Every day, all around us, the most amazing technological advances are introduced to make the world a better, more connected place. And no one bats an eye. Are we immune to the incredible?
Last Tuesday, I was flying to Dallas. That’s a four-hour flight give or take some help/hindrance from the wind. Thanks to the rain, my trip took a little over 12 hours. Then, on Thursday, I was flying back home, which took me nearly ten hours thanks in large part to a three and a half hour delay in Chicago. There was a time when I would’ve had to call my week a wash, and let go of the fact that I had lost two days. That’s not the case anymore, and we rarely, if ever, think anything of it.
The Technological Evolution
In 1965, Intel founder Gordon Moore described the first iteration of what has since become known as Moore’s Law. At its core, Moore’s Law states (and supports) that the number of transistors that can fit onto an integrated circuit doubles every two years. Logarithmically, that looks something like this:
From an engineer’s perspective, this is exciting enough as it is on its own. However, how can the average consumer appreciate just what this means in terms of where we are today? Well, let’s look at the concentration of red dots (which focus on calculations per second, or, more simply, average computational power per $1,000). In the decade between 1950-60, more was done to advance computational power than in all the centuries before that decade combined. The same is true of the last decade.
We’re on the verge of opening entirely new worlds of possibility and exploration, and we genuinely don’t care.
Why Don’t We Care?
Technology has sort of become the unconscious boy who cried wolf. Of course, we do care in the sense that our lives depend on these advancements (up to a point, which I will get to in a moment) but the fact that what was once perceived as magic takes place on a piece of metal in our pockets in fractions of a second is commonplace shows that our expectations and presumptions have shifted dramatically.
I was in the car with a friend recently and we were debating the country of origin of a particular author. Driving down the highway, I simply called out “OK, Google…” and asked a question. Then, a human (enough) voice gave us the answer we were looking for. For a brief second, I took a (virtual) step backward and vocally acknowledged my bewilderment. How amazing is it that we’re traveling at high speeds on a busy highway and have access to a virtually endless source of information, and we don’t even need our fingertips for it anymore? Not only that, but how many times a day does my life almost literally depend on this little magical rectangle in my pocket? Probably more than I would like to admit.
So to answer the question of why do we not “care” in the same way that we used to care when technologies would be unveiled at a world’s fair? I would think that it has a lot to do with Moore’s Law and Kurzweil’s Law of Accelerating Returns.
Kurzweil, Evolution and My Airport Delays
Ray Kurzweil, inventor, futurist and believer that he will live forever (in some capacity) has a theory referred to as the Law of Accelerating Returns. It is fairly simple: as evolutionary processes and progress increase exponentially over time (which holds true in the context of the history of life on Earth) so too shall the returns reaped from this evolution. In a technological context, as our intelligence and technology advance more rapidly, the power and uses of that technology shall correlatively advance.
It’s a fascinating yet simple concept when you think of it. 25 years ago, the world wide web made its debut, opening up the possibility to connect every single man, woman, child (and now so much more) on the face of the Earth. For the billions of years prior to that, there was no such thing, and now, less than three decades later, billions of years of human, intellectual and technological evolution are available in the palm of my hand.
So as I sat at the airport for a total of a full day last week, I was able to do so without skipping a beat. Four-hour delay? I’ll work on an article, a proposal and jump on that conference call I thought I’d miss. Six hours now? How about tweaking that presentation I have next week? And once I’m on the plane? Not to worry – I’m connected there too.
It’s pretty incredible when you think about it. But, alas, we rarely do.