The rapid advances we have seen in recent decades, particularly in information technology or the biotechnologies, suggest that scientific and technical progress is accelerating and that that trend will never reverse. However, as Pierre Morel shows us here, we are living, in scientific terms, on the gains of the 20th century and since then no new theory has been developed that can give rise to a wave of technical innovations such as we continue to profit from today.
Morel begins by reminding us that the convergence between the sciences and technology – that is to say, between a theoretical scientific discovery and its practical consequences (for example, through industrial applications) – is a recent phenomenon and only really began in the early years of the 20th century. After recalling the foundations of modern physics, he shows that all the technical innovations of the 20th century arise out of the mastery of a single one of the four fundamental forces governing our universe: electromagnetic interaction. He then shows that the paths currently being followed by fundamental physics (which he outlines in brief) are not pregnant with concrete applications. For want of genuinely new developments, it is by increasing the complexity of existing systems that we shall be able to go on innovating – in other words, by playing the card of increasing product sophistication.