy Rooney impression from, but last I looked, the hippies didn't win, and we just got a new iPhone last week.

And no, I'm not going to get off his lawn.
posted by hippybear at 6:41 PM on October 14, 2011 [29 favorites]


You've linked to the last page of the essay. The first page is here. I'm not sure whether that's any better than the last page, but it might well be I suppose.
posted by dng at 6:43 PM on October 14, 2011


the hippies didn't did win, and we just got a new iPhone last week.

FTFY. RIP, Steve Jobs.
posted by ZenMasterThis at 6:44 PM on October 14, 2011 [11 favorites]


The problem with technology is that I can't rip this essay to shreds and burn it.
posted by mek at 6:44 PM on October 14, 2011 [6 favorites]


ranging from the collapse of art and literature after 1945

I think this phrase is the key to understanding the modern libertarian - they haven't read anything published after Atlas Shrugged.
posted by mek at 6:46 PM on October 14, 2011 [15 favorites]


Or maybe if more Valley VCs actually invested in the kind of big-arse, large infrastructure hard tech and dense software tech that actually produces net economic and defensible advantage for its host countries (and used to be a Californian signature specialty) instead of noodling around with clades of self-similar social networking ramp-ups seemingly designed for quick exits or valuation pops in Series funding rounds... there might be a "tech slowdown". Of course, if your money making background was noodling around with synthetic financials and "macro strategies" then, compared with this productivity-deficient financial engineering, maybe repeatedly funding the software equivalent of Hallmark Greeting Cards seems like progress.
posted by meehawl at 6:48 PM on October 14, 2011 [12 favorites]


If the hippies won, why aren't we living in a world where love and life are paramount and finding a new mode of expression is more important than finding a new financial instrument?

The worldview of the hippie was pretty deliberately squashed by the capitalist status quo, and those few who cling to the dream are relegated to an underground which has to struggle even to hold annual meetings without harassment from the establishment.

Not sure where you are living, but the hippies certainly did not win.
posted by hippybear at 6:50 PM on October 14, 2011 [21 favorites]


When any given field takes half a lifetime of study to master, who can compare and contrast and properly weight the rate of progress in nanotechnology and cryptography and superstring theory and 610 other disciplines? Indeed, how do we even know whether the so-called scientists are not just lawmakers and politicians in disguise, as some conservatives suspect in fields as disparate as climate change, evolutionary biology, and embryonic-stem-cell research, and as I have come to suspect in almost all fields?

Blanket accusations of scientists do not help the cause of scientific advancement.

This is standard gold bug economics with a dash of culture wars, with some retro railing about hippies. It isn't even insightful crap. It's rambling, all over the map, and offers no solutions.
posted by zabuni at 6:51 PM on October 14, 2011 [8 favorites]


I have a home server sitting on my desk here which contains 7 terabytes of HDs. I'm looking at all this on a 1920*1080 flat panel display, using a computer with a quad core. And I'm wondering, what slowdown?

In 1969, the time he seems nostalgic about, I doubt there was 7 terabytes of HDs in the entire world.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 6:55 PM on October 14, 2011 [4 favorites]


i can't believe i read that entire thing. there wasn't a single idea in the whole piece. i don't even know how to criticize it, it's like it doesn't even exist.
posted by facetious at 6:57 PM on October 14, 2011 [7 favorites]


Is this SeaSteading Peter Thiel?
posted by joe lisboa at 6:58 PM on October 14, 2011


Man Uses Internet To Bemoan Lack Of Progress
posted by BitterOldPunk at 7:04 PM on October 14, 2011 [43 favorites]


I have a home server sitting on my desk here which contains 7 terabytes of HDs. I'm looking at all this on a 1920*1080 flat panel display, using a computer with a quad core. And I'm wondering, what slowdown?

He does mention IT on the third page or so, but just hand waves it away. He does however, totally ignore the strides made in genetically targeted chemotherapy in the last 20 years. Things like Glevac that took the death sentence that some forms of leukemia were and turned it into a chronic disease.

A much better, and rather non-partisan view of the economic stagnation, about the end of easy technological advances leading to lower productivity, can be found in The Great Stagnation by Tyler Cowen. It doesn't have many answers either, but at least it doesn't go around blaming hippies about it.

Is this SeaSteading Peter Thiel?

Yea, and the objectivist leanings in the piece just shine through. Mostly the bitching about how petty politicians ignore the great men of SCIENCE and INDUSTRY.
posted by zabuni at 7:04 PM on October 14, 2011 [4 favorites]


I do think there has been a general retreat from the belief that intelligent and careful work can make the world a better place, but this change includes both the people Thiel refers to as hippies and the people he sees as their opposition.
posted by hattifattener at 7:05 PM on October 14, 2011 [2 favorites]


joe lisboa: "Is this SeaSteading Peter Thiel"

Real question: Did Peter Thiel never play Bioshock?
posted by dunkadunc at 7:07 PM on October 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


Did Peter Thiel never play Bioshock?

