back to article Rate of disruptive tech and science discoveries has slowed over the decades, claims study

Far from an era of accelerating innovation and disruption, our current times manifest evidence of a slowing of discoveries and developments that change our thinking. A study led by Carlson School of Management associate professor Russell Funk, shows that patents and papers are less likely to take humanity’s body of knowledge …

  1. ComputerSays_noAbsolutelyNo Silver badge

    Who needs disruptive tech and science, ...

    ... when there's plenty of deceptive tech and science to go around?

    1. ecofeco Silver badge

      Re: Who needs disruptive tech and science, ...

      So it isn't just me who can't tell the difference between disruptive and deceptive. Whew. Good to know.

  2. elsergiovolador Silver badge

    Way finder

    Disruptive means something finding a loophole in the regulations and generating abnormal profits until the government realises something is wrong and tries to regulate it.

    The key thing is to generate so much profit while you can, so that then you have enough money to stuff brown envelopes and ensure any regulation government does will be effectively a ladder pull, so that your business doesn't get killed, but others won't be able to start or won't be able to make as much profit as you could.

    1. Disgusted Of Tunbridge Wells Silver badge

      Re: Way finder

      Not that there's any point, but disruptive generally means the opposite of that.

      To pick a random example, think terrestrial TV being crap and only having to compete with each other and then Sky comes along and starts offering more. It makes everybody better off because now even non-sky customers benefit from the increased competition the likes of ITV are under. ITV et al have to produce better programming because otherwise people will subscribe to Sky. Because Sky have disrupted the market.

      Wealth isn't how much money you have or your income, it's your consumption power. If the quality of ( in this case ) TV increases then you are ever so slightly richer. All thanks to the market being disrupted.

      Although let's stick with the status quo. Destroy the textile machinery. There must be no change.

      Fine you don't like Uber, but that doesn't mean that all disruption is bad. The brown envelopes and ladder pulling comments are just nonsense.

      Large companies and the like like a moat - they like not competing. They like regulations because regulations are expensive and startups don't have as much capacity to abide by onerous regulations. Regulations designed to prevent disruption are for the most part bad.

      1. Disgusted Of Tunbridge Wells Silver badge

        Re: Way finder

        Thumbs down. The irony of Luddites using the Internet...

        1. Binraider Silver badge

          Re: Way finder

          Sounds more like someone admitting they make a living off doing what the OP suggested to me...

      2. GruntyMcPugh Silver badge

        Re: Way finder

        Sky was the best example you could come up with? Say you were a football fan. Any football, including cup matches, were shown on terrestrial TV, for free. Then Sky et al come online, pay for the rights, and so there's no more free footie for anyone, people have to subscribe. Then they take the important stuff, and make it PPV, so you pay twice. That's only disruptive to the wallet.

        1. Disgusted Of Tunbridge Wells Silver badge

          Re: Way finder

          It was a random example. There are millions of examples of where a market has been disrupted and the outcome has been better for consumers. If you don't like Sky or Uber, there are still millions more for you to pick from.

          Although as a football fan, I can watch a lot more games now than I would have been able to before 1992. BBC don't even bother to reserve BBC One for their Wimbledon coverage, turning it off part way through the day.

          The printing press disrupted the writing industry. As a result the consumer gets books that are so cheap as to be almost free. Daily newspapers that weren't even possible before. Tell me how that's bad. That's disruption.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Way finder

            The canonical Web example is Google Search. Everyone thought Lycos, Excite, Yahoo and whatnot were just competing with each other on layout and adverts, and nobody could really improve search results, until Google went and did it with PageRank and the others had to follow or become irrelevant.

        2. tiggity Silver badge

          Re: Way finder

          Agree with @GruntyMcPugh

          Sky did not really innovate with exciting new shows, their main strategy was pay for huge amounts of exclusive sports coverage so there was virtually no "major" sport on free to air TV. Then relied on sports fans paying for Sky (with a bit of non sports content just to pretend it was a balanced programming offering)

          Disgruntled UK sports fan who will not pay a Sky sub so misses out on a lot of stuff (especially miss the cricket)

          1. Neil Barnes Silver badge

            Re: Way finder

            I think the technical term is 'cornering the market'. They did the same for F1: In Germany there is now no way (absent techno-cheating) to watch a race except on Sky; you can't even watch it from the F1 company themselves..

