Human Technology is
I have been reading
books on advancements in science and technology for a long time, and I believe
our world truly is at an inflection point. A number of new circumstances are
contributing to this unprecedented change. For example, AI in the form of
neural networks is making rapid improvements to several areas of research and
helping to increase the already prodigious rate of progress. We normally think
of progress in terms of straight lines but for many reasons it seems like
humanity's progress is set to explode in the form of a steep parabolic
What do you imagine
technology 30 years in the future to be like? Well, some people might look 30
years in the past, gauge the difference between now and then, and extrapolate.
This means they assume the difference between 1990 and 2020 should equal the
difference between 2020 and 2050. But this is linear thinking. Technology grows
at an exponential rate. This is because it is easier for more advanced
societies to make additional advancements (consider how difficult it would have
been to make lasting systemic advancements during the times of cave men). This
means that the improvements we can expect by 2050 may be many times the
improvements made from 1990 to 2020. Consider that esteemed futurist Ray
Kurzweil believes that the progress made in the 21st century will be 1000x as
significant as the progress made during the 20th century.
The rate of technological
progress itself has been accelerating for decades, centuries even. This is a
documented fact, but let's use a thought experiment to illustrate the point.
Imagine bringing someone from the 15th century to the 18th century. They would
undoubtedly be impressed with the progress made in the intervening 300 years.
But honestly, are you aware of any major technological breakthroughs made in
that time span? Most people aren't, but they include things like the slide
ruler, the steam turbine, the barometer, and the pendulum clock.
The progress made
between 1400 and 1700 would pale compared to the progress made in the last 300
years. In other words, someone from the 18th century would be astounded if they
could see today's inventions, vehicles, and computers. In my lifetime, the
advances made in telecommunication, microprocessor architecture, and the
realism of computer-generated imagery are practically incomprehensible. If
you are interested in the progress humanity has made in the last 1,000 years, stick
around to the end of this post, and check out the list of major inventions by
century and decade.
It may not seem like it,
but many major problems have been solved in just the last few years. Take voice
transcription, for example. As long as you speak clearly, your phone can
transcribe almost anything you say. Voice translation is similar. Your phone
can translate, with fantastic precision, between most known languages. Also,
consider optical character recognition, which now lets us copy, cut, and paste
text from a photo of a written page. These are all highly complex problems that
necessitated hundreds of innovations, from many experts, over several years
that would have seemed impossible to many just twenty years ago.
There are biologists
today who, just a few years ago, did not expect humanity to map the structure
of specific proteins in their lifetime. An AI software called Alpha Fold,
created by Google, has now mapped all of the proteins known to science (over
200 million of them) with near-perfect precision. AI is accelerating scientific
discovery in many fields. Today, computers are not just beating us at chess and
checkers but at much more complex games like Go and Jeopardy. A number of
computers have also passed the Turing Test in the last few years, successfully
tricking human judges into thinking that they are human. This was once
considered a grand goal of computer science, and now it is just another
benchmark. New and exciting technologies are announced publicly every
Ray Kurzweil calls the
acceleration of progress “the law of accelerating returns” (LOAR). This is not
a real ‘law,’ but it points to the fact that often advances tend to feed on
themselves, increasing the scope of the next advancement. Many specialists
believe that the rate of acceleration is accelerating. So, what will this mean
for you and me? In his book, "The Future Is Faster Than You Think,"
Peter Diamandis talks about six different features of growth in the technology
sector. These are features of "exponential technologies" and, when
listed in order, give you a sense of the stages that these technologies will
pass through as they mature. I think they are fascinating. Here they are:
The Six Ds of
- Digitalization: Once
digital, a technology can be stored, copied, shared, and spread at the
speed of light. Also, things that have been digitized are subject to
computation and rapid computer analysis.
- Deception: Exponential
progress can be deceptively slow initially but speeds up before you know
it. This is why many technologies that we take for granted today (such as
the internet) were scoffed at initially when people first heard about
them. Most people ignored and discounted the internet early in its
development. Times magazine said, "it will never go mainstream."
The potential of the internet was initially deceptive, and this is true of
other emerging technologies (i.e. self-driving cars, robotics, 3D
printing) that we tend not to think much of today.
