What we do
A person who lived during the early 19th century was witness to many radical new technologies - the automobile, radio, airplane, television, and antibiotics. These were modern miracles in their day, the awe-inspiring advances of mankind. When we look at our mobile phones, we likely do not feel that same sense of awe.
Technological advances come in two flavours - incremental and radical. All of the early technologies mentioned above were radical innovations, huge leaps in science and technology. Today, we’re stuck in an incremental phase; small improvements to already existing tech.
It’s not that we aren’t making progress - VR is coming along nicely, holographic televisions may be soon, Google’s self-driving car is now Project Waymo, and we have 3D printers. These are all great advances, yet they feel like they’re coming rather late.
What’s Holding up Tech Progress?
Patents: Despite patents being regarded as symbolic of technological innovation, many studies show no correlation between true innovation and patents. In fact, patents may slow technology in many cases. Whenever a technology patent case gets brought to court, consumers end up losing, and lawyers end up winning. Look at how effective patent trolls were during 2014 - 2016 as prime examples.
Regulation: Economists debate this fiercely, but there is evidence that government regulation ends up stifling certain technologies. Drones, supersonic flight, and even Uber collecting garbage are modern innovations that are meeting significant hurdles in government regulation.
Corporate Profit: It’s obvious to most people that this year’s phones and televisions are hardly better than last year’s. A few more megapixels in the camera and an extra gig of RAM, perhaps, but phones have hardly changed at all in the past few years. There’s more money to be made in making tiny improvements and releasing a “brand new” model, than spending research and development funds to release something truly innovative.
Is Radical Innovation Really Necessary?
If we consider smartphone technology, it’s obvious we’ve hit a peak of sorts - not due to the limits of tech, but the limits of market demand. Can we stick 16gb RAM, 12-core processors, 1TB flash drives and 120-megapixel cameras in phones? Sure, why not. But then again, why? Besides the niche appeal of ultra-fast developer phones, the majority of smartphone users stick to basic, low-resource apps; Facebook, Youtube, low-resource games like Diep.io or Slither.io, and photo filter apps for those precious selfies. Current smartphone technology is not being pushed to its limits because it already meets our current demands. In fact, more and more mobile developers are beginning to consider simplistic, HTML5-based Io games as the key to maximizing revenue, as cute, addicting games consistently outperform more graphically intensive mobile games, in terms of downloads.
What Can the Consumers Do?
If the consumers want radical innovation in our technology, we need to demand it and stop being satisfied with whatever latest model hits the stores. Unfortunately, we are a consumer society and prone to our mimetic desires. Our own consumerism plays a large part in slow tech advances - why should companies spend resources on developing the “Next Big Thing”, when we’re satisfied with incremental improvements to that which exists?
This isn’t meant to come across as preachy - certainly we, myself included, aren’t going to start boycotting Apple and Samsung until they give us 500GB flash drives for our mobile phones. We depend on our phones too much for our daily life to start protesting now. Consumers should, however, be more vocal in their desires for more radical improvements. We should consider if the latest model is really any better than the one we have before we plunk down the cash. With any luck, the manufacturers will get the picture.
Organisations- Innovation and Technology for Development Centre
This project was last updated 4 months ago