Calling all inventors! On this date in 1790, the first U.S. patent was granted. The patent was signed by George Washington and granted to Samuel Hopkins for the process of making potash, an element used for making fertilizer.
Since 1790 many, many, many more patents have been granted, and some say that patents are being abused.
Should we reform the U.S. patent system? Check out Cato research on the topic and decide for yourself:
- Patent Reform in the United States: Lessons Learned, Regulation Magazine article
- Of Patents and Property, Regulation Magazine article
- Unleashing Innovation, essay from Cato Conference The Future of U.S. Economic Growth
- Our Mangled Patent System, Podcast
- U.S. Patent and Trademark Office: FAIL, Cato@Liberty Blog
- Specialist Patent Courts Are Part of the Problem, Cato Commentary
- Patents and Public Choice, Cato Unbound issue
For City Journal, Joel Mokyr writes: The statement “everything that could be invented has been invented” is frequently misattributed to the late-nineteenth-century American patent commissioner Charles Holland Duell. The Economistonce credited him with the remark, and sites such as “kool kwotes” still reproduce it. In fact, Duell believed the opposite. “In my opinion,” he wrote at the turn of the century, “all previous advances in the various lines of invention will appear totally insignificant when compared with those which the present century will witness. I almost wish that I might live my life over again to see the wonders which are at the threshold.” While this prediction turned out to be on the money, the belief that “the end of invention” is near is very much alive in our age, despite ample evidence of accelerating technological progress.
“Most states today realize that peaceful interstate competition in the marketplace requires staying current with the most advanced technology—but terrorists and rogue states want to stay current, too, for very different reasons…”
Pessimism is most prevalent among economists such as Northwestern University professor Robert J. Gordon, who expects growth to slow to a small fraction of what it was in the past. Gordon predicts that the disposable income of the bottom 99 percent of Americans will grow at just 0.2 percent per year—one-tenth the average rate of U.S. economic growth in the twentieth century. Innovation, he maintains, will not be enough to offset the headwinds that will buffet Western industrialized economies in the next half-century—aging populations, declining educational achievement, and rising inequality. And he is not alone in this dismal view. In The End of Science, published in 1996, journalist John Horgan declared that “the modern era of rapid scientific and technological progress appears to be not a permanent feature of reality, but an aberration, a fluke. . . . Science is unlikely to make any significant additions to the knowledge it has already generated. There will be no revelations in the future comparable to those bestowed upon us by Darwin or Einstein or Watson and Crick.”
“The argument that “if we don’t do this, someone else will” should prove more powerful than the concerns of groups that regard a new technology with suspicion.”
Certainly, it is difficult to know exactly in which direction technological change will move and how significant it will be. Much as in evolutionary biology, all we know is history. Yet something can be learned from the past, and it tells us that such pessimism is mistaken. The future of technology is likely to be bright. Read the rest of this entry »
Paul Waldman interviewed James Barrat, author of Our Final Invention: Artificial Intelligence and the End of the Human Era, to see what happens when we’re no longer the most intelligent inhabitants of Earth.
Artificial intelligence has a long way to go before computers are as intelligent as humans. But progress is happening rapidly, in everything from logical reasoning to facial and speech recognition. With steady improvements in memory, processing power, and programming, the question isn’t if a computer will ever be as smart as a human, but only how long it will take. And once computers are as smart as people, they’ll keep getting smarter, in short order become much, much smarter than people. When artificial intelligence (AI) becomes artificial superintelligence (ASI), the real problems begin.
In his new book Our Final Invention: Artificial Intelligence and the End of the Human Era, James Barrat argues that we need to begin thinking now about how artificial intelligences will treat their creators when they can think faster, reason better, and understand more than any human. These questions were long the province of thrilling (if not always realistic) science fiction, but Barrat warns that the consequences could indeed be catastrophic. I spoke with him about his book, the dangers of ASI, and whether we’re all doomed. Read the rest of this entry »