There are three reasons to think this “great stagnation” might be ending. First is the flurry of recent discoveries with transformative potential. The success of the “messenger rna” technique behind the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines, and of bespoke antibody treatments, shows how science continues to empower medicine. Humans are increasingly able to bend biology to their will, whether that is to treat disease, edit genes or to grow meat in a lab. Artificial intelligence is at last displaying impressive progress in a range of contexts. A program created by DeepMind, part of Alphabet, has shown a remarkable ability to predict the shapes of proteins; last summer Openai unveiled gpt-3, the best natural-language algorithm to date; and since October driverless taxis have ferried the public around Phoenix, Arizona. Spectacular falls in the price of renewable energy are giving governments confidence that their green investments will pay off. Even China now promises carbon neutrality by 2060.
I think someone really got high on their own version of toxic optimism. Since The Economist doesn’t usually reveal their writes (everyone writes under the pseudonym), for them, it helps to showcase the fancy iterations of AI as the next manna from heaven. It isn’t. It is a reflection on the magazine itself.
I am more concerned about the basics- reproducible science, verifiable results, open source and open access. Anything done in the public domain needs to be ploughed back to the community that it purports to serve. I have written extensively about SciHub and its impact with the necessary whining from the “less developed” countries.
The editorial is a combination of several press releases mashed together and brought in as a leader. Incremental advances in science need to percolate to end users- not turn them into products to benefit specific set of investors.