It was too much of a hippy thing for him.
posted by GenjiandProust at 7:18 PM on October 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


You can already seen tsunamis of technological change coming in nano/bio-technology, robotics, 3D printing, renewable energy, lighting, sensors ... and in the same way the digital revolution has been seeping into all other fields, many of these advances will accelerate each other and the rest of our technology

The "where's my jetpack" people stuck in their 1950s steelpunk techno-fantasies are going to look very, very stupid over the next few decades
posted by crayz at 7:20 PM on October 14, 2011 [7 favorites]


If this is that Peter Thiel, let me see if I've got this straight. The billionaire hedge fund manager with a substantial part of his fortune in fucking Facebook wants to know where all the productivity went?
posted by JaredSeth at 7:21 PM on October 14, 2011 [28 favorites]


I am not aware of a single political leader in the U.S., either Democrat or Republican, who would cut health-care spending in order to free up money for biotechnology research — or, more generally, who would make serious cuts to the welfare state in order to free up serious money for major engineering projects.

Wait so hold on. Is that your actual plan? Cut health care and the social safety net? Phrased differently — are you seriously positing that what is standing in the way of technological progress is US government spending on health care?
posted by penduluum at 7:22 PM on October 14, 2011 [7 favorites]


I've heard this thesis floating around the conservative mediasphere over the past two weeks, and think it may just be the trend this month. To my mind, it's a two-fold reaction to America's continued economic malaise ("We're just not innovating enough! Why, back in my day, an American farmer was inventing a new whatchamacallit every other week!") combined with the very human tendency to overestimate change over the short term, and thus experience disappointment ("Oh, the new iPhone model is only twice as fast? Yawn.") while underestimating the long-term effects of steady, incremental change.

When you're standing on the back half of the exponential curve and looking at a timeframe of only a year or two, change can appear glacially slow. It's only when you step back and see the big picture of a decade or two of constant innovation that change in most areas becomes astounding. Heck, we were talking about the incredible advances in fMRI technology just last month.

The author also decries the fact that the US has not invested in any huge Manhattan-style projects of late, ignoring the fact that those projects were very much single issues, with a clear goal. The US could have landed a man on the moon and mothballed the entire project the day after: the Space Race was won. While the build-up and research effort for the atomic bomb was immense, the US needed just three to win the war.

The challenges we're facing now in energy, global warming, food and population growth are not issues with single solutions. The problem set is much more diverse. By and large, competition in industry is creating solutions that could be implemented by government (and they could always use more encouragement) but its not clear that a single entity throwing money at the problem would do any better.
posted by Bora Horza Gobuchul at 7:36 PM on October 14, 2011 [5 favorites]


The tech slowdown...if only they were slowing down to smell the roses. What has happened well, the big players are working full time to pervert the tech miracle to their own ends. The big push now with tech is military power, surveillance, satellite mining, new materials to do more of the same, for less money.

In matters of spirit, the caveat goes to seek spirit, and infinity, but there are stumbling blocks. Power and insight lures the seeker away from the original cause.

The tech fulmination had to do with amazing minds, creating what has become the world mind. Now the defensive parts of the world mind are being honed madly to narrow purposes. The focus of the whole thing has become power, power to control the now, the markets, the future, the information which will drive actions of buyers, takers, owners, losers, the taken. It is more the tech dumb down, than the tech slow down. While it was developing there was unlimited capital for the creative push, now it has reached a point where the cunning will put it to use. The whole blush, the first kiss, the hand holding, that is over.
posted by Oyéah at 7:39 PM on October 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


The problems: No man, check out the US Congress! Energy, global warming, food and population growth are not issuesThe US Congress is for population growth to make more money spenders, the air is garbage dump, food, well we will be getting a lot of "food" from Colombia, via the Panama Canal, now that the trade barriers are down. *snort*, the money does not consider the main problems the world faces, problems at all. These "problems" are solutions for the problem of not enough profit. The tech explosion was nice for five minutes, until it could be understood well enough by the dim, to pervert it, to business as usual.
posted by Oyéah at 7:44 PM on October 14, 2011 [2 favorites]


This guy is the poster boy for why the rich should he taxed more.
posted by humanfont at 7:50 PM on October 14, 2011 [17 favorites]


...cut health-care spending in order to free up money for biotechnology research...

Wealthy Libertarian Demands Government Handouts.
posted by AlsoMike at 7:51 PM on October 14, 2011 [10 favorites]


Peter Thiel is probably rich enough that he could build a few rockets to the moon out of his own pocket if he wanted to.

**waiting**
posted by Avenger at 7:51 PM on October 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


I mean, this is really one of the things that *gets* my goat about Randianism. The idea is that once rich people are free from their Inferiors, they'll go around doing awesome things like solving world hunger and building spaceships or whatever.

