Technology over the long run: zoom out to see how dramatically the world can change within a lifetime
Published in Artificial Intelligence.
It is easy to underestimate how much the world can change within a lifetime. Bringing to mind how dramatically the world has changed can help us see how different the world could be in a few years or decades.
by Max Roser
February 22, 2023
Technology can change the world in ways that are unimaginable, until they happen. Switching on an electric light would have been unimaginable for our medieval ancestors. In their childhood, our grandparents would have struggled to imagine a world connected by smartphones and the Internet.
Similarly, it is hard for us to imagine the arrival of all those technologies that will fundamentally change the world we are used to.
We can remind ourselves that our own future might look very different from the world today by looking back at how rapidly technology has changed our world in the past. That’s what this article is about.
One insight I take away from this long-term perspective is how unusual our time is. Technological change was extremely slow in the past – the technologies that our ancestors got used to in their childhood were still central to their lives in their old age. In stark contrast to those days, we live in a time of extraordinarily fast technological change. For recent generations, it was common for technologies that were unimaginable in their youth to become common later in life.