The Rate of Advance
The first steam engine, the Newcomen engine, was invented in 1702 and was first used to pump out mines. The first successful self-propelled road vehicle was a steam automobile invented in 1770 by Nicholas Joseph Cugnot, a French engineer. Karl Benz’s first motorcar appeared in 1885. The practical use of potentially portable energy from its first exploitation for everyday transportation took nearly 200 years to develop, still a relatively short period of time in human history.
In 1903, Orville and Wilbur Wright were the first to achieve powered flight. In the early 1960s, the Blackbirds, the Air Force SR-71s, were flying at 80,000 feet in excess of 2,100 miles per hour, twice the speed of a bullet from a .357 Magnum, where their titanium skin reached 750 degrees Fahrenheit. The flight of the first Boeing 747 occurred in the late 1960s. Neil Armstrong walked the surface of the moon in 1969. It is difficult to put into perspective the difference in complexity of these transportation events and their development time. 66 years, less than one’s life expectancy today, from Kitty Hawk to the Sea of Tranquility was “One giant leap for mankind,” in Armstrong’s famous words.
Prior to the early 1950s, the vacuum tube was the heart of all electronic devices. A late small version of the vacuum tube measured about ¾ of an inch in diameter and was about three inches long. The transistor, the successor of the vacuum tube, was invented in 1948. A single computer chip of today, the size of a postage stamp, can contain the functionality of hundreds of thousands of vacuum tubes or transistors - the integrated circuit. That chip can process computer code from every day language instructions at rates that could not be comprehended just a short time earlier. We all know of the gigantic advances facilitated by the microprocessor chips and computers.
The curve is getting steeper and steeper.
Even now, we are on other technological thresholds. Nanotechnology promises the miniaturization of miniaturization in electronics and much, much more in the relatively near future. The promises of biotechnology, the discoveries in the genetic code, the human genome, and the prospects of stem cell potential are limitless, albeit with challenges regarding religious and other implications.
These examples demonstrate the acceleration of advances in those areas that are most easily recognized by us today. Comparable advances are occurring in most fields of endeavor at the same kind of astonishing rates.
Global free enterprise competition, modern natural selection, is fundamental to continued and accelerating progress for human wellbeing.
Fair competition between even dissimilar enterprises can be very productive. Consider the competition between the sixteen-nation consortium team headed by a University Of Michigan scientist, Francis Collins, against an independent American company Celera Genomics Corp. The spirit of competition in both organizations accelerated discoveries about the human genome that have dramatically advanced the prospects for health and longevity gains for all and in the process, have validated each other’s discoveries. John F. Kennedy rallied the American ingenuity energy when he challenged it to beat the Soviets to the moon.
We don’t always think about the benefits of competition. For example, when passing through the camera aperture of a sophisticated modern scanning or imaging device to evaluate a life threatening body illness symptom, do we recognize the manufacturer’s name on the device? Is it an American company or is it a German or a Japanese company whose imagination and passion produced the value/technological edge and was rewarded with the purchase order for the device? What must the losers do to be competitive the next time, as they must be, or face serious consequences?
In taking daily medication or to be immunized against possible crippling or deadly illnesses, do we think about the various companies who have won that business through their research and the imaginations and passion of the people in their organizations? What ever happened to diphtheria, polio, tuberculosis, small pox, and measles?
The definition of progress and, more importantly, the cause of progress has finally become apparent.
Progress (author’s definition): Life quality and life prolonging advances (technology and medicine) for all.
The Cause: The natural result of human imagination, passion, and courage energized by competitive business enterprise. The fittest enterprises survive and prosper by providing imaginative, winning value in continuous competitive exercise. That process itself nourishes and develops the cognitive human brain thereby accelerating a magnificent benevolent cycle.