Technology moves faster than our imaginations can keep up with. We invent one breakthrough technology today and then tomorrow’s inventors transform it into another we never imagined possible. This has always been true, but it’s happening faster than ever—and accelerating—which makes it hard to know what the world will look like when we get older.

In this infographic, we explore the best available record of American innovation, the U.S. Patent Office, to show how fast innovation is accelerating and illustrate how to think about what today’s patents mean for the future. Because when we think about the smartphones and driverless cars that make us think the future has arrived, we should remember that upon inventing the airplane, even the Wright Brothers were skeptical of its potential. “No airship will ever fly from New York to Paris,” said Wilbur Wright. “That seems to me to be impossible.”

179018151840186518901915194019901965In each of the past four years, the U.S. Patent Office has set records for patents granted in a year, totaling 1.15 million patents (just 222,036 were granted in the entire 19th century.) And as of 2015, a total of 9,646,948 patents have been granted.2015Are we at Another Turning Point?Scroll down to begin.February 25, 1837In the 46 years before 1837, there were just 10,135 patents granted. But in the 46 years after the electric motor was patented in 1837, there were 290,870 patents granted.The Turning PointThe 1 millionth patent, the Vehicle Tire, was granted after 121 years.The Millionth PatentIt took just 24 years after the Vehicle Tire to grant the next million patents.The 2 Millionth PatentThrough 171 years, the U.S Patent Office granted 3.3 million patents. After the semiconductor, which ushered in the age of computers and electronics, it would take just 38 years to double that.The Next Turning Point17921800In the first decade of the patent office, the U.S. granted 229 patents—the same amount today’s America grants every 7.2 hours.The First DecadeApril 10, 1790Launched in the midst of the Industrial Revolution (1760-1840), the patent office has granted more than 9 million patents, ushering in every Age of Innovation Americans have lived through.Numbers of Patents Published per YearUS Patent Office OpensPatent no. 9,378,717Patent no. 8,293,607Patent no. 8,078,349Patent no. 5,379,224Patent no. 4,648,673Patent no. 3,668,568Patent no. 3,663,762Patent no. 388,116Patent no. 174,465Patent no. 223,989Patent no. 223,989PREDICTION“In the old days man went up and down with the sun. A million years from now we won't go to bed at all. Really, sleep is an absurdity, a bad habit.” Thomas Edison (on the 35th anniversary of the light bulb)IMPACT Cited by General Electric in its patent for the mass production of light bulbs in 1959The Light BulbPatent no. 174,465PREDICTION“This mode of instantaneous communication must inevitably become an instrument of immense power, to be wielded for good or for evil, as it shall be properly or improperly directed.” – Samuel Morse, Inventor of the Telegraph, 1838IMPACT The first invention allowing humans to communicate instantly across long distances, the telegraph is the ancestor of today’s Internet.The TelegraphPatent no. 388,116PREDICTION“(Hollerith) simply made it possible to do a certain work with astonishing rapidity and absolute infallibility.” - The Weekly Inter Ocean, April 15, 1890IMPACT This patent was granted to Herman Hollerith, founder of the Tabulating Machine Company, which eventually merged to become IBM—the company that holds the most patents of any company today.Electric Adding MachinePatent no. 3,663,762PREDICTIONThe mobile phone “eliminates the present phone cord. All information today goes on the wire, including dialing and hanging up the phone” – Martin Cooper, Motorola, April 4, 1973IMPACT Without his invention, there wouldn’t be all these people walking around with cellphones,” said Frank Vigilante, the inventor’s supervisor at Bell Labs, in 2008.Mobile Telephone SystemPatent no. 3,668,658PREDICTION“I think one megabite is going to prove to be a magic number in this industry. Everybody and their brother are going to decide that now is the time to switch to floppy disks.” – George Morrow, CEO, Morrow’s Mircrostuff, Dec. 10, 1978IMPACT For over two decades, floppy disks were the most popular and effective digital storage devices, revolutionizing the computer industry.The Floppy DiskPatent no. 4,648,673PREDICTIONThere is no reason anyone would want a computer in their home." - Ken Olsen, founder of Digital Equipment Corporation, 1977IMPACT Computers now drive global culture and the economy, with an estimated two billion in use by 2015, according to a report by Forrester Research.Personal ComputerPatent no. 5,379,224PREDICTION“G.P.S. is a technological marvel that has changed in ways no one imagined and evolved beyond its original [military] uses.” – Fmr. Defense Secretary James Schlesinger, June 1, 1995IMPACT“A June 2011 study found that…if use of GPS were disrupted it would pose the threat of direct economic costs of up to $96 billion to U.S. commercial GPS users and manufacturers.”– GPS Alliance, 2011GPS Tracking SystemPatent no. 8,078,349PREDICTION“The car can drop you at the front door to the building you work at and then it goes and parks itself. Whenever you need it, your phone notices that you're walking out of the building, and your car's there immediately by the time you get downstairs.” – Larry Page, CEO, Google, 2012IMPACTTo be determined…Self Driving CarPatent no. 8,293,607PREDICTIONGraphene is stronger than diamond; it shows extraordinary heat conductance; it conducts electricity a thousand times better than copper.” – Professor Andre Geim, Winner, 2010 Nobel Prize for Physics and co-discoverer of Graphene.IMPACTTo be determined…Graphene-Based Solar CellsPatent no. 9,378,717PREDICTION“We're going to make Oculus a platform for many other experiences. Imagine enjoying a court-side seat at a game, studying in a classroom of students and teachers all over the world or consulting with a doctor face-to-face—just by putting on goggles in your home.” – Mark Zuckerberg, CEO, Facebook, 2014IMPACTTo be determined…Virtual Reality Headset
189026414 Patents20151990In each of the past four years, the U.S. Patent Office has set records for patents granted in a year, totaling 1.15 million patents (just 222,036 were granted in the entire 19th century.) And as of 2015, a total of 9,646,948 patents have been granted.Are we at Another Turning Point?49256 Patents47847 Patents76432 Patents175455 Patents325407 Patents1865 967 Patents14206 PatentsScroll down to begin.April 10, 1790Launched in the midst of the Industrial Revolution (1760-1840), the patent office has granted more than 9 million patents, ushering in every Age of Innovation Americans have lived through.US Patent Office Opens1815 200 Patents179018001790Through 171 years, the U.S Patent Office granted 3.3 million patents. After the semiconductor, which ushered in the age of computers and electronics, it would take just 38 years to double that.The Next Turning PointApril 25, 1961It took just 24 years after the Vehicle Tire to grant the next million patents.The 2 Millionth PatentAugust 30, 1935August 8, 1911The 1 millionth patent, the Vehicle Tire, was granted after 121 years.The Millionth PatentFebruary 25, 1837The Turning PointIn the first decade of the patent office, the U.S. granted 229 patents—the same amount today’s America grants every 7.2 hours.The First DecadeIn the first decade of the patent office, the U.S. granted 229 patents—the same amount today’s America grants every 7.2 hours.

So, how much faster will technology accelerate?

Patents are by no means a perfect measure of innovation. Many argue that intellectual property restrictions actually hold back technology’s pace of advancement.

So in June 2014, Tesla, the electric car company and one of today’s most innovative companies, made the unorthodox decision to open its patents to the public—the idea being that fewer restrictions will spur innovation even faster. Might Tesla’s decision set a precedent for the future? And if so, how much faster will the future arrive?