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Expand chart
Data: Angus Madison; Chart: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

For millennia, technology, in terms of its big-picture impact, was, well, meh. Look at the straight line in the chart — that includes every major invention since the year 1 AD, including the printing press.

  • Then James Watt triggered the Industrial Revolution by reinventing the steam engine, and before you knew it we all owned iPhones.

The big picture: It's all come too fast. We are saturated with life-rattling new technologies, yet more is on its way — artificial intelligence, quantum computing, robots and greater use of cyber weapons.

  • They are changing our lives in ways both good and not so much.
  • In the latter category, the way we use technology is making us more distracted and divided — and allowing bad players to create chaos and tear apart our open societies.

These dizzying creations may not be boosting the economy at nearly the same scale as prior big inventions.

  • In "The Rise and Fall of American Growth," published in 2016, Northwestern University economist Robert Gordon created a tizzy by blaming laggard technology invention for our relatively flat productivity growth.
  • He argued that most of our genuinely impactful inventions were already with us by around 1970. That includes electricity, the airplane, air conditioning and the TV.
  • Inventions since then, while impressive, simply are not of the same scale in terms of elevating overall productivity, Gordon said.

Go deeper

Updated 13 mins ago - Politics & Policy

"Horrified": AP, Al Jazeera condemn Israel's bombing of their offices in Gaza

A ball of fire erupts from the Jalaa Tower as it is destroyed in an Israeli airstrike in Gaza. Photo: Majdi Fathi/NurPhoto via Getty Images

The Associated Press and Al Jazeera on Saturday condemned the Israeli airstrike that destroyed a high-rise building in Gaza that housed their and other media offices.

What they're saying: The White House, meanwhile, said it had "communicated directly to the Israelis that ensuring the safety and security of journalists and independent media is a paramount responsibility," according to press secretary Jen Psaki.

Updated 34 mins ago - World

Biden in call with Netanyahu raises concerns about civilian casualties in Gaza

Photo: Ahmad Gharabli/Nicholas Kamm/Getty Images

President Biden spoke to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu Saturday and raised concerns about civilian casualties in Gaza and the bombing of the building that housed AP and other media offices, according to Israeli officials.

The big picture: At least 140 Palestinians, including dozens of children, have been killed in Gaza since fighting between Israel and Hamas began Monday, according to Palestinian health officials. Nine people, including two children, have been killed by Hamas rockets in Israel.

Bryan Walsh, author of Future
54 mins ago - Health

The COVID lab-leak theory goes mainstream

The Wuhan Institute of Virology. Photo: Hector Retamal/AFP via Getty Images The COVID lab-leak theory goes mainstream

A group of high-profile scientists published a letter calling for renewed investigation into the origins of COVID-19 — including the theory that it spilled out of a virology lab.

Why it matters: The possibility that SARS-CoV-2 was created in a Chinese lab and accidentally escaped — rather than emerging naturally from an animal — was initially dismissed as a conspiracy theory. But the letter shows a potential lab leak is increasingly being taken seriously.