Four Exhilarating, Big Picture Trends in Innovation

November 22, 2016

Takeaways

By nearly every measure, life is better for most people that at any other time on Earth.

Considering the incessant problems that occupy our daily news, it’s easy to grow sad and cynical about the state of affairs at home and abroad.  As 2016 comes to a close, let’s take a step back, and open our eyes to see the world from a broader perspective. What we find are exhilarating, big-picture trends that should encourage and inspire us, not only because of how far we have come but what the future can hold. Much of this good news emerges from the story told by the chart below: hockey-stick progress in technology and innovation: 

The History of Technology

Just over two human lifetimes ago, horses were the primary conveyance and news traveled on foot. Man had little practical knowledge of microbes, and masses of people were wiped out regularly by disease. Today, mushrooming scientific knowledge gives birth to new technologies and capabilities like clockwork. New industries seem to emerge overnight. Life-improving solutions diffuse throughout society at every rung of the global economic ladder at a quickening pace thanks to globalization linking long-deprived people and societies into modern supply chains.

Though there’s still much work to do, here are four innovation-related metrics that should lift every human spirit:

  • Modern supply chains that have linked societies around the world have helped reduce global poverty more in the last 50 years than in the previous 500 years, with most of the improvement achieved in the last two decades. The Gates Foundation predicts the elimination of extreme poverty by 2030. 
     
  • Thanks in large part to innovations in technology and medicine, child mortality rates are down 50 percent since 1990 and continue to descend.
     
  • Deaths from infectious disease continue to plummet while life expectancy marches higher.
     
  • Smartphone ownership hit nearly 87 percent in the U.S. and rose in emerging and developing countries from 21 percent in 2013 to 37 percent in 2015. This has connected hundreds of millions of poorer people with knowledge and opportunities. 

As human advancement continues its exponential climb, we can only imagine what marvels will mark progress in the years ahead, particularly as the information technology revolution spawns new revolutions. We can be gratified that America has been at the forefront of every major technological development from the steam engine to the human genome project. This tells us something extremely important:  liberty and free enterprise are among man’s most important innovations.

It also drives home how important it is to America’s prosperity and the upward march of mankind that this nation continues to model and maintain the most fertile innovation ecosystem in the world. That means fostering:

  • STEM education excellence to ensure that the United States has the world’s greatest education system in science, technology, engineering and math, and that we inspire our student body toward these disciplines.
     
  • Strong intellectual property protection to safeguard our incentives to innovate.
     
  • A responsive tax and regulatory policy that strongly that encourages the basic and applied research and development essential to achieving novel insights, knowledge, and solutions.
     
  • World-class public/private partnerships that will spur some of the most important technological developments in modern times. 

As we prepare to turn the calendar to 2017, let’s draw inspiration from America’s achievements and do everything possible to ensure that this country’s greatest feats are still ahead.  

[Note: Special thanks to Mat Burrows formerly of the National Intelligence Council, and currently Director of the Atlantic Council’s Strategic Foresight Initiative for use of the chart].