For the past four-and-a-half days, I’ve been bombarded by insanely skilled academics with a tsunami of information that will, henceforth, color the way I look at the world -- and should, I believe, color the way you do, too.
The program is based in Silicon Valley and it’s called Singularity University, or SU. It was founded by Ray Kurzweil (who, among myriad other accomplishments, is a member of the National Inventors Hall of Fame and was called one of 16 “revolutionaries who made America” by PBS), and Peter Diamandis (who started X-Prize, which develops contests for tech development). The faculty includes Ph.D.s, bestselling authors, a board member of the Electronic Frontier Foundation -- insanely heavy hitters all. The content includes nanotechnology, bioinformatics, future crimes, medicine and neuroscience, the future of work, energy and environmental systems, and more.
But what, exactly, do these topics have to do with each other? More importantly, what do they have to do with you? Fear not, Dear Reader; there is a theme, and it affects all of us. It is the converging and multiplying effect of what SU calls “exponential technologies”: technologies traveling along the price-performance curve at an exponential rate.
The one that we’re most familiar with is computers, which famously follow Moore’s Law. In 1965, Intel’s Gordon Moore predicted that the number of transistors per square inch on integrated circuits would continue to double, every year. Doubling may not sound like much, but consider this: if you take 30 linear steps, you’ll end up 30 yards from where you started; if you take 30 doubling steps, you’ll go around the world 26 times.
Thanks to Moore’s Law, we’ve gone from the 128kb of RAM boasted by my first computer to 8 gigs for the machine on which I’m typing. We’ve gone from computers that took up entire buildings to tablets that fit in a small purse. Your iPhone has over 240,000 times the computing power of the Voyager I spacecraft.
But you know this. So why am I going on about it? It’s because this same exponential improvement curve is applicable to any field that is information-based.
Take artificial intelligence. Not too long ago, it was accepted dogma that computers would never be good at recognizing images -- hence services like Amazon’s Mechanical Turk, which paid people tiny amounts to perform tasks that were simple for humans and complicated for machines. But in the past three years, the Deep Learning algorithm has gone from being able to recognize cats (as a toddler can) to numbers (as a five-year-old can) to being able to recognize mitosis or cancer cells (as a trained pathologist can). Think about the progression from the iPhone 1 to the iPhone 6 and imagine what that kind of exponential improvement looks like for AI.
The same insane improvement curve can be found in all the other topic areas I mentioned above. It is what is making driverless cars not only possible but inevitable. It's allowing the invention of a “Star Trek”-like medical tricorder: a small, handheld device that, by the end of this year, will beat the diagnosis of seven out of 10 board-certified physicians.
It’s also what’s making it possible for a single criminal to rob millions of people, or hack a police car, or hack a U.S. military drone. It’s why we can fully expect 47% (or more) of jobs to be automated by 2034.
Exponential technologies offer exponential promise and exponential threat. They are not science fiction; they are already here. And they will absolutely change both your job and your life much faster than you expect.
How’s that red pill tasting?