Consider this: in 1952, a botched experiment at glassmaker Corning led to the creation of an ultrathin, ultrastrong, ultraclear panel that no one seemed to need.1 Half a century later, that unheralded component transformed the consumer electronics industry. It made possible the touchscreen technology now ubiquitous in smartphones, notebooks, tablets, and TVs.
When it comes to innovation, what appears to be stagnation of new ideas sometimes proves instead to be that long stretch between the discovery of an extraordinary idea and its commercial use. As prior Vanguard research has found, there were similarly long lags between the invention and widespread adoption of the telephone, the lightbulb, and even the personal computer.2
The new report, written by Schickling and his colleagues Joe Davis and David Diwik, reconciles the lackluster official productivity growth of the past decade with the notion that invaluable discoveries were indeed in development. They just hadn’t all yet expanded into commercial applications.
“We’ve seen incredible advancements in the food science, biomedical engineering, and material science spaces,” Schickling said. “The creation of biodegradable food packaging may reduce world wide material pollutants. Medical-detection wearables may soon be able to detect health issues well before the onset of visible symptoms. Solar technology is expanding into everyday materials like paint and textiles, which can dramatically enhance our ability to capture reusable energy.”
These nascent technologies have yet to grab a substantial commercial foothold, but they and other still-undeveloped technologies may be on the precipice of reshaping our economic landscape.