But reality tells us that they mostly buy expensive New York condos in which to throw cocaine-fueled sex parties. It's like, you know, the Randian dystopia that we're heading towards wouldn't be so bad if our super-rich overlords actually had some class or some kind of grand technological vision. But they don't. They do the same thing with $10 billion that you or I would do with $10 billion: get high and bang hot people.

That, to me, is exactly what Rand got wrong. She envisioned that there were two human races: the superior, glorious Elite who have all the good ideas and insufferable, gnawing Masses who do everything wrong. But there is only one human race. We are all just monkeys, no matter how much money or influence we have.
posted by Avenger at 7:57 PM on October 14, 2011 [45 favorites]


Hmm. Don't have time to read the full article just yet, but from the snippets that have been posted, this sounds at least tangentially similar to what Neal Stephenson was saying in a piece posted on the blue recently re: our scientific future. Guess I'll have to read the full thing later to see whether that similarity is more than passing...
posted by limeonaire at 8:02 PM on October 14, 2011


The author also decries the fact that the US has not invested in any huge Manhattan-style projects of late, ignoring the fact that those projects were very much single issues, with a clear goal. The US could have landed a man on the moon and mothballed the entire project the day after: the Space Race was won.

His literary device about the hippies is cute, but this. I mean, this is what happened.
"The budgetary myopia which forced [the decision to cut two Apollo missions] can only vindicate the critics who have insisted that Apollo was motivated by purely prestige considerations, not scientific goals."
And it was nearly more extreme: "Present tentative plans call for major reductions or change in NASA, by eliminating the last two Apollo flights (16 and 17), and eliminating or sharply reducing the balance of the Manned Space Program (Skylab and Space Shuttle) and many remaining NASA programs."
posted by The Bridge on the River Kai Ryssdal at 8:03 PM on October 14, 2011


Peter Thiel's list of "philanthropic" enterprises:

1. The Thiel Fellowship, which will award $100,000 each to 20 people under 20 years old, in order to spur them to quit college to do something else (despite his own elite liberal education that benefited him so much).

2. Seasteading (ie. gated community to keep out the poor uneducated masses. See #1).

3. $400,000 matching funds for the annual Singularity Challenge (ie. religious cult).

4. donate $3.5 million to foster anti-aging research (ie. religious cult).

I give him credit for not being a Sociologist anyway.
posted by stbalbach at 8:14 PM on October 14, 2011 [3 favorites]


Only if Peter Thiel gets

Avenger: "Peter Thiel is probably rich enough that he could build a few rockets to the moon out of his own pocket if he wanted to. "

I'd rather he build himself a rocket to Venus.
posted by dunkadunc at 8:19 PM on October 14, 2011


A previous post nailed it. Too much data, not enough analysis. This isn't a knock against researchers, so much as it a call to arms to bring stats to the masses.
posted by Slap*Happy at 8:21 PM on October 14, 2011


There's plenty of room at the bottom, just not in the type of nanotechnology that Feynman envisioned. Progress in bio is accelerating unbelievably quickly. The cost of DNA sequencing is falling by a factor of 10 a year! A factor of 10! And if you plot the cost vs. time on a log scale, the curve still looks exponential. This makes Moore's law look fairly pathetic, it's been going on for a decade, and there's no reason for the trend not to continue. I'm not a terribly good student of history, but I don't know of any comparable sort of technological progress in any other field.

Previously we've never had very good microscopes for examining cells because most everything's transparent and you can't identify single copies of macromolecules with electrons or X-rays or anything other visualization technologies. But sequencing is changing all that; biology is going to absolutely explode because of cheap sequencing. Medicine will still take a long time to change, because human lives take a long time to live, but the huge diversity in new types of treatment modalities (molecules attached to antibodies, lipid vessicle delivery systems, microenvironment targeting) has more potential for programmable treatment than anything that we've seen before. We've been playing in the mud for the past century with chemistry and biochemistry, but the technology both for observation and manipulation are finally catching up with our imaginations.

My wife just asked me what was wrong, because I was typing so loudly and angry. What's wrong is that Peter Thiel is terribly wrong on the Internet. And really, he has no excuse to be wrong, because if he's halfway smart he's investing in new startups addressing this, like any half-rational tech-inclined billionaires. Perhaps he's not half-rational? I'm tempted to think that he knows that he's spouting BS, and is doing it purely to advance a political agenda.

And speaking of that agenda, the DNA sequencing revolution was inspired by a government market for early technology (human genome project), just like the semiconductor industry was (defense and aerospace).
posted by Llama-Lime at 8:29 PM on October 14, 2011 [7 favorites]


Speaking of nanotechnology and DNA...

