Re: technological accleration?

From: Mike Lorrey (
Date: Tue Sep 04 2001 - 14:54:23 MDT

Charlie Stross wrote:
> On Tue, Sep 04, 2001 at 08:57:57AM -0700, Tim Maroney wrote:
> >
> > Going to the grocery store, I don't really see a revolution in frozen food
> > compared with what I saw thirty years ago, at least not yet. It seems to
> > take up a comparable amount of shelf space, anyway. Do you have sources for
> > your assertion about falling cooking times?
> Purely speculative and anecdotal on my part. However, the _range_ of stuff
> on offer is increasing, and that's a market that is highly price-sensitive
> and very competitive. I doubt supermarkets would be so full of Indian-
> restaurant-in-a-bag-ready-to-microwave packaged meals if there wasn't a
> growing market for them.

And it's not so much the quantity (although comparing western with
eastern bloc country grocery stores is a nice juxtaposition), but the
price. Food prices have dropped markedly over the past century such that
significant government intervention is generally required to stabilize
food prices upwards against selling panics on an annual basis. Without
this intervention, prices would be even lower than they are, and there
would be even greater variety.

> > > And what are the implications for
> > > teleoperator-controlled surgery in, say, a decade's time, when that same
> > > video generation begins graduating from medical school?
> >
> > Potentially important. Medical improvements are also problematic in much the
> > same way that software improvements are. Antibiotics are clearly a
> > revolutionary technology. Techniques like telesurgery or focused radiation
> > treatments are harder to call out as their own revolutions, though they may
> > have the potential to become as important as antibiotics.
> I missed out microsurgery. Thirty years ago, if you lost a finger or
> a hand -- tough. These days, pack it in ice and take it along and there's
> a good chance that not only can they re-attach it, but they can even save
> some neural connections.

And even if they can't save it, they can frequently build robotic arms
that respond to nerve signals at ever greater levels of complexity.

> Organ transplants: in 1971, heart transplants were -- publicity aside --
> grand-standing experimentation. Today, thanks to much better immunosupressant
> agents, many people can run for years or decades on replacement organs. We
> wouldn't have the Chinese government harvesting organs from executed felons
> (a la Larry Niven) if it wasn't a technology that had arrived.

Now they want to grow transplant organs for you on or in genetically
engineered farm animals. That photo of the mouse with the human ear
growing on its back was one of the coolest images I've seen. When this
becomes commonplace, expect human longevity to skyrocket. Today they
announced that they've successfully produced every type of human blood
cell from stem cells, leading to an end of the need for blood donation
drives and shortage caused deaths sometime in the next several years.
>From growing you new nerves, new spinal cords, and new brain lobes, we
are on the cusp of really fantastic things in health care.

> Again: the laser. In 1960 it was a miracle of quantum mechanics
> that required expensive synthetic rubies and demonstrated a physical
> principle. By 1970, some expensive military applications had shown up --
> rangefingers, for example -- and holography was becoming a curiosity. By
> 1980, there was suddenly a market, with the advent of the CD player. By
> 1990, holography was becoming commercialised as something you can make
> prints of, and CD players were everywhere. Today, I have a 5 laser
> pointer for playing with my cat, and dentists use 'em for de-scaling
> teeth and drilling out dental caries.
> Yes, it was there before 1970. But the mass production and commercialisation
> wasn't.

Ayup, which is why you want to look at overall economic data as well.
Rates of invention don't mean squat if they are not applied to human
lives. Economics measures this.

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