I mentioned yesterday that the growth in global world product was the best available overall indicator of technical and economic progress. This is because it summarizes all improvements in human productivity at creating goods and services. The above data for global growth rates come from Berkeley economist Brad Delong before 1980, and from the IMF after 1980.
However, some caution should be applied - because innovations can easily take a century or two to diffuse throughout the world, GDP growth is some kind of weighted average of the last couple of centuries of inventions. Eg China is now massively deploying railroads (invented in the early nineteenth century) and freeways (invented in the mid twentieth century), and other parts of the world have still not done so.
At any rate, you can form your own opinions as to whether the graph is above is
- Accelerating upwards towards infinity at about 2045 (a la Kurzweil).
- Soon to go permanently negative (collapse)
- Having peaked in the 1950s, now going to gradually asymptote down towards zero (steady state world).
- Going to continue at the same rate forever.
For what it's worth, when I combined the two data sources and fit a trend line for the post-1900 period, it turns out there is no trend in that period: