Rate of Technological Progress

History ... is, indeed, little more than the register of the crimes, follies, and misfortunes of mankind. But what experience and history teach is this - that peoples and governments have never learned anything from history, or acted on principles deduced from it.

— Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel

Figure 1: PAM Dirac, a Key Contributor to Understanding the Physics of the Electron.

Figure 1: PAM Dirac, a Key
Contributor to Understanding
the Physics of the Electron.

I saw the following LED history graphic in Machine Design magazine today. I like the graphic because it shows how technological changes often occurs – I only wish there had been some additional space for the quantum mechanical developments of the 1920s.

The basic development process is:

  • Someone notices an interesting phenomenon that people do not understand (e.g. light emitted by electrically stimulated crystals).
  • Theoreticians working in a seemingly unrelated area develop a mathematical framework to describe the related physics (e.g. Dirac, Bloch et al. developing the theory of electrons and the band theory of solids).
  • First applications of the new physics appear (e.g. solid state physics applied to the development of the transistor).
  • A period of time passes while the full impact of the new physics becomes part of the mainstream. During this time the original phenomenon is fully explained.
  • The applications folks now begin to apply their knowledge of the original phenomenon to the first mass market applications (e.g. red LED developed).
  • The technology is generalized (e.g. yellow, blue, white LED technology developed).
  • The technology is everywhere (e.g. televisions, home lighting, etc).
Figure 1: History of the LED.

Figure 1: History of the LED.

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