- Disruption: This
is when a new technology changes established ways of doing things and
possibly impacts the entire industry. We are set to be hit with wave after
wave of new disruptive technologies. Recent technological innovations have
made it so that every year solar panels are cheaper and more efficient.
The batteries used to store solar power are rapidly becoming more
affordable with higher capacities. Because we can expect these trends to
continue, solar will soon permanently disrupt the fossil fuel industrial
- Demonetization: Technology
is demonetized when advancements that make a product or service more
efficient help to drive down its costs toward zero. Copying bits has
almost no cost at all, and this is why we can duplicate a song or a PDF
book for a friend for free. Many services have been demonetized in the
last few decades including, Google search, GPS usage, encyclopedias, and
- Dematerialization: This
happens when physical products are replaced by nonphysical services. For
example, physical maps and reference books, in general, are essentially
- Democratization: When
technology becomes so cheap that it is available to everyone. You see this
today: most people can easily afford a cell phone filled with cutting-edge
Means Less Waste, Less Clutter, and More Productivity
Let's talk about
dematerialization a little more. Your phone contains many applications that
used to be performed by separate products. Many of these products used to be pretty
bulky, but now they can all fit into one device that fits easily in your
pocket. Mobile phone apps have replaced (or dematerialized) the following
A list of physical
products that have been dematerialized by mobile phones:
calculator, alarm clock,
clock/watch, stopwatch, timer, Rolodex, address book, little black book,
calendar, thermometer, photography camera, video camera, mailbox, fax, pager,
two-way pager, flashlight, answering machine, home phone, public telephones, walkie-talkies,
maps, GPS device, music speakers, personal computer, PC software, internet
browser, modem, router, personal book library, encyclopedia, notepad, weather
predictions, television, movies, music CDs cassettes and vinyl, in-person
education, healthcare, barometer, metronome, ruler/tape measure, level,
universal remote, radio, appointment scheduler, organizer, world time clock,
scanner, dictionary, thesaurus, magnifying glass, and much more.
Products are becoming
intangible algorithmic processes, and it is exciting to think about what other
things may be dematerialized soon. As new tech is built into our cell phones,
their capabilities will continue to expand. We have already seen phones benefit
recently from the addition of things like accelerometers, lidar, neural
processing units (NPUs), and others. In the last few years, we have seen our
phones come to do fantastic things such as recognize songs (Shazam), play advanced
video games, serve as DJ equipment and turn tables, and allow you to communicate
with home devices remotely.
The combination of the
internet and the mobile phone really has produced dream technology. It gives us
instant access to real-time news, stock quotes, sports scores, weather forecasts,
help wanted ads, the worldwide auction garage sale that is eBay, satellite
images of any place on Earth, tax forms, real estate listings, records,
catalogs, scans, manuals and how-to guides, traffic reports, an amazing variety
of free music and video, tutorials, boilerplate legal forms, friend's updates,
and pictures or video of practically anything you might want to see. There are
countless websites with treasure troves of valuable information. For instance,
the Pubmed site gives anyone access to a large proportion of the sum total of
all medical knowledge.
photography, dematerialization put Kodak out of business. Through streaming, it
allowed Netflix to do the same to Blockbuster. Through digitalization Amazon
and Kindle put most bookstores out of business. Dematerialization is toppling
old business models. It allowed Apple Music and others to put inefficient and
wasteful music stores out of business. Once you can stream music on your phone,
why buy CDs? Email reduced the need for paper, stationery, stamps, envelopes,
and the transport of physical letters. If you can snap, store, and share photos
on your phone, why buy a camera and film? Dematerialization has been incredibly
disruptive and has improved our way of life.
There is not necessarily
an upside to everything. Sometimes we take two steps forward and one step back.
Right now, streaming a video necessitates that a hard drive somewhere spins at
2,700 revolutions per second and of course this contributes to global warming.
But there are countless new inventions being tested this very week to reduce
the energy consumption involved in streaming.
