Will technological innovation ever end?

By Confusion on Sunday 19 April 2009 11:16 - Comments (10)
Categories: Science, Technology, Views: 3.818

Sometimes people seem to make sense, but when you think about it a bit longer, you discover they're just rambling. Take What if our tech is good enough. Based on observations of the sales of Blue-Ray discs, Windows Vista and some other technological advancess, the author concludes that the improvements these technologies offer are too small to attract consumers and consequently there is no more room for innovation. The article ends rather abruptly, but the unspoken implication is that the manufacturers are doomed and that, perhaps, even technology in general has reached an endpoint.

Given the examples (though not all of them), that seems to make sense: at some point something is just so good that you couldn't wish for a better version. If you can't buy a better version of something that will work for twenty years, then the number of products sold will decline fast and the manufacturer has a problem. However, that line of though misses three important points
  • Every product has always reached a mature phase and manufacturers are usually prepared for that to happen. There haven't been major improvements in world receiver radio's for quite some time, but they are still being produced and sold.
  • When the improvement upon the previous model decreases, the time to general adoption grows. This is usually because the price lowers with time and the cost-benefit ratio increases. If the time grows too large, steps may be skipped: 100GB video discs may well be the next big thing, even if blu-ray fails.
  • It is about perceived improvement more than about real improvement. Did I actually need this 32" LCD television? Is it actually that much better than my previous 24" CRT version? I don't think so, yet I bought it.
Therefore, we can conclude that the author was just following a train of thought that he didn't follow far enough. The rather abrupt end indicates that he should have expanded upon his thoughts or should have thrown the article away and written about something else.

Nevertheless, this does leave us with one really interesting question: will there ever be a time when no technological improvements are marketable anymore? When you have your range of Star Trek technology: holosuite, replicator, spaceship, transporter, ..., would there still be a consumer market for new technology? If not, then the question is when the effective end would be reached.

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Comments


By Tweakers user xtremespeed, Sunday 19 April 2009 12:35

There is anough room to make stuff better. Ipods with touch schreens that can budge, 3D interractive OS. Just use your emagination. The innovation wont end till we are all energy or till It starts rain uranium. :)

By Tweakers user Mentalist, Sunday 19 April 2009 13:30

There is a point here.

Not so long ago, everyone was always looking for a faster computer that would be capable of more stuff. But this seems to be changing. Anything somewhat recent is capable of running office applications and a webbrowser, and many people don't need much more than that.

In the past, memory was quite expensive, and 512MB is not really a luxury to run an OS and office applications smooth. But anything over 512MB is hardly a requirement at all. And Office applications are also "complete". If you work with an office suite released 5 years ago or a pre-release of the latest and greatest, they all allow writing letters.

There are still new things being developed, like 3D-desktops - but most normal people couldn't be bothered. The improvement is not just too small - many people don't consider it an improvement at all.

So what I'm seeing here is that I got the woman next door an Athlon K7-class machine with 512 megabytes of memory, and there doesn't seem to be any reason, not now or in the forseeable future, to upgrade that. If anything, I might at some point throw in an SSD, even in such older machines that is probably the best upgrade that you could really "feel".

But that's just something that seems to be happening now. Did your electric water boiler improve much lately? Your calculator? Battery charger? We only replace those things when they are broken.

I personally don't think this is a bad thing. I think the amount of stuff we still buy is madness. I believe that if only we would stop buying junk we don't need and goods we don't use, we would be buying less than half of what we're buying now. If this development helps in buying less, I would consider that to be a good thing.

[Comment edited on Sunday 19 April 2009 13:34]


By Tweakers user Meph, Sunday 19 April 2009 17:28

Check out this site:

http://www.microsoft.com/emea/teched2008/itpro/

And browse to the video:

How IT will change in next 10 years and why should you care? (Miha Kralj)

My point of view: As the world around us will always change and evolve, so will our technologies.

By Tweakers user Punkie, Monday 20 April 2009 12:46

There is no such thing as "enough" in tech. There is always a use for it and improvements are not gonna stop anywhere in the future that we can clearly see (talking about 500 years here). Every bit of knowledge contributes in one way or another.

Sadly a lot of people disagree and mark that this or that is not a useful innovation or product. For all those remarks, time has proven them wrong. Everytime. They lack the imagination to see what it can be used for, which, shouldn't be a problem when they dont assume that because *they* cant think of a use, that no one else can think of a good use. Which is even more appalling.

W3ird_N3rd reaction is typical to that. He takes 1 situation and expands it to include all possible situations.
Not so long ago, everyone was always looking for a faster computer that would be capable of more stuff. But this seems to be changing.
No it is not. Not at all in fact. I am involved in designing those new machines and the requests for better is increasing. The price they are willing to pay for an improvement is even increasing. People could use use a better OS, browser, office and those better product will require far more power.
and 512MB is not really a luxury to run an OS and office applications smooth
What are you talking about? You are talking about YOUR os and office at this moment. But what about 10 years ago? 512 was just too much then. And in 10 years it will be not enough. I am assuming that 10 years ago you would have said that 4MB should be enough for this.
And Office applications are also "complete"
They are not. You cant imaging improvements but other ppl can.
The improvement is not just too small - many people don't consider it an improvement at all.
Now what shall it be? Is it an improvement or not? If it isnt, then there is no such thing as improvements. If it is, then what is your point?
So what I'm seeing here is that I got the woman next door an Athlon K7...
Again extending your environment to every possible situation. Dont do that. I cant imagine what Einstein could, but i am not denying that he cant come up with things i cant imagine.
Did your electric water boiler improve much lately?
Yes. Prices dropped to a tenth due to improvements to alloys, plastics, water supply networks,... Maybe you didnt realize it, but again, you are not everyone.

