Are ideas getting harder to find?

Here was the original intro to my piece last week on innovation, inventors, and taxes:

In the long run, prosperity depends on a society’s ability to generate and apply good ideas – especially in science and technology. Unfortunately, those ideas are getting harder and harder to find. Economists estimate that scientific research is becoming more expensive — the amount of time and effort required for each new breakthrough is increasing. In response, some experts fear that modern economies have eaten “all the low-hanging fruit” and therefore will struggle to maintain economic growth.

The challenge for the U.S. and other advanced economies is to somehow overcome this, to innovate more without paying more.

My editor wisely advised I get right to the point, but I wanted to post those paragraphs here because it’s an important topic. If you want to know more about the research suggesting ideas are getting harder (more expensive) to find, read John Van Reenen’s research brief or this paper or this Economist article.

The thinking in starting the inventors/taxes piece with this line or research was that if new ideas are getting harder to find, one way to find more of them more efficiently would be to reduce barriers that keep talented would-be inventors from inventing. If society were more equitable, you wouldn’t just get more inventors, you’d get better ones.

But there’s one other big idea out there about how to improve the efficiency of invention: use AI. The idea is that AI isn’t just a normal invention; it’s an invention that helps you invent new things. That’s an idea I hope to explore more, here and at HBR.

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