Support and Amplify One Another
Next, let's talk about
convergence. Part of the reason for optimism for the future of technology is
that many developing technologies will converge. Once they converge, they will
augment each other. For example, earlier, we talked about how recent advances
in AI have been applied to protein folding and produced prodigious amounts of
valuable data and insights. This kind of convergence will keep happening. Some
of the most critical advancements in neuroscience have not yet been appreciated
by experts in AI. Some of the most seminal advances in AI have not yet been
employed in robotics. And robotics has not yet benefited from some of the
fabulous advancements in 3D printing. But they will. All these disciplines will
reinforce and complement each other. Peter Diamandis refers to these as "converging
technologies," and the confluence between them is expected to boost all of
them. Each technology in the following list can be expected to continue to
improve incrementally over the next few years. As you read, just imagine how
they will interact and amplify each other in synergistic ways.
A list of converging
AI, robotics, computing
power, hardware architectures, Wi-Fi protocols, fiber optic standards,
networking standards, computer memory storage, satellites, sensors, quantum
computing, superconductors, deep learning, machine learning, big data, cyber
security, cryptography, material science, 3-D printing, bioinformatics,
pharmacology, biotech, quantum physics, CPUs, GPUs, NPUs, QPUs, software
engineering, programming, education, VR, AR, information sharing, open access, blockchain,
cryptocurrency, nanotechnology, gigabit speeds, battery technologies, leveraged
assets (Uber, Airbnb, mechanical Turk), crowdsourcing, crowdfunding, autonomous
businesses and organizations, cyborg prosthetics, brain-computer interfaces,
neuro tech, GMOs, CRISPR, cultured meat, vertical farming, renewables, solar
power, wind power, robotic avatars, flying cars, VTOL, drones, autonomous cars,
buses and trucks, electric vehicles, underground tunnels, rockets, and much
In his book, Diamandis
points to seven forces of growth, that I also found compelling. These are
forces that contribute to the law of accelerating returns. They are byproducts
of converging exponentials that act as "second-order innovation
The Seven Forces of
- Saved Time: When a
computer manufacturer shaves seconds off the boot time of a new desktop,
it could potentially add hundreds of years of additional productivity on
the population level. This is merely because the thousands of people using
that computer won’t have to wait as long for their computer to start up. The
newest solid state hard drives (SSDs) are 10 to 100 times faster than the old
hard disk drives (HDDs). Just imagine how much time is being saved as the
population switch from one to the other.
- Availability of Capital: The
availability of money drives breakthroughs. New systems such as
crowdfunding are now making money available to deserving entrepreneurs who
would never have a chance in the past.
- Demonetization: When
digital services become dirt cheap, companies and individuals can stretch
their dollars much further. Many of today's companies take advantage of
the free services offered by other companies making their business models
- More Genius:
Globalization, integration, and interconnectivity make it easier to find
geniuses in the world so they can get the education and resources they
need to make their contributions.
- Communications Abundance: The
internet, information sharing, and cross-pollination drive progress. So
many more people are connected today. This has made it incredibly simple
to find and work with people across the world that are interested in the
same things you are.
- New Business Models: New ways
of doing business have further entrenched positive tech developments.
These new models help make things better, cheaper, and faster.
- Longer Lives: Increased
longevity and improved physical and mental health increase productivity
and output per person.
Kevin Kelly, in his new
book, Inevitable, talks about similar growth forces. I highly recommend that
book as well. Next, let's list a few documented trends accelerating tech development.
The Law of Accelerating
Returns: The evolution of human technology will continue to advance at an
exponential rate, not a linear one. This is because the methods and progress
from one stage will be used to create the next. Efficiency is increasing, and
cost, effort, time, and resources needed are decreasing.
Moore's Law: Computer processing
power doubles every 18 months. This doubling is made possible because engineers
find ways to shrink transistors, making it so they can fit twice as many on the
same size piece of silicon. Computer processing power has exhibited this kind
of growth for over 80 years. In 2022 Moore's law is showing signs of slowing
down. Still, aside from it, there are thousands of other trends and s-curves
that are propelling advancements in computer science.
Rose's Law: The number of qubits in
quantum computers is expected to double every two years. This is very exciting
because each new qubit doubles a quantum computer's computational power. So,
when we found ourselves at 4 qubits a few years ago, Rose's Law pushed us to 8
in just two years. When this happened, quantum computers became 16 times more
powerful. Two years later, at 16 quibits they were 4,000 times more powerful.
IBM now has a 433-qubit processor. Just imagine how powerful these processors
will be in the near future.