I heard this interview on NPR earlier today about using DNA as a way to program nanomaterials into precise formations, and it was kind of mindblowing. As in, mindblowing enough that even Ira Flatow couldn't quite wrap his brain around the concept.
posted by hippybear at 8:35 PM on October 14, 2011 [2 favorites]


So without reading the piece yet, forgive me if this has been covered, but technological innovation has stalled in the past decade. I've been curious why this is, I read the best rationale so far here on Metafilter, basically the easy things have been done already and the problems we have left are magnitudes bigger than previous problems, Tech has stalled due to the problems being thornier than they were previously.

The only thing that has gotten better in the last decade is data transfer speed. I remember not that long ago the claim was that 56 Kbs data was the fastest you could physically move ones and zeros across copper wire and into my home/workplace. Really? Outside of common place broadband, nothing has gotten any better in the last decade.

I'm not sure this is the hippies fault though.
posted by Keith Talent at 8:36 PM on October 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


technological innovation has stalled in the past decade

No, it hasn't.
posted by hippybear at 8:37 PM on October 14, 2011


So what is vastly mind numbingly better?

And not just incrementally better, but so new ten years ago I couldn't even conceive of it better?
posted by Keith Talent at 8:41 PM on October 14, 2011


I thought tech advances helped distract us from the very real, very ugly divide in values between us and our countrymen, which we like to pretend doesn't exist until forcefully proven wrong.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 8:48 PM on October 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


Well, leaving aside the past 10 years of computer development including the emergence of smartphones and tablet computing which actually works and the many daily miracles which are embodied in a lot of the apps you can purchase for less than the cost of an Extra Value Meal...

Cancer fighting has gotten incredibly better, with targeted treatments that weren't conceivable 10 years ago. Not to mention the development of understanding of many cancers as being caused by viruses and subsequent vaccinations which can prevent the cancers from happening....

DNA sequencing has gotten so fast due to technological innovation that it's now possible to get a personalized genome delivered to you in a very short amount of time. That was impossible in 2001.

Those are just a few examples off the top of my head. There are undoubtedly a lot more which I can't come up with a few drinks in on a Friday evening, but others can and probably will mention them if they're given the chance.

If you can't see the miracles around you, it's not the fault of the pace of technology. It's the fault of the world you live in changing so quickly and you being marketed to so heavily that you can't notice the things around you which were unimaginable a decade ago.
posted by hippybear at 8:50 PM on October 14, 2011 [4 favorites]


I remember not that long ago the claim was that 56 Kbs data was the fastest you could physically move ones and zeros across copper wire and into my home/workplace

So let's say that was around 1996. It's now 15 years later. You know, think of the difference between technology in the year 1800 and the year 1815 for comparison

So, now you can get a device that's far faster than the fastest desktop computer from that time, with a 4 inch LED screen of practically the same resolution as the 20lb 15" CRT monitor you were using back then, which gets 100 times that 56k model in download speeds wirelessly, anywhere

Also it has two integrated digital cameras, both higher resolution than you could buy as dedicated devices back then, an integrated GPS like only the military was using, an accelerometer, compass, etc. You can store maps for the entire country that would have filled your glove box, thousands of songs that would have filled your CD cases, dozens of movies in higher resolution than you would have got out of your stacks of VHS tapes. Oh and since most of your friends have a similar device you can stay in touch all the time through live text, voice and video from basically anywhere on earth

Did I mention this device is the size of a deck of playing cards and costs a few hundred dollars?
posted by crayz at 8:51 PM on October 14, 2011 [7 favorites]


"the endless fake cultural wars around identity politics " said the rich white guy.
posted by Auguris at 8:58 PM on October 14, 2011 [13 favorites]


Oh, right, the whole "we can see what you're brain is seeing" technological development which is happening with the fMRI frontier. That is something which was purely science fiction 10 years ago, but which is happening right now. In fact, most of the "this is what your brain is doing when you think of that" studies have come out in the past 10 years due to technology development.

And let's not forget all the new tech which is happening in regard to war injuries and how to treat them, including the development of intelligent replacement limbs. Plus the cutting edge research which involve brain control of mechanical devices (they have monkeys which not only can control an artificial arm but also can use the sensors on that mechanical device to determine the difference between the textures of what the arm is encountering).

All of this is new tech, and doesn't even begin to scratch the surface of what is happening in tech development these days.

Just because you don't have it in your living room doesn't mean the tech isn't moving forward.
posted by hippybear at 8:59 PM on October 14, 2011


So, now you can get a device that's far faster than the fastest desktop computer from that time, with a 4 inch LED screen of practically the same resolution as the 20lb 15" CRT monitor you were using back then, which gets 100 times that 56k model in download speeds wirelessly, anywhere

But that's not new, merely better. My claim isn't that things aren't becoming better/cheaper/more useful, merely that there's nothing new. Ten years ago, digital photography existed, GPS existed, portable computing existed, they are not new, just better. Granted the ability to watch a movie while on a train via a personal device is pretty cool, as is the ability to play Angry Bird between here and Hong Kong, but outside that, nothing in the past decade is new.
posted by Keith Talent at 9:01 PM on October 14, 2011


> Conservatives used to believe in confronting hard truths

No they didn't. Always been the opposite, actually.
posted by 0xdeadc0de at 9:09 PM on October 14, 2011 [2 favorites]


All of this is new tech, and doesn't even begin to scratch the surface of what is happening in tech development these days.

