Gaps of time between technological achievements…

I often hear about the leaps that are made technologically throughout time. And that the gaps between them have significantly shortened over the last century. My question revolves around these gaps. So, for example, the achievements or inventions made in 1906 had a gap of time before the next truly significant achievements were made, say maybe 20 years… So if these “gaps” are becoming smaller and smaller where are we now? Is the current gap 5 days? 5 weeks? Also, at what point will there be no gap.

I hope I’ve made this clear because I know based on the kind of minds that frequent this board, that this question can be answered to some degree.

P.S. Don’t dwell on the 1906 year. It was an example only.

It makes sense that technology gaps would decrease in time since every new technological advancement was brought on thanks to the technological advancement before it.

For example, it would have been tough to send someone to the moon if we hadn’t developed the airplane yet.

Eventually, however, you will reach a point where you can only have so much time between great advances in technology, because everything takes time to develop, and it takes time to react to the ramifications of a development before it.

Answering the direct question of the OP, however, is tough, as how does one define a “great technological advancement,” and differenciate them from not-so great ones?

Yer pal,

Your question is a little nebulous, at best, but that just means I can say anything I like as long as there is some slight reference to some small portion of it.

There are more people working on technology than ever before. They have the benefit of more knowledge than ever before. Your question implies, rightly, that there should be some acceleration of advancements.

However, technology depends on advancements that are both broad (covering a lot of topics) and deep (a lot of detail about a topic). Most technologists or scientists today are working on deepening our understanding. Few are broadening. So “deep” advancements happen pretty frequently, “broad” advancements less so.

The problem is that most widely recognized advancements are broad – they tend to be unifying principles that explain a whole slew of other “deep” findings. Examples: Einstein’s theory of relativity, Crick and Watson’s elucidation of the structure of DNA, etc. The good news is that broad advancements are almost always driven by deep advancements which are exceptions to current understanding.

So although a lot of people are doing a lot of work the rate of advancement is, IMHO, not going to advance without bounds. In fact, in some ways it may already have reached a boundary – let me give you an example (which I got from NPR):

The house you live in is probably not significantly different than the one your parents grew up in. It has indoor plumbing, central heating, an electric (maybe gas) stove, a washer and a dryer, etc. The level of comfort and ease of maintenance hasn’t changed much in the last generation. But to the previous generation(s), your home is a wonder. No chopping wood, no privy, no washtub. You, on the other hand, now have a VCR, a microwave and a home computer. All of these are great technological advances. With the possible exception of the computer, how many of these make as much difference as, say, hot and cold running water?

So in one sense the rate of advancement has slowed down – because much of the necessary work has been done. New advancements require not only more knowledge, but identification of a need for that knowledge. We’re moving full speed ahead on the first part but we’ve still got work to do on the latter.

p.s. For some interesting speculation on what the next century will bring read the latest issue of Scientific American.

“If ignorance were corn flakes, you’d be General Mills.”
Cecil Adams
The Straight Dope