In the last 100 years, there has been more technological progress made than in the whole saga of human history.
Technological progress, which is a consequence of scientific inquiry, has become an unstoppable force, continually pushing the boundaries of the impossible.
No man can fully grasp how far and how fast we have come, but condense, if you will, the 50,000 years of man’s recorded history in a time span of but a half-century. Stated in these terms, we know very little about the first 40 years, except at the end of them advanced man had learned to use the skins of animals to cover himself. Then about 10 years ago, under this standard, man emerged from his caves to construct other kinds of shelter. Only five years ago man learned to write and use a cart with wheels. Christianity began less than two years ago. The printing press came this year, and then less than two months ago, during this whole 50-year span of human history, the steam engine provided a new source of power. Last month, Newton explored the meaning of gravity. Two weeks ago, electric lights and telephones and automobiles and airplanes became available. Only last week did we develop penicillin and television and nuclear power. -JFK
Take a moment and think about the technological changes you’ve seen in your lifetime. If you’re 25 years old, like me, you’ve seen nothing short of a revolution in communication, information and technology. In the last 25 years, the internet came into our homes and changed our lives. A few years later it was at our fingertips. VHS became DVD. DVD became Blu-Ray. Tube TV gave way to 1080p flat screens, and 1080p is currently being phased out by 4k. Cassette tapes were supplanted by CDs and the creation of the MP3 player made the CD obsolete. Polaroid cameras fell victim to the digital camera, the iPad turned science-fiction to science fact. GPS devices became ubiquitous. YouTube gave people a voice (and cured boredom). Social media was born and grew up FAST. Facebook changed the way we communicated, Twitter made the world smaller. The human genome project was completed; we landed multiple rovers on Mars. Hybrid cars became practical. Google, Tesla, Pay-Pal, Space-X, the list goes on and on.
A new gadget, app or idea seems to pop up everyday. But it wasn’t always this way. Think about a person living in France in the year 1615. Do you think this person witnessed any major change since the year 1590? Not at all. A further illustration of my point would be to imagine a time-traveler who came from the year 1915 to 2015. This person would quite literally be in shock. Things have changed so much in that 100 year span, that our time-traveler might as well be an alien. Now, let’s suppose a time-traveler from the year 1315 traveled 100 years into the future to the year 1415. Is the time traveler in awe? Is he speechless when he sees the technological changes that have taken place? The answer is no. In terms of technology, the world looked much the same in 1415 as it did in 1315. This would be the case for any 100 year span in all of human history, except for the last 2 centuries.
For most of the 200,000 or so years the anatomically modern man has walked the Earth, the future was expected to be much like the past. There was indeed technological change happening during these times, especially in the last 10,000 years. But it was far too slow to be visible over the course of a human lifetime.
But beginning with the enlightenment in Europe in the 16th century, the curve of progress began to skyrocket. By the turn of the 20th century, the exponential nature of technological growth was evident. People could actually witness the change over the course of their lives. The 20th century will be praised by future historians as the birth of the modern age. We went from the Wright brothers to the moon, horses to Porches, muskets to AR-15 assault rifles and cannon balls to atomic bombs. We’ve come so far in the 20th century that it’s actually hard to fathom.
The change that will come in the 21st century will dwarf that of the 20th. I call this the technology wave, and the wave is about to break. The way humans live in the year 2100 will be totally foreign to all of us. It’s impossible to predict what will happen next year, let alone what will happen in 85 years. But there are some broad trends that we can extrapolate from. But why was the 20th century so vastly different than all the other centuries? Why did things progress so much quicker? Why will the 21st century be so radically different than all the others? Apart from the accumulation of knowledge from centuries past, the answer to that question is the rise of computers. They are a tool like none ever seen before. The power of computers is immense. The general usage of these machines began in the 1950s and today our entire global infrastructure depends on them.
The most powerful tool ever built
The rate of change ITSELF is growing exponentially. In 1965, Gordon Moore, the founder of Intel, observed that every two years or so, the amount of transistors per square inch on an integrated circuit had DOUBLED since the integrated circuit was invented. This means that in 1965, the power of computers was doubling every two years. This trend was then extrapolated into the future by Moore and is now called Moore’s Law. Today, we are doubling our computing capacity every 8 months or so. This explosion in computing power has also been paralleled by a steep decline in cost. The price for computers used to be so high that only the largest companies and government entities were able to afford them. Computers were also very large and clumsy machines, occupying the entire basement of the buildings in which they were housed.
So there are 3 trends that computers have followed since their inception.
1). They’ve gotten more powerful each year. This is the most obvious trend. But it’s important to remember that the RATE at which they improve is itself accelerating.
2.) The price performance ratio has steadily improved over time. $1,000 today will buy you a pretty good computer. The processing power you get for $1,000 in 2015 cost $10,000 in 2005 and didn’t exist in 1995.
3.) Computers are getting smaller. Today, the iPhone 6 fits in your pocket and has roughly 10,000 times the raw computing power than NASA had in 1969. 10 years from now, a computer that you can’t see without the aid of a microscope will be 10,000 times more powerful than the most capable super computer today. 10,000X the power is an extremely conservative estimate. A more likely scenario is that the microscopic computer will be 1 million times more powerful than the most capable today.
Because of the exponential growth in computing power and price performance (cheaper and more powerful), and because computers are the primary tool of science, scientific progression has also grown exponentially. Due to this exponential trend, what you think will happen 10-15 years from now will most likely come to fruition in 5-8 years. The industrial revolution quickened the pace of production and innovation. The locomotive, the telephone, the radio, the television, the rise of the consumer and everything that came to be between 1750 and 1950 was due to the industrial revolution. Computers marked the beginning of an entirely new era. In this epoch, things move faster than ever. Perhaps they are moving too fast.
In conclusion, we are witnessing a time unlike any other in the history of the planet. My next post will be a timeline of sorts for the 21st century. The things that are coming will shock all of us. Indeed certain developments in the decades to come would seem like magic if we were able to witness them today. We stand on the shoulders of giants, and those giants are bringing forth a new era of human history.