It Took the Telephone 75 Years To Do What Angry Birds Did in 35 Days. But What Does That Mean? – Real Time Economics

1883: An illustration of a telephone exchange in London, first published in The Graphic.
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Step into an Apple store or any other electronics purveyor and you’re sure to come away convinced technology is advancing faster than ever.

That laptop that seemed impossibly thin a year or two ago is long gone, replaced far more svelte options. The latest phones take crisper pictures and the apps now seem endless and constantly changing.

These electronic riches are just part of a larger wave of innovation that is upending economies and creating new challenges for workers, according to a new report by Carl Benedikt Frey and Michael Osborne, two Oxford University economists who created a stir two years ago by predicting that nearly half of U.S. jobs could be automated away over the next two decades.

“It took on average 119 years for the spindle to diffuse outside Europe,” the authors note. “By contrast, the Internet has spread across the globe in only seven years.”

The idea that new technology is spreading faster than ever before has become conventional wisdom. The report notes it took 75 years for telephones to achieve 50 million users, while Angry Birds reached that goal in a mere 35 days. One of the more colorful comparisons, they note, appeared in Forbes—which recently pointed out that WhatsApp gained more followers in its first six years than Christianity did in its first 19 centuries.

But not all innovations are equal. A new computer app can spread quickly today because there’s an electronic network—which took decades to build, by the way—capable of connecting millions of users overnight.

“While there is some evidence that the pace of diffusion has increased, particularly in areas of media and electronics, it’s nonetheless true that in many ways diffusion is a very slow process,” says Scott Stern, an MIT economist who studies how new inventions spread. Changes happen more slowly, he notes, when a new invention is more fundamental. The adoption of telephones, for instance, required the construction of a massive network of wires and switches.

“We have the infrastructure in place to get Angry Birds,” he says. “But that doesn’t necessarily translate to the case of technologies that represent a more fundamental shift—such as autonomous machines.”

Related reading:

What Clever Robots Mean for Jobs

Be Calm, Robots Aren’t About to Take Your Job, MIT Economist Says

The Robots Are Coming for Your Paycheck

This Wasn’t Written by an Algorithm, But More and More Is



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13 March 2015 | 11:50 am – Source:


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