Incomplete case studies of discontinuous progress – AI Impacts

It is a record of potential circumstances of discontinuous technological progress that we’ve partially investigated.


In the midst of investigating cases of potentially discontinuous technological progress, we’ve collected round fifty instructed situations that we’ve not investigated. It is a record of partially investigated circumstances, with what we learn about them.

The Haber Course of – IIP

This was beforehand listed as NSD, however that’s tentatively revoked whereas we examine a complication with the info.

Earlier clarification

The Haber course of was the first energy efficient method of manufacturing ammonia, which is essential to creating fertilizer. The explanation to anticipate that the Haber course of may characterize discontinuous technological progress is that earlier processes had been barely inexpensive, whereas the Haber course of was massively invaluable—it’s credited with fixing a lot of the nitrogen now in human our bodies—and has been used on an industrial scale since 1913.

A possible place to search for discontinuities then is within the vitality price of fixing nitrogen. Table 4 in Grünewald’s Chemistry for the Future means that the invention of the Haber decreased the vitality expense by round 60% per nitrogen bonded over a way developed eight years earlier. The earlier step nonetheless seems to have represented a minimum of a 50% enchancment over the method of two years earlier (although the determine is difficult to learn). Later enhancements to the Haber course of seem to have been comparable. Thus it appears the Haber course of was not an unusually giant enchancment in vitality effectivity, however was in all probability as an alternative the advance that occurred to take the method into the vary of affordability.

Since it seems that vitality was an vital expense, and the Haber course of was particularly notable for being vitality environment friendly, and but didn’t characterize a selected discontinuity in vitality effectivity progress, it appears unlikely that the Haber course of concerned a discontinuity. Moreover, it seems that the world moved to utilizing the Haber course of over different sources of fertilizer step by step, suggesting there was not an enormous worth differential, nor any sharp sensible change on account of the adoption of the method. Within the 20’s the US imported a lot nitrogen from Chile. Various nitrogen supply calcium cyanamide reached peak manufacturing in 1945, thirty years because the Haber course of reached industrial scale manufacturing.

The quantity of artificial nitrogen fertilizer utilized hasn’t abruptly modified since 1860 (see p24). Neither has the quantity of meals produced, for a few foods a minimum of.

In sum, it appears the Haber course of has had a big impact, however it was produced by a average change in effectivity, and manifest over an extended interval.

Aluminium – IIP

It’s typically claimed that the invention of the Corridor–Héroult course of within the 1880s introduced the worth of aluminium down precipitously. We discovered a number of items of quantitative information about this, however they severely battle. Essentially the most rigorous trying is a report from Patricia Plunkert on the US Geological Survey, from which we get the next information. Nonetheless observe that a few of these figures could also be off by orders of magnitude, in response to different sources.

Plunkert provides a table of historic aluminium prices, in response to which the nominal worth fell from $eight per pound to $0.58 per pound someday between 1887 and 1895 (throughout most of which period no information can be found). This era in all probability captures the innovation of curiosity, because the Corridor–Héroult course of was patented in 1886 in response to Plunkert, and the worth solely dropped by $1 per pound in the course of the previous fifteen years in response to her desk. Plunkert additionally says that the worth was held artificially low to encourage customers within the early 1900s, suggesting the identical could have been true earlier, nonetheless this appears more likely to be a small correction.

The stitching machine – IIP

Early stitching machines apparently introduced the time to supply clothes down by an order of magnitude (from 14 hours to 75 minutes for a person’s gown shirt by one estimate). Nonetheless it appears that the know-how progressed extra slowly, then was taken up by the general public later – in all probability when it grew to become cost-effective, at which period adoptees could have skilled a fast discount in stitching time (presumably at some expense). These impressions are from a really informal perusal of the proof.

Video compression – IIP

Blogger John McGowan claims that video compression efficiency was fixed at a ratio of round 250 for about seven years previous to 2003, then jumped to round 900.

Figure 3: video compression performance in the past two decades.
Determine 1: video compression efficiency prior to now twenty years.

Data storage quantity – IIP

In keeping with the Efficiency Curves Database (PCDB), ‘info storage quantity’ for each handwriting and printing has grown by an element of three lately, after lower than doubling within the hundred years beforehand. It is unclear what precisely is being measured right here nonetheless.

Undersea cable worth – IIP

The bandwidth per cable size out there for a greenback apparently grew by greater than 1000 instances in round 1880.

Determine 2: Elo scores of the perfect program on SSDF on the finish of every yr.


Infrared detector sensitivity – IIP

Infrared detector sensitivity is measured when it comes to ‘Noise Equal Energy’ (NEP), or the quantity of energy (vitality per time) that should hit the sensor for the sensor’s output to have a sign:noise ratio of 1. We investigated progress in infrared detection know-how as a result of in response to Tutorial Press (1974), the helium-cooled germanium bolometer represented a 4 order of magnitude enchancment in sensitivity over uncooled detectors. Nonetheless our personal investigation suggests there have been different improvements between uncooled detectors and the bolometer in query, and thus no abrupt enchancment.

We record advances we all know of here, and summarize them in Determine 5. The 1947 level is uncooled. The 1969 level is sort of 4 orders of magnitude higher. Nonetheless we all know of a minimum of 4 different detectors with intermediate ranges of sensitivity, and these are unfold pretty evenly between the uncooled gadget and essentially the most environment friendly cooled one listed.

We’ve not checked whether or not the progress between the uncooled detector and the primary cooled detector was discontinuous, given earlier charges. It is because we’ve no robust cause to suspect it’s.

Determine 2: Sensitivity of infrared detectors in the course of the transition to liquid-helium-cooled units.

Genome sequencing – IIP

This seems to have seen a minimum of a average discontinuity. An investigation is in progress.

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