Some thoughts on innovation and technological progress from Kurzweil.
Original at Forbes.com
Kurzweil begins plotting technological progress in the early ’80s and soon determined that progress, from the discovery of fire through today’s headlines, follows a steady exponential curve. The curve originates, he says, from the fact that we use the last generation of technology to build the next, multilpying past gains with each advance. The cycle inevitably brings smaller hardware, greater capability, and falling prices in a ladder of interlocking s-curves.
“I projected it out for 60 years,” he says, “and we’re right on the curve I laid out 30 years ago. How can this be? We’re measuring competition, innovation, creativity, entrepreneurship. These things are unpredictable individually. It’s like thermodynamics. Any given molecule is unpredictable, but the aggregate effect is consistent. There are millions of people involved in this curve, and the overall impact is remarkably predictable.”
Examples are everywhere. Processing power is following the exponential path outlined by Moore’s Law. 3D scanning and printing is turning manufacturing into a matter of bits and bytes; engineers have printed functional violins, airplanes, even 70 percent of the parts necessary to build a new 3D printer. The human genome project has brought medicine under the yoke of high-performace computation. Digital imaging equipment is scanning brains and fueling efforts to reverse-engineer the cortex. Nanotechnology is dependent on digital modeling, leading to the prospect of health-promoting, blood-borne nanobots. Speaking of nanobots, Kurzweil recalls: “ESPN asked me, ‘we’re going to ban these, right?’ I answered that steroids are bad for health long term, but these are good for your health. If you ban them, you’ll be forcing athletes to ignore something useful and high school students will outperform Olympic athletes.”
(this post is from my phone because my Fios has failed and Verizon has not been able to get a technician to my house)