Carlson Curve: DNA sequencing
costs are decreasing rapidly as a function of time. It cost over one billion
dollars to sequence the first genome in 2001. That price is now down to around
$500 and shrinking fast.
Why I See Big Tech as a
Good Thing and Choose to Share my Data with Corporations
Most people don’t feel
grateful for the phenomena of demonetization, dematerialization, and
democratization the way I do. They figure, “That stuff is just free now so that
the big tech companies can track us and ‘steal’ our data.” Uninformed
cynics mount countless arguments against the tech sector, AI, and
"FANG" (Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Netflix, and Google). Informed ones do
too. Sometimes it seems that all my friends and acquaintances dislike and
disparage tech companies and the executives that run them. They assume that
they are being swindled and spied on. Maybe this distrust is good because it
keeps those companies and their executives in check. But in my estimation, the
programmers and computer scientists of the last five decades are heroes. They
have engineered monumental structures, many, many of which are entirely free to
Much of the tech sector
gets a bad rap in popular media. Documentaries such as Netflix's “The Great
Hack” and "The Social Dilemma" (which I thought were well done and
thought-provoking) make us paranoid. Even most news outlets have us thinking
that big tech is trying to exploit us and “rob” us of our data. But how are
scientists and engineers supposed to improve the internet if they don't have
records of how humans interact with it? I always opt to share my info because I
want it to contribute to the analytics and to the very progress I have been
talking about in this entry. Many AI systems cannot recognize patterns unless
they have millions of data points. AI needs as much data as it can get. I have
nothing to hide, and I want to share my data so that they can contribute to the
algorithms that are finding important patterns in our world. In fact, as the
following few paragraphs will point out, keeping data open and sharing access
to it is becoming a cornerstone of the industry.
It is becoming
increasingly common for patentable or copyrightable material to be made open
and given away for free. This "open source" and "open
access" trend has been a tremendous boon to productivity. Much of the most
essential data, code, and software being developed today is made open source.
This means that it is not behind a paywall and that anyone can access, study,
use, and distribute it anywhere. Millions of people have put their code up on
the GitHub website so that others can utilize and alter (fork) it at no cost. Professional
scientists, researchers, and academia, in general, are more widely adopting the
open access model. I personally try to make it so that everything I publish is
Remember Alpha Fold,
that protein predicting software from Google that I mentioned twice already?
The team that developed it made their software and all their findings open
source so anyone can use, study, change, and distribute it. Similarly, Google
invented the "transformer," perhaps the most important AI
architecture in the last several years, and they made its structure open source
so that anyone can take advantage of it. After installing the requisite
applications, you could take the code for the transformer and run it on your
computer. In a sense, this would be like Henry Ford dematerializing the Model T
and gifting it to everyone on the planet. Scientists are now applying the
transformer model to many different areas such as nuclear fusion and drug
discovery with promising results. It is truly accelerating scientific discovery.
The internet itself
could have been commercial rather than public. We surf the internet freely
today, but it could have had toll booths and paywalls everywhere. Thanks to
some forward-thinking inventors internet protocols such as TCP/IP, HTML, POP3
and many others have fair use and public interest baked into them. With the
right hardware, anyone, from any country can tap into most of the web for no
cost and be served the data they are requesting virtually instantaneously. Today’s
search engines answer more than 600,000 questions per second, and those searches
are all free and instantaneous. You could calculate the value of the average search in many ways. Many
of the answers I am looking for I could not find at the public library and even
the ones I could find there would take 10 to 30 minutes of research. If my time
is worth 20 dollars an hour, then 10 minutes of searching at the library would
cost me around three dollars. Even if the value of each internet search was
only one dollar that would mean that search engines provide over 2 billion dollars’
worth of information every hour. But please keep in mind that if people had to
drive to the library and perform an old-fashioned search every time they were
curious about something, humanity would ask way fewer questions and be way less
In the 1970s, there
wasn't enough money or resources in the world to create the internet as it is
today. However, intense efforts from millions of people over five decades made
it a reality. Much of the net was created by users and hobbyists, rather than
large companies or institutions. Experts estimate that more than 60% of the web
comes from passionate volunteers and is not commercial at all. For example,
most of the work that happens on Wikipedia is done by volunteers. This is true
of many curated services on the internet. Today anyone can create a blog or
YouTube channel for free and potentially reach a vast audience. This is
something that would've been impossible just a few decades ago. It is also
something that, to me, is a paragon of equality of opportunity.
