We Debate That

The Economist invited me and Bob Gordon to their site to debate the question “Is Technological Progress Accelerating?” over the past week. We’ve submitted opening statements, rebuttals, and closing statements; you can read them all here. The good news is that I currently have a comfortable lead in readers’ votes: 71% to 29%. The bad news is that this lead is smaller than it was when the debate started, so maybe I should have just kept my mouth shut…

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Bob has made much of the fact that labor productivity growth has slowed down in recent years, a fact difficult to square with technological acceleration. I’ve acknowledged this and tried to explain why it could be, but also ¬†stressed that productivity growth is far from the only place we should be looking to assess the pace of progress.

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Bob’s also said that we’ll only truly know the answer to the question by seeing what happens in the future, but I just don’t buy this. In all my old physics and engineering courses at MIT, I don’t think any of my professors would have accepted an answer anything like “we’ll just have to wait and see” if they asked me on an exam to assess the rate of acceleration of any object. “Is x accelerating” is a question you answer by looking at what it’s been doing. And as I’ve tried to make clear, I believe technological progress has been speeding up, a lot.

Check out the debate and see if you agree with me. If so, I’d love your vote in support of the motion; the debate closes on Friday. If not, I’d love to hear why, so leave a comment and let us know.