Ideas are becoming more expensive. Larger teams of scientists are taking longer and spending more to discover less. A common theory for these diminishing returns compares exploring the laws of nature to exploring land. Pioneers chart the most accessible areas. Later generations must grope their way across remote and forbidding terrain to find anything new; their expeditions need more preparation, more equipment, and more support. One of the many marks of increasing strain is the advancing age at which Nobel laureates reach their prize-winning breakthroughs. It appears that young scientists need more time to master the growing body of knowledge that lies between them and the frontier of a field.
Scientific discovery drives technological innovation, which in turn drives productivity growth. According to a recent study, the average researcher in the 1930s generated more productivity growth than do 20 researchers today. American spending on research and development has grown ten-fold since the 1950s. American productivity growth, meanwhile, has shrunk. Slowing productivity growth and slowing economic growth go hand in hand. Continue reading “Artificial Intelligence Will Benefit Us Immensely—If We Don’t Get in the Way”