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.”
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?