Just because you don't have it in your living room doesn't mean the tech isn't moving forward.


The key word there is living room.

That's awesome that MRI machines can watch brain synapses firing in real time, yet the human lifespan is unchanged due these developments. Previous generations of gadgets made life better for all of us, currently we are in a holding pattern of "things might get better one day".

Honestly, I would love to stand corrected, but I'm not sure that mortality rates from most cancers are falling. If they are and I'm incorrect, I will humbly and gladly state I'm wrong, but my instincts say they are not. We may be on the verge of significant developments, but I'm not sure we are here yet.

A decade ago stem cells were going to change everything for everyone. The silence on that front leads to to believe that developments have stalled.
posted by Keith Talent at 9:09 PM on October 14, 2011


A decade ago stem cells were going to change everything for everyone. The silence on that front leads to to believe that developments have stalled.

We've made dramatic strides in our ability to gather and algorithmically analyze affordable, reliable, detailed data about our biological and other systems through digital technology, and the general trend has been for that new data to show us just how woefully simplistic our previous understandings were

It's going to take a fair amount of time for us to really dig through it all, figure out some of the more important misunderstandings, and start building new theories. But this process has started. Old ideas like Mendelian genetics or neural network models are turning out to be laughably simplistic

It's not that there hasn't been progress, but a lot of the progress so far has simply been realizing just how many old ideas need to be binned
posted by crayz at 9:19 PM on October 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


When Jobs died, I went through the past decade of Metafilter posts tagged Apple. People were speculating about the new Powerbooks at the turn of the century. Does Thiel really believe technology has been at a standstill for the past decade? If so, I'd have to put him in the "lucky" rather than "smart" slot of venture capitalists.

nothing in the past decade is new

Teleporting photons.
Growing non-rejectable organs from protein scaffolds.
Autonymous cars.
Graphene.

And that is just off the top of my head. Either you and Thiel aren't reading the news, or you're "lucky".
posted by pashdown at 9:29 PM on October 14, 2011


Between 1990 and 2007, death rates in the U.S. for all cancers combined decreased by 22% for men and 14% for women, resulting in 898,000 fewer deaths from the disease during this time period (ACS, Facts & Figures, 2011). Today, more than 68% of adults are living 5 or more years after initial diagnosis, up from 50% in 1975; and the 5-year survival rate for all childhood cancers combined is 80% vs. 52% in 1975 (SEER, NCI). As a result of our Nation’s investments in cancer and biomedical research, about 12 million cancer survivors are alive in the U.S. today, and 15% of these cancer survivors were diagnosed 20 or more years ago.

Our unprecedented progress against cancer is the result of extraordinary advances in research, combined with both visionary public health policy and the passionate work of survivor and patient advocates. For example, the translation of fundamental discoveries from the laboratory to the clinic has produced over 30 FDA-approved molecularly targeted drugs that are less toxic and more effective in treating a number of cancers... -- AACR Cancer Progress Report 2011 [PDF]
posted by Llama-Lime at 9:36 PM on October 14, 2011 [6 favorites]


Keith Talent, you're spawning an interesting discussion and that may have been your intent, but to further it: is it possible you are not seeing the improvements in technology because they have not been commoditised yet, as GPS, digital cameras etc. have been to a vast degree now?
posted by Aiwen at 9:37 PM on October 14, 2011


Did I mention this device is the size of a deck of playing cards and costs a few hundred dollars?

That integration, convergence and miniaturization is all fine and good, but as far as computing and information technology has been concerned my opinion is that we have been at a standstill.

I mention this a lot, but in the late 1980s I had a cheap "netbook" that was basically a portable modem and terminal. Anywhere I could plug or clip into a plain phone line I could dial one of my local BBSes for free, stay in touch, etc. This was mostly a text or text-graphics based experience - but the concept is basically the same as a modern netbook or iPhone. It cost me $300 in mid-late 1980 dollars, which is within an order of magnitude.

Sure, put it next to any modern phone and it's a tiny, limited little thing. But using it in 1988? It was a god-mode tech experience for some random kid that saved up his allowance for the cheapest modem+terminal combination he could afford - simply because it wasn't common yet, but I still had high network density and support thanks to exposed phone jacks everywhere I went. How many people (kids or not) were checking their "email" on the go between classes at school, or hanging out at the mall in that time frame?

So the idea of a portable "media and communication" gadget isn't really that new or that revolutionary. The only real advance is the "faster and smaller" part combined with the adoption rate and wide, effortless connectivity. (Anyone remember "ubiquitous computing"?)

