Should the U.S. invest in a generation of new intercontinental ballistic missiles? What has really propelled decades of consistently rising computer performance? Is research into new forms of nuclear power a dead end? And should we credit Elon Musk with revolutionizing the automobile industry, or is he just riding the coattails of history?
These are the sorts of questions that researchers who study the history of innovation and what it says about the future say we can now answer—thanks, of course, to innovation. Using both previously untapped pools of data and new analytical methods, along with the usual tools of modern-day forecasting—namely, the predictive algorithms often described as “artificial intelligence”—they are taking a quantitative approach to examining how quickly technologies improve.