          2. Disgusted Of Tunbridge Wells Silver badge

            Re: Way finder

            Funnily enough I took Sky because I thought it was long enough ago that people wouldn't miss the point entirely. Ah well.

          3. Disgusted Of Tunbridge Wells Silver badge

            Re: Way finder

            Innovation doesn't need to be futuristic technology. It can be a business process. It can be a business model.

            Supermarkets, for example, are an innovative technology that disrupted the market. They allowed for lower prices and more convenience for the user than what came before. For all your inevitable complaints about how supermarkets are bad, the number of people who use them will tell you that people like them.

            Sky was better than what was. I remember having four channels. I remember going to my mates house where he had hundreds of channels - it was brilliant. Sky innovated in that they were the first commercially successful satellite TV broadcaster in the UK which they did by buying the rights to the domestic football and (gasp!) showing it to people.

    2. ecofeco Silver badge

      Re: Way finder

      I have no idea why you got ANY downvotes. That's EXACTLY how it works.

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Also the funding for research is very heavily based on quick results that can be commercially exploited in 2-3 years time. Academics have very little hope of getting real blue-sky funding for novel or unknown prospect ides.

    Another factor that is often missed is the return rate on grant applications is depressingly low, many academics spend most of their time applying for funds, many of which are small (as in £50k-ish) and some cases you only see 5-10% return rate so a week or so applying for each is not actually paying their salary + overheads.

  4. FlamingDeath Silver badge

    Garbage in

    Garbage out

    “I Like Money” - Frito

  5. Howard Sway Silver badge

    Fewer great developments, or just more crap ones?

    You end up with the same statistic either way.

    And who could ever have imagined living in a world without Toasteroid- First APP Controlled Smart Image Toaster

    "Toast awesome images, the weather, send toast messages, and everything in between to cure your morning blues!"

    1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

      Re: Fewer great developments, or just more crap ones?

      They could at least have added AI

      1. Pseu Donyme

        Re: Fewer great developments, or just more crap ones?

        I was going to suggest blockchain as well, but I suppose (hope) it is passe already.

        1. Boris the Cockroach Silver badge

          Re: Fewer great developments, or just more crap ones?

          And a voice synth

          A sprinkling of AI

          And a list of toasted bread products....

          1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

            Re: Fewer great developments, or just more crap ones?

            And a certain mono-maniacal attitude toward serving you toasted bread products?

    2. Arthur the cat Silver badge

      Re: Fewer great developments, or just more crap ones?

      "Toast awesome images, the weather, send toast messages, and everything in between to cure your morning blues!"

      For most of us it's crap, for some people it brightens their day. Don't be a killjoy.

      1. Always remember Sturgeon's Law.

      2. Be smart enough to realise that the 90% varies by person.

    3. jdiebdhidbsusbvwbsidnsoskebid

      Re: Fewer great developments, or just more crap ones?

      It's the latter, not the former. The nature article and the associated paper both point out that the number of highly disruptive articles and patents each year have broadly stayed the same, but the number of less disruptive ones has increased.

      So by their measurement, there is still the same number of great ideas coming each year.

  6. Pascal Monett Silver badge

    What ? Rounded corners didn't advance technology ?

    Count my gast flabbered.

    1. Arthur the cat Silver badge

      Re: What ? Rounded corners didn't advance technology ?

      Rounded corners are a safety feature. Pointy corners risk having someone's eye out.

      1. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

        Re: What ? Rounded corners didn't advance technology ?

        On the other hand, stabby corners deter theft. It's all about your threat model.

  7. steelpillow Silver badge

    Reality check

    Back in 1945 real inventors took out patents and real discoverers wrote papers.

    Today in 2023 corporates churn out patents as fast as their lawyers can draft them in order to carve out monopolies, while sponsored scientists churn out papers as fast as the academic publishers will accept them in order to build their chances of a real job offer. In both cases, genuine novelty is subservient to what they can get away with pretending.