Most of the pure IT "advances" people keep touting in this thread are all concepts that were thought up, designed and deployed as much as three decades ago. Or more.

Yeah, I'm splitting hairs between the early adopters and the long tail - and it's the long tail and wide adoption and consensus that makes an iPhone much more useful than, say, a Palm Pilot. A disconnected computer is only half a computer and all that. A very well connected computer is much more of a computer.

Which brings me to my point - wide adoption and easy availability of what is now a common technology is not actually innovation. That's putting the highway before the car.

So. Hardware wise? Network-wise? IT is totally stagnating. We haven't had any real major breakthroughs besides speed and density in both number of devices and density of the connections between those devices. But it's still basically the same conceptual thing as any networked personal computer.

There have been a lot of innovations in software and how we handle and interact with that data - but, again, a lot of these "new" ideas are predicted in prior art as much as a few decades ago. This is what "convergence" and "ubiquitous computing" was all about, and that road map was written back in the 70s and 80s.

Even the advent of what we call "the web" was predicted in various hypertext formats. HTML (and DNS) just made it much easier to make and link hypertext.

Off the top of my head I can't think of any seriously major CS/IT advances that are on par with "personal computer", "Integrated Circuit microprocessor", "compiler", "memory" or even just "transistor". Even intel's new "3D" transistor (which is really neat!) is still just a transistor.

Optical storage? How old is the CD, now? 30 years old? A DVD or Blu-Ray is just a fancy CD. The main innovation here was actually lasers, which are now almost 50 years old?

Even CAD/CNC - and by subset - rapid prototyping or 3D printing, but those are both really natural applications of existing technologies. The idea of "rapid prototyping" existed long before 3D printers. People just built models from drawings by hand.

A major innovation in IT technology would be something like quantum or photonic computing. Something that exceeds and breaks Moore's law.

Another major innovation on the horizon is the memristor, which is a "missing" fundamental electronic component first theorized back in the early 1970s. It's a fundamental, passive component like a transistor, a resistor, and a capacitor - the DNA of digital electronic computing.

Memory, storage and computing in general is likely going to accelerate a bit when those come on the market.

Sure, all of this ubiquitous computer/information technology and "faster and denser" drives innovation in nearly all other fields from astrophysics to zoology - but we've reached a sort of gridlock or stasis called Moore's Law about CS/IT innovation.

And I'm not defending nor siding with the chickenheaded Randian opinions of the article in the post, just pointing out that pure IT innovation has been predictable, flat and steady.
posted by loquacious at 9:38 PM on October 14, 2011 [5 favorites]


Why did Mr Billionaire need a grant from a philanthropy fund ( not his own ) for this article ?
posted by Bwithh at 9:51 PM on October 14, 2011


Doesn't this dude know the hippies saved physics?
posted by escabeche at 9:55 PM on October 14, 2011


I kind of get the conceit that a particular kind of futurism is linked to the polarised cold war period. The existential threats were big and the solutions were big and the distractions of the time were big. It was a period of concentrated peak energy and concentrated political power and concentrated economic power and because it was a time of peaks it was also sustainable. As this period peaked in an existential moment, scientific minds and sociopolitical thinking were beginning to push their ideas for a post cold-war world as their vision for a better future; and that's when futurism was killed.

I think the ideas of Buckminster Fuller present a good example. The man was not a hippie as we understand hippies, he was a contractor to the US military but he identified problems with the status quo, and talked about them. This excerpt from Buckminster Fuller entry on wikipedia. Fuller was concerned about sustainability and about human survival under the existing socio-economic system, yet remained optimistic about humanity's future.
So here he was as an older gentleman, one of the influential futurists of his time and this is one of his quotes. "Selfishness is unnecessary and hence-forth unrationalizable as mandated by survival. War is obsolete."

He wasn't the only scientific mind coming to heretical conclusions and as ideas they began to gather more support until they were suppressed. It's not that futurism stopped all by itself; it was crushed because it began to morph into something that challenged the Military–industrial-congressional complex. Futurism ran into political barriers and trying to change things could get you shot or ruin your reputation.

The technical, engineering and scientific classes witnessing the reprisals of the era have since then adopted more of an apolitical stance that lets them get their work done. Of course there's a future that didn't happen and it won't happen; unless we try again.
posted by vicx at 10:13 PM on October 14, 2011 [4 favorites]


My guess is it's becoming increasing obvious to Thiel that the Singularity will not happen before he dies. Any rate of technological progress seems slow next to your previously deniable now looming mortality.
posted by Ictus at 10:29 PM on October 14, 2011


It is not advisable, Peter, to venture unsolicited opinions. You should spare yourself the embarrassing discovery of their exact value to your listener.

