Accelerating Technologies

A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to attend a conference in which Ray Kurzweil made a presentation called “The Democratization of Innovation in an Era of Accelerating Technologies.” Ray, an inventor, futurist, entrepreneur, and author, took us through the exponential growth of technology over the last 100+ years.
None of the information Ray presented was really new; in fact, much of it was history. But sitting there over lunch, it did make me stop and think about the rapid pace of change we are experiencing in our information technology world. Ray reminds us that this improvement is accompanied by a dramatic reduction in unit costs, so that technology becomes “democratized,” available to all.
We have all personally experienced this trend first hand. For example, remember that first digital camera? It was kind of large and bulky, pretty slow, just a ‘meg’ or two, and expensive. Now, Best Buy has displays filled with digital cameras that are faster, smaller, better, and cheaper.
At work, we have witnessed the dramatic growth of data traffic and we can handle that traffic with smaller and cheaper equipment. Of course, we are not satisfied. We continue to develop systems that increase the traffic and, of course, we want to continue to shrink the costs.
Ray one-ups Moore’s Law , which originally stated that the number of transistors on an integrated circuit would double every two years. Ray says that information technology of all kinds doubles its power every year. This concept also applies to miniaturization, i.e., as things get more powerful and cheaper, they also get smaller. A prime example is nanotechnology – working on an atomic and molecular scale.
What really grabbed my attention was the application of this increasing power and shrinking cost and size to two “technologies” that we in the CIO world do not normally consider: Solar Energy and Health IT.
Ray’s projection is that nanotechnology will enable solar technology, in only five years, to be at the tipping point – when the cost of solar energy will equal the cost of energy from oil and coal. I can only hope that Ray Kurzweil is correct! But will we really see solar energy move into a significant role in our lives starting in only five years?
Health IT is even more intriguing. Not only will IT help us manage all our health related information , nanotechnology will allow us to study the human body faster and better. The next generation of CT scans and MRIs will assist medical personnel as they work to solve our individual medical issues as well as the larger issues of solving cancer and other diseases. One can only imagine the diagnostic equipment we will we have in a few years. Nanotechnology and medicine can improve our lives with new gene therapies, smart drugs, and simulated testing of drugs. Will nanotechnology allow us to indeed solve cancer?
As I try to comprehend what a doubling of all kinds of information technology every year will bring to us, one thing is sure – it will be truly amazing. I can hardly wait!
If you are interested, take a look at Ray Kurzweil’s presentation and slides.