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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

Biden confronts mounting humanitarian crisis at the border

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios. Photo: Pool/Getty Images     

Just over a month into his presidency, President Biden is staring down a mounting crisis at the border that could be just as bad as the ones faced by Barack Obama and Donald Trump, if not worse.

Why it matters: Immigration is an issue that can consume a presidency. It's intensely and poisonously partisan. It's complicated. And the lives and welfare of vulnerable children hang in the balance.

Erica Pandey, author of @Work
2 hours ago - Economy & Business

The rise of vaccine passports

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

Vaccine passports were touted early in the pandemic as an important piece of the plan to get people back to normal life. Now they’re becoming a reality.

Driving the news: CLEAR, the secure digital identity app that you see in airports around the world, and CommonPass, a health app that lets users securely access vaccination records and COVID test results, have joined forces.

"Vaccine tourism" stretches states' supplies

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Americans who are highly motivated to get vaccinated are traveling across state lines after hearing about larger vaccine supplies or loopholes in sign-up systems.

Why it matters: "Vaccine tourism" raises ethical and legal questions, and could worsen the racial socioeconomic and racial inequalities of the pandemic.