- Paraphrased from Atlas Shrugged
posted by bpm140 at 10:30 PM on October 14, 2011


What gets me is that Mr. Advanced Technology is using as the epigraph of his rant a couple of verses from a book of mystical visions compiled from any number of possible authors who probably lived during the reign of Domitian.
posted by blucevalo at 10:47 PM on October 14, 2011


I'm all in favor of seasteading, because I know what a couple of tons of submerged ANFO can do to a large boat.
posted by Grimgrin at 11:13 PM on October 14, 2011


That's awesome that MRI machines can watch brain synapses firing in real time, yet the human lifespan is unchanged due these developments.

And as a rich white guy, living longer is really the only advance you're interested in. Just like Thiel.
posted by happyroach at 12:55 AM on October 15, 2011


stbalbach: I give him credit for not being a Sociologist anyway.

I know what you meant to say, but this made me laugh. Burn! Take that, Talcott Parsons and Anthony Giddens!

No Randian could handle the cognitive dissonance that would result from learning some actual social science. Or at least, they wouldn't remain a Randian.

On the stalling pace of innovation and Thiel's declining hope for rapture: well, after all, the Singularity has already happened. Long before identity politics or even the Cold War.

(Of course, of course, biotech and the internet and so forth are extremely exciting, but a bit of historical perspective goes a long way.)
posted by col_pogo at 1:04 AM on October 15, 2011 [4 favorites]


A decade ago stem cells were going to change everything for everyone. The silence on that front leads to to believe that developments have stalled.

The politically-based shitcanning, by President Goon and his stable of acephalics, of most of the possible research into stem cells might be part of the reason it's stalled. I'd even go so far as to say that the rabidly pro-life never-harm-anything-from-merged-egg-and-sperm-on-up-until-birth crowd of flaming psychotics have done more to harm biotechnological advancement than any three other obstructions combined.
posted by mephron at 4:20 AM on October 15, 2011


*still waiting for Keith Talent's humble and glad statement*
posted by likeso at 5:46 AM on October 15, 2011


Peter Thiel cannot have been in San Francisco in 1967 at the origin or the hippie deal because he is not old enough. I was not either. But I am pretty sure that I have better information on what happened than he did.

The hippies took over one neighborhood for two months until it was obviously overrun with bums, drunks, druggies, thieves, and grifters. By the time most people arrived the jig was already up. The hippies never won anything, and by the time of Woodstock they were viewed as outsiders by an overwhelming majority, including a distinct majority within their own age group.

This bogus history he has is ridiculous. It seems like he got it from one of those guys who thinks we would have won the war in Vietnam if it wasn't for the silly protesters in the States.
posted by bukvich at 6:12 AM on October 15, 2011


runaway welfare states? He lost me in the 1st paragraph.
posted by surplus at 6:24 AM on October 15, 2011


A decade ago stem cells were going to change everything for everyone. The silence on that front leads to to believe that developments have stalled.
At the conference, I heard about amazing progress being made towards modeling neurological disease, regenerating heart tissue, growing kidneys, and even curing HIV.
The silence you refer to may be the result of having your fingers stuck in your ears.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 6:27 AM on October 15, 2011


PS beisny:

poor marks for not linking me to the quote in your headline.
posted by surplus at 6:31 AM on October 15, 2011


By the time most people arrived the jig was already up.

Ah yes, the Summer of Love. Seems to have been a major disappointment for everyone. I missed it, having been conscripted into the Army. I couldn't wait to finish my tour in Vietnam so I could come back and be one of the silly protesters.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 6:31 AM on October 15, 2011


poor marks for not linking me to the quote in your headline.

never mind! (darn those multi page articles!)
posted by surplus at 6:36 AM on October 15, 2011


The hippies never won anything

Well, that's not entirely true.
posted by hippybear at 6:43 AM on October 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


The hippies never won anything

Well, that's not entirely true.
posted by hippybear at 9:43 AM on October 15 [+] [!]


You would say that. I suppose you will also tell us that bears have accomplished a lot, besides stealing picnic baskets and mauling hikers....
posted by GenjiandProust at 6:53 AM on October 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


besides stealing picnic baskets and mauling hikers

And, you know, growing nice beards.
posted by GenjiandProust at 6:54 AM on October 15, 2011 [3 favorites]


Men reached the moon in July 1969, and Woodstock began three weeks later. With the benefit of hindsight, we can see that this was when the hippies took over the country, and when the true cultural war over Progress was lost.

The writer is stunningly ignorant of history. He's either such a shoddy researcher that he should be forced into 098 remedial college course or he's bald face liar or (most likely) he's writing shit to back up his viewpoints.

NASA had every intention of having a manned orbital mission to Venus in the '70s and land people on Mars. The agency were primed, set and ready to do a lot exploration. They kept hiring astronauts left and right, because they were fully anticipating a huge program, lunar bases, orbital space stations with 12-100 people, a space shuttle to ferry crew and equipment from ground to orbit, a space tug system between the moon and earth and Mars bases.

