Never Doubt We're Living in the Best Moment in History
Have you become more or less optimistic about the value of innovation and new technology? originally appeared on Quora – the knowledge sharing network where compelling questions are answered by people with unique insights.
My optimism for the value of technology keeps increasing. We have never lived in a better time, yet tomorrow will be better still. This progress is hidden by our reliance on news. News, by its nature of reporting on what is unusual, hides the slow, almost invisible evidence of betterment. That’s because while next year will be better than this year, it won’t be better by much. Maybe only one percent, or maybe less than one percent. That fractional percent improvement is not visible in a year. We can’t see it. Yet one percent compounded annually becomes huge in time. So we can only detect progress in the long term retrospectively.
When we examine the scientific evidence for any metric humans care about, we see steady progress over the past many decades. This progress has been real for at least two centuries. So my optimism about the future is based on history. For at least 200 years, things have gotten a tiny bit better each year. Now, it is possible that next year this trend will collapse. It could happen. But statistically, it is much more likely that it will continue at least one more year. And if it gets a tiny bit better this year, in all probability it will continue another year.
Here is a thought experiment: I give you a time machine. It has only one lever. You can choose to go forward in time, or backwards. All trips are one-way, and you are reborn in the new time. How far you go, and where you land is random. So you can either be thrust forward in time, spending your new life in some random future in some random place, or in the past, in some random time and random place. You might be born rich or poor, male or female, healthy or sick. I have not met anyone who would point the lever to the past, even if we constrained the time machine to move only decades. Although most people are reluctant to admit it, we intuitively know that today is much better than the past, and that is also true of a future date; no one born in 2050 would want to be born in 2016. Because progress driven by technology is real.
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