Two radically different ways to view the state of innovation in America.
Computers now exhibit human-like capabilities not just in games such as chess, but also in complex communication such as linguistic translation and speech. These new abilities stem from "pattern recognition" technologies - the same techniques that underpin, for example, the Siri voice recognition tool in Apple's iPhone 4S.Pattern recognition ... will quickly allow machines to branch out further. Computers will soon drive more safely than humans, a fact Google has demonstrated by allowing one to take out a Toyota Prius for a 1,000-mile spin. Truck and taxi drivers should be worried - but then so should medical professionals, lawyers and accountants; all of their jobs are at risk too.
Although America produces plenty of innovations, most are not geared toward significantly raising the average standard of living. It seems that we are coming up with ideas that benefit relatively small numbers of people, compared with the broad-based advances of earlier decades, when the modern world was put into place. If pre-1973 growth rates had continued, for example, median family income in the United States would now be more than $90,000, as opposed to its current range of around $50,000.Will the Internet usher in a new economic growth explosion? Quite possibly, but it hasn't delivered very good macroeconomic performance over the last decade. Many of the Internet's gains are fun -- games, chat rooms, Twitter streams -- rather than vast sources of revenue, and when there have been measurable monetary gains, they often have been concentrated among a small number of company founders, as with, say, Facebook. As for users, the Internet has benefited the well-educated and the curious to a disproportionate degree, but apparently not enough to bolster median income.