Lyndon B. Johnson cut their budget for funds to social programs and the Vietnam war. Nixon canceled all of the above except for the Space Shuttle, which was put on an extremely limited budget and we all know how that went.

The hippies? They were out dancing in a muddy field, listening to music, getting high and fucking. At no point did they have the power to escalate the war in Vietnam, as Johnson did. Nor did they presume to tell scientists and engineers how to build rockets and how much it would cost, as Nixon and Congress did.

So to repeat the obvious, the writer is full of complete shit.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 6:56 AM on October 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


Well, bears are the number one threat to America... Just ask Stephen Colbert.
posted by hippybear at 6:56 AM on October 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


Randomness. The information age is already giving way to a new age of using random chance to get things done. Like information, luck, or whatever you might call it, has always been there, but hidden under the other labels we call what we do. The mind-bending, world changing innovations you're looking for are those which depend on the kindness of fate. I propose we call it, The Weird Age.
posted by wobh at 7:56 AM on October 15, 2011


When we eat the rich, let's make this guy the appetizer.
posted by fatbird at 8:07 AM on October 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


When we eat the rich, let's make this guy the appetizer.

I thought were cutting back on fat and sugar?
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 8:19 AM on October 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


I thought were cutting back on fat and sugar?

And preservatives. Fortunately, after the seasteads are overrun by pirates, the corpses will salt-cure nicely, and the process will leech some of the poisons out of the meat. Assuming anyone want to go out and harvest them.
posted by GenjiandProust at 8:21 AM on October 15, 2011


I bet when we cook him we find that he's mostly added water and air and there's not much left to serve.
posted by hippybear at 8:23 AM on October 15, 2011


It's interesting that we're even in a position to bitch about "merely" keeping up with Moore's law. "Continued exponential improvement in computing power? How mundane! How tedious! I want something new."

I mean, I usually feel the same way. Just doubling the speed or density or capacity of some hardware component is kind of ho-hum now. I don't wet my pants every time a new generation of chips comes out, and neither does anyone else. But the fact that we can take this sort of rapid improvement for granted....

Look, right now the boring status quo is "Our ability to handle data will keep growing faster than at any other point in human history." Our ability to be bored by that means we're living in a pretty exciting era.
posted by nebulawindphone at 8:30 AM on October 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


oh boy - "End of History!" hyperbole.

The Problem with technology is that I can't rip this essay to shreds and burn it.

But you CAN, print it out and rip it up.


I am not aware of a single political leader in the U.S., either Democrat or Republican, who would cut health-care spending in order to free up money for biotechnology research — or, more generally, who would make serious cuts to the welfare state in order to free up serious money for major engineering projects.

in the two hours since this post was made 273 Million dollars has been spent on the military. I kinda doubt Health care and Social Security are the problems in funding here.

Shorter version, "I got mine the rest of you can go hang. Where's my jet pack waaaaa!"
posted by edgeways at 8:49 AM on October 15, 2011


Tsk, has Thiel not fucked off to his libertarian oil-rig island made of gold yet?

'Hippies took over the future', uh-huh, of course they did. With wild-eyed Dope Fiends as their accomplices, for sure.

I know you could buy a small country and all that, but dear Peter, if Paypal never existed, something else would and the world would be not much different. You didn't cure cancer, you're not Really Special, and if you haven't been able to get out to the Grand Sea Paradise of the Swivel-eyed Ideologues I'll row you there myself.
posted by reynir at 10:40 AM on October 15, 2011


edgeways: I am fully with you in spirit, but healthcare and social security together take up 43% of the US budget to the DoD's 20% (which I believe includes extraordinary appropriations for Iraq and Afghanistan). Not to say that that 20% couldn't and shouldn't shrink, but progressives should walk into these debates with their numbers straight.
posted by col_pogo at 12:25 PM on October 15, 2011


Peter Thiel is probably rich enough that he could build a few rockets to the moon out of his own pocket if he wanted to.

Say, wasn't that a Little Feat song?

Speaking of hippies ...
posted by krinklyfig at 4:24 PM on October 15, 2011


I don't think the pace of technological progress is slowing down. The US still invests a fortune in research, with pretty dramatic payoffs even in just the last couple of years.

But we do have a serious problem. Consider things from the perspective of a smart American 18-year-old. She could go into finance or medicine or law, and compete against other smart Americans. Or she could go into science and engineering, and compete against the very smartest people from essentially the entire world who are coming to America to work and study -- and possibly end up stuck in low-pay, no-benefits postdocs for her entire career. Very few Americans choose the latter option.

That's OK from a scientific productivity standpoint -- lots of cheap labor from abroad -- but if it continues for decades the average American will have about the same chances of knowing a real scientist as knowing a professional athlete or a movie star. I believe the politicians they elect will be far more reluctant to continue shelling out billions on scientific research.
posted by miyabo at 4:37 PM on October 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


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