    Result: in 2023 the noise has risen vast orders of magnitude. The genuine is probably much as before and still detectable under there if ArXiV cared to pass it through LIGO's detection algorithms.

    1. Arthur the cat Silver badge

      Re: Reality check

      Today in 2023 corporates churn out patents as fast as their lawyers can draft them

      Just had a chilling thought – AI derived patents. Après ChatGPT, le déluge de merde.

      1. TimMaher Silver badge


        It’s raining shit! Hallelujah! It’s raining shit!

        Mine has an umbrella in the pocket.

        1. ComputerSays_noAbsolutelyNo Silver badge

          Re: Hallelujah!

          A folding umbrella, what a disruptive innovation ... at least it disrupts the flow of shit-rain onto the head

    2. sgp

      Re: Reality check

      Plus all the universities wanting to secure a better spot on some arbitrary ranking based on amount of papers produced.

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Wait, you're telling me that more government, more restrictions, more taxation, more government granted coercive monopoly, gatekeeping academia, attacks on individual liberty and suppression of thought, collectivism, and a philosophy of self sacrifice for sacrifice sake alone causes a slowing of innovation?

    Say it isn't so!

  9. Jim 68

    Disruptive MBAs

    To be serious for a moment, I think the post about the rise in the noise level is relevant. It took Max Perutz 30 years to elucidate the structure of h(a)emoglobin.

    Most scientists would be fired by MBAs if they took more than 5 years even to discover the Grand Unified Theory of Everything.

    1. ecofeco Silver badge

      Re: Disruptive MBAs

      They'd be lucky to get five years!

    2. Plest Silver badge

      Re: Disruptive MBAs

      Try 6 months ( on contract only ) at most or get out!

  10. DS999 Silver badge

    The reason is obvious

    As knowledge and technology advance, the baseline level one has to reach before being capable of a "disruptive" advance is higher. The longer it takes to reach that level, the fewer productive years remain. Even if retirement age increases over time, in a lot of fields (mathematics being a particular example) most of the biggest advances are made by those in the first half of their career.

    The younger ones are more willing to work longer hours (greater stamina, no family yet) and more willing to consider ideas that those who have established reputations to protect may not. But if their productive period starts at age 30 instead of 25 due to needing more years of post-grad/fellowship/etc. to reach the baseline for contribution that may be five less years they have for useful contribution in their entire career.

  11. ocelot

    We used to play a game at Philips Research back in the 1990's of seeing what was the most stupid idea you could get patented.

    I think I managed to get a patent for WiFi over wires ....

    This was following one of our managers managing to get the "Red button (immediate hot link to other content) " patented on a TV remote control... not really disruptive tech.

    However, what used to happen is that the disruptive ideas often came from people whose understanding covered a wide field of knowledge and were able to synthesise new ideas from a wide range of sciences.

    These days scientists are more narrow specialists and have less training in areas that let them think outside the box.

    Its really why people like Elon Musk succeed and scientists dont - he knows a dangerous little about many technical things and has imagination and money to tie them together with ever stronger bits of duct tape until they fly or get thrown out for being a total disaster.

  12. Plest Silver badge

    2008 - the year the world seem to stop turning

    In the 1990s it seemed like anything was possible, tech and discovery was racing ahead. We had gagdets, the internet was maturing enough for normal people to use it and it seemed like we'd finally have our "cars on the moon" by 2030....

    We hit sometime around 2008 and the world just seemed to stop spinning and has been stuck in time, at times even feels like going backwards with COVID like a middle ages plague, strikes all over that Watt Tyler would be proud of and basically the same tech as we had back in 1998. Are our state of the art PCs really any different to that state of the art Pentium with 32MB of memory you bought back in the day?

