Big Think | Big Idea: technology grows exponentially

in print | feature with Ray Kurzweil
May 10, 2019

note: This post is being repaired + updated, thanks for your patience.

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— the feature —

publication: Big Think
section: Technology + Innovation
story title: Big Idea: technology grows exponentially
date: March 21, 2011


note: archived for the library


What’s the big idea?

The doubling of computer processing speed every 18 months, known as Moore’s law, is just one part of the bigger trend that all technological change occurs at an exponential rate.


on the web | pages

Intel | silicon technology innovations: Moore’s law
Intel | silicon technology innovations: architecture for the next era of computing


Why is it ground-breaking?

For most of human civilization, life around the world has changed very slowly, so that we only notice advances moving at a routine — but not extreme — pace. But that’s no longer the case — says inventor + futurist Ray Kurzweil.

Kurzweil says: “We won’t experience 100 years of progress in the 21st century — we’ll experience 20,000 years of progress.” Think about how life has changed over the last 10 years — wireless internet, smartphones, Facebook and Twitter – then try to imagine how different life will be in year 2021 — or even year 2100.

The technological singularity is a theoretical time in society’s future where technology becomes so advanced that we can’t imagine it — think androids, immortality, and inter-stellar travel. Some people have criticized Kurzweil’s prediction that the singularity will happen by year 2045. His opinion is based on the shaky assumption that Moore’s Law will continue. Famous physicist Michio Kaku, PhD has said: at some point silicon transistors will simply be unable to get any smaller or faster.

 

But according to Kurzweil, Moore’s Law of Integrated Circuits is the fifth in a series of paradigms of exponential computing processing growth. And the previous four paradigms—”from the mechanical calculating devices used in the 1890 U.S. Census, to Turing’s relay-based ‘Robinson’ machine that cracked the Nazi enigma code, to the CBS vacuum tube computer that predicted the election of Eisenhower, to the transistor-based machines used in the first space launches”—all operated under this same underlying principle, writes Kurzweil. In other words, even if scientists do hit a wall with silicon-based circuits, something will emerge to take its place.

But according to Kurzweil, Moore’s Law of Integrated Circuits is the fifth in a series of paradigms of exponential growth in computer data processing. And the previous four paradigms – “of mechanical calculators used in the census of 1890, to the Tunning relay” Robinson “who broke the Nazi enigma, on CBS’s vacuum computer predicted the choice of Eisenhower, Transistor machines that are used in the first space launches “- all worked under the same basic principle, writes Kurzweil. In other words, even if scientists hit the wall with silicon-based circuits, something would appear to occupy his place.

Why should you care? 

Consider the tremendous power of the exponential growth of computers: “When I was an undergraduate, we all shared a computer at MIT that took up half of a building,” says Kurzweil. “The computer in your cellphone today is a million times cheaper and a thousand times more powerful. That’s a billion fold increase in price performance of computing since I was an undergraduate.” Now apply that same dramatic increase to other fields that depend on information technology:

  • Energy – Solar power, which relies on nanotechnology, will be cheap enough and powerful enough to power the entire world within 20 years, says Kurzweil.
  • Neuroscience – Projects to reverse-engineer the brain will construct a full, synthetic model by 2029, says Kurzweil, giving us greater insight into how the brain thinks.
  • Genetics – Within 10 years we will all have digital copies of our genome, leading to medical therapies are personalized to our individual genetic makeup.
  • Nanotechnology – As robots get smaller and smaller, we will be able to insert them into our bodies to repair damaged or aging tissue.

What Can You Do?

“If you look at the implications of exponential growth, it creates a very different picture of the future and it’s not intuitive,” says Kurzweil. Problems that may seem intractable now could become eminently solvable in the near future. Not only should this inform investing and planning for the future, it should also change what you think of as possible for humanity. Soon, things which we could barely have imagined decades before might be within reach.

Learn More

Ray Kurzweil Explains the Coming Singularity

When I Am a Robot, How Will I Have Sex? 

How to Stop Robots From Killing Us

Singularity Is a Religion Just for Digital Geeks

 

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What’s the big idea?


Duplicating the speed of computer processing every 18 months, known as the Moor’s law, is just one manifestation of a bigger trend that all technological changes are exponential.

Why is it revolutionary?

For the vast majority of human existence, it would have to be assumed that the world in which you died would look almost the same as that in which you were born. But that is no longer the case – and very soon people will not even die, says futurist Ray Kurzweil. “We will not experience 100 years of progress in the 21st century – it will be more than 20,000 years of progress (today’s rate),” wrote Kurzweil 2001. Just think about how things have changed over the last 10 years – wireless internet, smartphones, Facebook and Twitter – then try to imagine how much things will matter significantly in 2021 or even 2100.

Ratings criticized Kurzweil’s anticipation that the Singularity (the technological horizon of events behind which our human imagination can not even estimate – think of androids, immortality and interstellar travels) will occur in 2045. It rests on the very clumsy assumption that Moor’s law will continue to say they are true. Big Think’s own blogger Michio Kaku said that at some point silicon transistors would simply be incapable of getting less or faster.

But according to Kurzweil, Moore’s Law of Integrated Circuits is the fifth in a series of paradigms of exponential growth in computer data processing. And the previous four paradigms – “of mechanical calculators used in the census of 1890, to the Tunning relay” Robinson “who broke the Nazi enigma, on CBS’s vacuum computer predicted the choice of Eisenhower, Transistor machines that are used in the first space launches “- all worked under the same basic principle, writes Kurzweil. In other words, even if scientists hit the wall with silicon-based circuits, something would appear to occupy his place.

Why do you need to worry?

Consider the tremendous power of exponential growth in the computer: “When I was a student, we all shared a computer at MIT that occupied half of the building,” says Kurzweil. “The computer in your cell phone today is a million times cheaper and a thousand times more powerful. It’s a billion times bigger the price of a computer than my undergraduate study.” Now apply the same dramatic increase to other areas that depend on information technology:

  • Energy – Solar energy, which relies on nanotechnology, will be cheap enough and powerful enough to energize the entire world within 20 years, says Kurzweil.
  • Neuroscience – Reverse brain engineering projects will build a complete, synthetic model by 2029, says Kurzweil, giving us a better insight into brain thinking.
  • Genetics – Within 10 years we will all have digital copies of our genome, leading to medical therapies that are personalized in our individual genetic makeup.
  • Nanotechnology – As robots become smaller and smaller, we will be able to insert them into our bodies to repair damaged or old tissue.

What can you do?

“If you look at the implications of exponential growth, it creates a very different picture of the future and is not intuitive,” says Kurzweil. Problems that can now seem irresistible can become very soluble in the near future. Not only would this need to stimulate investment and planning for the future, but you should also change what you consider possible for mankind. Soon, things we could scarcely imagine decades ago could be close to hand.



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story title:
deck: in print | feature with Ray Kurzweil
year: 2019
section: blog

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