Technology is growing at an exponential rate, Kurzweil says

As an IT professional or executive, have you ever felt that technological advances are coming faster than you can keep up with? Apparently, you’re not alone.

According to the Business Performance Management Institute, just 11 per cent of executives say they’re able to keep up with internal demand to change technology-enabled processes. That statistic is used to support the need for new concepts like service-oriented architecture (SOA); but even that doesn’t address the fundamental issue that technological progress is growing exponentially.

Moore’s Law is an excellent example. From the mid-’70s we’ve somehow managed to double the number of transistors on an integrated circuit every 24 months, with exponential increases in processing speed as well, since electrons have less distance to travel.

Given current projections, Moore’s Law will hit a wall around 2019. By then transistor features will be only a few atoms in width and won’t get any smaller. But those hoping that computational progress will then take a pause and give us time to digest prior developments will likely be in for a surprise.

Futurist Ray Kurzweil has said when exponential advances in technology reach their limits, a paradigm shift occurs and new technologies take over on their own exponential trajectories. What’s more he finds that the rate of exponential growth is itself increasing exponentially towards what he calls a “singularity.”

In astronomical physics an example of a singularity is a black hole where matter is so dense that gravity is infinite.

Now imagine technological progress advancing to the point where time essentially stands still as advances happen instantaneously at one point in time.

This is clearly where Kurzweil’s views suddenly sound like science fiction and perhaps even unimaginable. All the same, it’s an interesting journey to read Kurzweil’s work. This isn’t fantasy. It’s a well thought out, scientifically and mathematically supported argument.

The reason we mere mortals have trouble relating to this is that we intuitively think in a linear fashion. We expect that if the cost of storage has dropped 10 per cent this year that it might drop another 10 per cent next year. We can’t seem to fathom that the price of storage might drop 20 per cent next year and 40 per cent the year after.

The part of Kurzweil’s treatise that I find a little difficult to accept is that humans will evolve fast enough to be able to take advantage of our approach to this technological singularity. He envisions hybrid biological/machine intelligence, which I simply can’t imagine in the next 20 years or so.

All the same it’s an interesting perspective when you’re contemplating something as mundane as implementing SOA in your organization.

On the upside, life expectancies are growing exponentially too. We may be around to see a lot more than we have anticipated with our linear thinking.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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