    Now all management schools churn out are MBAs, they don't manage anything other than budgets. The MBA is simply a cert to get you middle-management job with little experience in a field and then all you do is fight tooth and nail to make profit at the expense of all else. If you have to fire someone just 'cos they're not quite up to spec then do it, hire in someone with more drive and no idea what they're doing, rinse and repeat until something marketable comes from it. Sadly now it's taken 2-3 times longer than expected and competitors have beaten you to market, so you just quit and go do same thing at another company. The world now full of "project managers" that simply move in like locust, obliterate in the name of profit and then move on.

    At the age of 50 I think I'll just get back to my old rocker and keep yelling at the kids to get off my lawn.

    1. Pete B Silver badge

      Re: 2008 - the year the world seem to stop turning

      "Are our state of the art PCs really any different to that state of the art Pentium with 32MB of memory you bought back in the day?"

      Yes -we get things like SPECTRE and MELTDOWN from the new state of the art ones.

  13. Binraider Silver badge

    Most stuff worth inventing has already been invented.

    Innovation now is either trivial and useless like the bottomless pits of kitchen gadgets destined for landfill; or highly niche and esoteric. And sure, the latter stuff can be interesting. But rarely sweeping life changes.

    Most of the physics we use relatively routinely was known and well established by 1925 or so.

    Engineering to take advantage of the physics is maybe 50 years behind that. By the 70's the right way to model and build a bridge or nuclear reactor was well known. (Cough, Millennium Bridge). And by the early 2000's we had sufficient computing power to throw at just about any problem you could construct within the known rules. This is of course now a problem, because the original knowledge is being forgotten on the assumption computer models "just do it for you".

    Biotech is probably the area still with significant movement to go. Using mRNA vaccines for cancer treatment for example is one interesting spin-off of recent research.

  14. Sanderson

    The problem lies at the foundation of physics... qm and gr are incompatible(non-renormalizable), if Newton or Einstein had nailed gravity the first time around we wouldn't need dark matter to make up the difference in galactic behavior. The dark variables represent the difference between prediction and observation. We should have started over, the universe provided the evidence the theories were wrong, we ignored it and folded them into the problem.

    We are obviously close, but our equations missing the majority of mass and energy at the galactic scale indicates our foundations are cracked and we have been making logical workarounds the entire time to make up for errors at the base, no matter how close it looks at the macro scale, the ideas do not work. We have failed at producing a congruent system top to bottom. They cannot be unified in their current state.

    "Ideal states" are not useful, they are the only thing hindering us. Zeros in the math when zero does NOT exist. The perfect vacuum, inertial frame, and absolute zero, represent a zero in mass, time and motion respectively. Thse are logical errors baked into the foundations, imaginary starting positions with no grounding in reality. There is no missing piece, we overcomplicated the entire matter by subdividing one too many times forcing a hoop-jumping exercise.

    We have never isolated light or energy outside the medium of atoms, the medium has only been observed to be atomic, inference is not evidence. The particles are all misinterpretations none have ever been directly observed, all rely on second hand data collected from detectors and worked out in the math, a math written to explain the universe through particles, it's self serving and circular, it has not produced results in over a century, without a space in the physics for gravity everything is slightly incorrect.

    We need to start over, the math needs to be geometry based, our 3d existence dictates the smallest constituent be a 3d object(atom)... the logic is where the mistakes lie not the numbers, except zero if anything the zero symbol ought to represent the whole or infinite surface, geometrical atom in 3d and all of existence.

    Light and gravity are one in the same, kinetic motion of the atom, reciprocal, return bounce, cascading atomic impacts at the speed of light(which is a baseline of atomic motion, not speed limit), heat waves from the core pull us down equal and opposite, a fine vibration responsible for all "brownian motion" perpendicular to the surface.

    Have a great day

  15. Nonymous Crowd Nerd

    What about the methodology?

    I do like the premise that innovation may have slowed. I think I would agree that it might have.

    But how do you measure "disruptive"? If you have to compare the disruptive impact of an iPhone, a flush toilet, a steam engine, a pneumatic tyre, Word for Windows and a pushbike... How do you even start?

POST COMMENT House rules

Not a member of The Register? Create a new account here.

  • Enter your comment

  • Add an icon

Anonymous cowards cannot choose their icon

Other stories you might like