Wednesday, April 8, 2020

Web Secret 619: How do you know you aren't in 1973?

I write a lot about the speed of technological change in this blog. So it was a refreshing and somewhat terrifying experience to consider a completely different point of view.

The brilliant Eric Weinstein launched his podcast "The Portal" via an almost three hour conversation with Peter Thiel.

Both men are, to put it mildly, brilliant. Weinstein has a PhD in mathematical physics from Harvard, Thiel, a billionaire, has a JD from Stanford and founded PayPal.

You can watch Episode #001: "An Era of Stagnation & Universal Institutional Failure" here:

Here is what I found interesting:

Eric suggested the following "Go into a room, subtract the screens, and how do you know you aren't in 1973?" Putting aside changes in design, what is different? Well nothing. My toaster looks no different than the one I used as a child. I have a microwave - which wasn't available until the late 1970's - but it too has a screen. So maybe he's right?

In the same conversation Thiel puts it this way: "We have the computer from Star Trek, but we don't have the Warp Drive or the Transporter."

Elsewhere in this blog, I have written about the lack of progress in commercial aviation. The planes we take to fly around the world haven't changed much since the 1970s. It still take 24 hours to get to Australia.

Thiel wonders if this might partly be caused by increased specialization. He points out that a well educated man in the 1900s could know everything there was to know about science and literature. 100+ years later, it is impossible to know everything in one's field, let alone in another. Maybe we need more big picture people who can synthesize the next advance for humanity.

You can poke some holes into their arguments. As an example, there has been tremendous progress in medicine.

But still.

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