Re: Technology Prediction

From: Dani Eder (
Date: Tue May 02 2006 - 05:46:18 MDT

I would distinguish between specific technologies,
applications of technology, and composite trends.

The first gasoline-electric hybrid car was built in
1917, not long after internal combustion engines and
electric motors were developed. It took until
recently for practical mass-produced hybrids to
appear because they required improved batteries
and computers to perform better than pure gasoline-
driven cars.

On the other hand, electric generators that run off
an internal combustion engine have been around for
quite a while. Same basic components, but not
dependant on battery weight or computer control
to function well.

Hybrid passenger cars are an application of several
technologies, each of which had its' own development
history. They had to compete against gas-only cars,
which were also improving, and needed the right
combination of concern for the environment and high
fuel prices for people to want to buy them in non-
trivial quantities.

I would say that the timing of an application like
hybrid cars (or flying cars, a classic one that
hasn't happened) is very unpredictable, because it
depends on so many factors.

The discovery of a new
technology, such as high temperature superconductors,
carbon nanotubes, or atomic microscopes, is also
very unpredictable. That is because it depends on one
person noticing something or having a bright idea.
About all you can do is say the laws of physics
don't preclude a technology, and that it therefore
may be developed someday.

A composite trend, however, such as the price/
performance of computers or manufacturing
are predictable to a reasonable degree. In those
cases, the discoveries have been often made already,
and it is a case of getting it to the point of
widepread use. New manufacturing equipment is
twice as productive as the average of existing
equipment, so it is just a matter of comparing the
values of
capital spending to existing plant in place, and
you can get a pretty good idea of the pace of


> But what evidence is there that anyone *can* draw up
> such rough
> estimates, accurately? It would be nice to have
> them, yes; but what
> makes you think they're available?
> --
> Eliezer S. Yudkowsky

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