If indeed it did, they are asking a similar question at The Economist. In recent times you might cite the onset of Apple’s M1, GPT-3, DeepMind’s application of AI to protein folding, phase III for a credible malaria vaccine, a CRISPR/sickle cell cure, the possibility of a universal flu vaccine, mRNA vaccines, ongoing solar power progress, wonderful new batteries for electric vehicles, a possibly new method for Chinese fusion (?), Chinese photon quantum computing, and ongoing advances in space exploration, most of all from SpaceX. Tesla has a very high market valuation, and Elon is the world’s second richest man.
Distanced work is very important, and I’ll give that its own post soon.
I would say that almost certainly the great stagnation is over in the biomedical sciences. It is less obvious that the great stagnation is over more generally, as we might simply retreat into our former sloth and complacency once we are mostly vaccinated. Applied Divinity Studies has posed some pointed questions about why we might think that stagnation is over.
If you are looking for a quick metric to indicate the great stagnation might be over, consider total factor productivity. It is entirely possible that tfp in 2021 will be 5 or more, its highest level ever. (To be sure, this will show up as a measured increase in inputs more than as tfp, but we all know why those inputs will be increasing and that is because of science…yes this is a problem with tfp measures!) Over the two years to follow after that, we should be seeing very high tfps around the world. So that will be very high tfp for a few years.
Again, that is not proof of a permanent or even an ongoing end to the great stagnation. But it is something.
Two more general points seem relevant. First, many of the biomedical advances seem connected to new platforms, new modes of computation, new uses of AI, and so on, and they should be leading to yet further advances. Second, there are (finally!) some very real advances in energy use, and those tend to bring yet other advances in their wake, and not just advances in bit space.
But not all is rosy. If you recall my paper with Ben Southwood, the obstacles standing in the way of faster scientific progress, such as specialization and bureaucratization, mostly remain and some of them will be getting worse.
My The Great Stagnation, published in 2011, offered some pointed predictions. It argued that the “next big thing” was already with us, namely the internet, but we simply hadn’t learned to use it effectively yet. Once we put the internet at the center of many more of our institutions, rather than treating it as an add-on, the great stagnation would end. Numerous times (using roughly a 2011 start date) I predicted that the great stagnation would be over within twenty years time, though not in the next few years. The Great Stagnation in fact was an optimistic book, at least if you read it to the end and do not just mood affiliate over the title.
By no means would I say that specific scenario has been validated, but as a prediction it is looking not so crazy.
The gains from truly mobilizing the internet may in fact right now be swamping all of the accumulated obstacles we have put in the way of progress.
I also wrote, in 2011, that as the great stagnation approaches its end, we will all be deeply upset, and long for the earlier times. That too is by no means obviously wrong.
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