Friday, January 10, 2014

Exponential Growth, Or Why We Think The Future Is Far Away

As humans we tend to underestimate change. This was true in the early days of computers and it is true today with modern technology. It is very hard to identify how and when new technology will have a large effect, but after observing the computer revolution, it has become possible to discern a basic pattern about how technological advances build up and create an exponential pattern of improvement.
In the past, technology advanced slowly, only in retrospect can the full pattern be seen. Each time something is invented or a new intellectual idea enters the stage, it allows for new areas of innovation. These areas in turn lead to newer areas of knowledge, creating the exponential increase we now see everywhere.
Still, it is easy to underestimate when things will happen. We all know that great advances are being made in robotics, nanotechnology and cybernetics, but when will these things become accessible? The answer is probably sooner than we can imagine.
To understand why, lets look at exponential functions. One of the tricky things about the exponential is that when it starts small it tends to stay small for a long time. But when the value begins to increase, it can take off with incredible speed.
Its as if computers came out of no where, then the internet and the high speed communication network we almost take for granted today. In the beginning, it was easy to think computers were going no where, giant clunky vacuum tube machines filling entire rooms. Now its obvious that it was simply a large version of something easily made tiny and cost efficient.
In the same way, robotics, nano technology and cybernetics (among other things) seem beyond the reach of most people. But soon advances in these fields will grow with incredible speed, based on decreased cost of technology and increased access to knowledge.
What exponential growth in these areas means for humanity we can only guess at, but in effect, the faster the upward curve of progress, the more important it becomes to project goals into the future.
With the potential speed that things can change, it seems evident that each and every person must educate themselves or risk being left behind. Public education clearly is not preparing most people for the world that is coming, and so we must take it upon ourselves to create a new paradigm of education based upon self motivation and open sourced sharing of information.
Together, we can use this as an opportunity to create the world we want to live in.

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