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MIT researchers have released a new search engine that lets someone “Google” a technology’s future growth potential, predicting how fast it is advancing. When a team from the U.S. military recently wondered whether, in the future, they would be able to shoot down nuclear missiles with lasers, they consulted this engine and found out that the US should be able to shoot down nuclear missiles with lasers in 15 to 25 years.

The database published by will enable quantitative, rapid, and cost-effective forecasts for any technology. The researchers claim their research helps predict yearly performance improvement rates for nearly all definable technologies for the first time using the patent system network. Organizations use their insights to better understand and optimize their long-range budget, capability development, and investment priorities. 

The searchable database holds 97% of U.S. patents and mountains of data on technological improvement rates. A prediction algorithm can forecast how fast technologies are improving. The researchers found out that most technologies move slow. Of almost 1,800 different technologies, over 75% improve at less than 20% annual rate. Robotics is only improving at 18.5% a year — way less than the 42% benchmark of semiconductors.

They also found out that breakthroughs emerge from how much a technology patent borrows from other, apparently unrelated technologies, according to