Monday, February 18, 2008

Technology Spreading Faster Than Ever Before

THE ECONOMIST -- Technology is spreading to emerging markets faster than it has ever done anywhere. The World Bank looked at how much time elapsed between the invention of something and its widespread adoption (defined as when 80% of countries that use a technology first report it; see above).

For 19th-century technologies the gap was long: 120 years for trains and open-hearth steel furnaces, 100 years for the telephone. For aviation and radio, invented in the early 20th century, the lag was 60 years. But for the PC and CAT scans the gap was around 20 years and for mobile phones just 16. In most countries, most technologies are available in some degree.

See also this previous CD post on cell phones in Niger reducing the dispersion of grain prices, improving consumer and trader welfare.

More technology news: In April, the communist regime in North Korea plans to lift its 4-year ban on the use of mobile phones. Maybe that will reduce price dispersion like in Niger, except that prices are probably all controlled in N. Korea by the government, so there is no dispersion.


At 2/19/2008 5:12 PM, Blogger David said...

The numbers for "railways" are suspect. There were no steam-powered railroads until 1810 or so; this would put the 80% penetration point in 1935, which is ridiculous.

There were horse-drawn railroads as early as 1600, but if we are going to count these as the point of invention, we should also count the Bendix G-15 (circa 1956) as the invention point for the personal computer.

Also, the 70 years for radio is questionable. Marconi's system, which could only transmit Morse code, was introduced in the early 1900s, and voice transmission was not really practical until about 1920. Is it really likely that 20% of countries didn't have any radios prior to 1995, or even 1970?


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