By Tweakers user Mentalist, Monday 20 April 2009 17:29

All those bold words are not really necessary.

The problem is in our different points of view. I am talking about average Joe (and Jane), you are talking about anyone. I am talking about a relative short-term, you are talking about eternity.

Now to respond to your reply:
No it is not. Not at all in fact. I am involved in designing those new machines and the requests for better is increasing. The price they are willing to pay for an improvement is even increasing.
Now you are actually extending your environment to every possible situation. Some companies are sure looking for better&more, but the way I see it, average Joe does not want much more. Average Joe wants more affordable computers, and computers that are smaller and more silent. When it comes to hardware, that's what they want. They don't want a Gedeon Pro XT FX9990 XXX, they want a chip that renders a picture, costs nothing and can work fanless.

Netbooks are a nice example of this. Netbooks can't do anything a 5-year old desktop couldn't, yet they are really popular. Because they are small and cheap.
People could use use a better OS, browser, office and those better product will require far more power.
Rubbish. For the short term this does not have to be true at all. A better OS, browser and office require clever design, this does not necessarily result in the need for more power.
What are you talking about? You are talking about YOUR os and office at this moment. But what about 10 years ago? 512 was just too much then.
512, maybe 256 because your average OS was less bloated, would have been a good amount back then. Problem was, memory was expensive so nobody would actually buy that much.

To stick with Office: Office did not improve much for average Joe. If I give average Joe an office suite from '99, he's going to write a letter. However, if I would give him an office suite made today, he would.. Write a letter. Now where's the improvement?
And in 10 years it will be not enough.
I can't predict the future, but unless we find a spectacular new way of writing letters in 10 years (and hey, we just might! but I couldn't tell you!) it's very well possible 512MB will still be enough for basic functionality in 10 years.
I am assuming that 10 years ago you would have said that 4MB should be enough for this.
10 years ago was 1999. I don't know your age, but in 1999 4MB was already a very small amount.

I'm not saying the bandwagon has already stopped - I'm just saying it seems to be slowing down. If we would find a new killer app, it could very well get rolling quickly again with even the woman next door asking for something quicker. But I'm not seeing it yet, at least not for the short term. Sure somebody will come up with something in 500 years.
They are not. You cant imaging improvements but other ppl can.
But can they think of improvements average Joe actually wants to have? Right now, not in 500 years?
Yes. Prices dropped to a tenth due to improvements to alloys, plastics, water supply networks,... Maybe you didnt realize it, but again, you are not everyone.
So the thing itself did not improve at all. It still boils water and that's it. If the one you already got is not broken, you have no reason to replace it. Confusion's world receiver radio also got cheaper, but it didn't improve. There was no reason to buy another one.

Actually, I think the world receiver is a bad example - within 10 years, even the cheapest world receiver should support a variety of digital radio broadcasting standards. And that would be a good reason to replace the old one. But my water boiler is unlikely to improve that much, maybe if we invent new water or integrate the water boiler into another machine.

But again, when you wanted to access the web around 2000, you would need a Pentium 2 or 3 class, SVGA but preferably XGA display and enough memory. Even back then, a Pentium 1 was not really sufficient. That did not change much today. Computers got many times faster, but if you just want to access the web, a Pentium 3 class will still pretty much do.

[Comment edited on Monday 20 April 2009 17:30]


By Tweakers user Punkie, Thursday 23 April 2009 12:04

Techological advances (improvements if you are an optimist) caused cheaper boilers. Yet although we have cheaper boilers (through techological advances), there has been no improvement. So if there is (technological) improvement, then there is no improvement.

Seems like we are using a different logical system.

By Tweakers user Mentalist, Tuesday 28 April 2009 04:21

Does it boil your water any faster? No.
Does the water taste better? No.
Does it travel in time? No.

So if you already have a boiler, you STILL have no reason to replace it. In fact, I believe you already agreed with me that the product has not improved recently, yet, you keep saying I'm wrong. You agree with me, but say I'm wrong. Sounds like flawed logic to me.

By Tweakers user Punkie, Thursday 30 April 2009 10:16

Except that I am not saying there is no improvement. The previous post was build by using your logic and your statements. You stated that the boiler did not improve, twice.

IMHO technological improvements are improvements and there fore the boiler DID improve. It might not have gained timetravel capabilities but it did change characteristics.

By Tweakers user Mentalist, Saturday 2 May 2009 12:25

The production technology has improved. The product has not.


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