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

Coronavirus surge punctures oil's recovery

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

The growth of coronavirus cases is "casting a shadow" over oil's recovery despite the partial demand revival and supply cuts that have considerably tightened the market in recent months, the International Energy Agency said Friday.

Why it matters: IEA's monthly report confirms what analysts have seen coming for a long time: Failure to contain the virus is a huge threat to the market rebound that has seen prices grow, but remain at a perilous level for many companies.

2 hours ago - Sports

Big Ten's conference-only move could spur a regionalized college sports season

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

The Big Ten announced Thursday that it will move all fall sports to a conference-only schedule.

Why it matters: This will have a snowball effect on the rest of the country, and could force all Power 5 conferences to follow suit, resulting in a regionalized fall sports season.

The second jobs apocalypse

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

This week, United Airlines warned 36,000 U.S. employees their jobs were at risk, Walgreens cut more than 4,000 jobs, Wells Fargo announced it was preparing thousands of terminations this year, and Levi's axed 700 jobs due to falling sales.

Why it matters: We have entered round two of the jobs apocalypse. Those announcements followed similar ones from the Hilton, Hyatt, Marriott and Choice hotels, which all have announced thousands of job cuts, and the bankruptcies of more major U.S. companies like 24 Hour Fitness, Brooks Brothers and Chuck E. Cheese in recent days.