Consider the privacy
issue in the extreme. Consider mass surveillance. I recently read a news report
about people in Hong Kong toppling lampposts because they believed facial
recognition cameras were inside. Are they in the right? It is not clear. I am
not against surveillance at all. I walk on the street at night a lot. I do it
to clear my mind. I have been assaulted multiple times on LA streets. People
would be mugged much less if each lamppost was passively tracking faces and
license plates. Think about it. It would make it much more difficult for
criminals to pull off battery, shooting, and kidnapping. It would save people
from injury, loss of possessions, and trauma. It would make me feel safer on
the street and in my own home. Also, I don't commit crimes or do things that I
am ashamed of, so I have nothing to lose from mass surveillance. I certainly
think there should be transparency at many levels and watchdog oversight.
Still, I welcome the city of Los Angeles knowing exactly where I take my
walks. What is the worst thing the government could do with my location? I can't think of anything.
If facial and license plate recognition took place at every street light many people would be forced to rethink their lives. No one would get away with anything illegal so people wouldn't even try. This would vastly reduce the criminal population. There are over 2 million people in U.S. jails. ...People that wouldn't be there if they knew there would be a record of their criminal acts.
Don’t get me wrong. Data
can be used for to exploit people and can even be weaponized. It can be used to
target people to be shown fake or misleading news. So data collection and use
certainly needs to be scrutinized. I applaud whistle blowers like Edward
Snowden who point out when governments or companies are secretly tracking
citizens. I think that data should be tracked, but we should know everything
about how they do it, with complete transparency. Perhaps we should even be enabled
to self-monetize our own data. A quote from Kevin Kelly’s book, “The
Inevitable” states this clearly: “If symmetry can be restored so we can track
who is tracking, if we can hold the trackers accountable by law (there should
be regulation), and responsible for accuracy, and if we can make the benefits
obvious and relevant, then I suspect the expansion of tracking will be
Digital privacy is
important. You don't want criminals to have your credit card numbers. But I
think we should be willing to give responsible corporations like Google and
Apple our info. They mostly use the information in aggregate to improve their
services, meaning that they are not interested in us as individuals. Where they
are interested in us individually, it is mostly just in recommending better
ads. If you are going to have to see ads anyway, wouldn't you want to see more
engaging ones tailored to your interests? Personal data is also used by
scientists to study trends, by politicians to illuminate policy issues, and by
medical experts. Wouldn't you want your Apple Watch to be enabled to tell that
your heart is beating in an arrhythmic pattern? If collecting your data could
help Apple warn others of an arrhythmia, wouldn't you want that?
I always opt to share my
data. I don't know how much longer I will be on this Earth, and I would rather
have my data be used to inform algorithmic decision-making (contributing to a
greater whole) than be thrown in the trash as if it never existed. I know that
big tech isn't solely out to improve our lives, and I don't see the coming tech
revolution as utopian. That may be too optimistic.
But as long as
technology keeps progressing, and as long as we keep holding tech corporations
accountable, I see our future as a protopia where improvements are cumulative,
and every day is better than yesterday.
What Can We Expect from the Future?
There is nothing
predicted to slow the momentum of these ongoing technological revolutions. Let
me throw out a couple of predictions of my own. These are hasty forecasts and
meant to be taken with a grain of salt.
Predictions for the Future
- AI will become conscious by 2050.
- Infinity water recycling and desalination
will end most water shortages by 2070.
- It will be illegal to drive your own car
- Large 3-D printed houses will cost a few
tens of thousands by 2060.
- A desktop computer will have more
computing power than a human brain by 2050.
- Nanobots will enable us to think in the
cloud by 2100.
- Ubiquitous solar panels will make solar
energy the primary energy source by 2060.
- Fusion power will be sustainable and cost-efficient
- Nanotechnology will make food mostly from
thin air by 2100.
- We will have microscopic nanobot doctors
in our bloodstream by 2070.
- We will have virtual avatars of deceased
loved ones by 2030.
- Robotic earthworms will mine and biodegrade
garbage by 2080.
- There will be major human rights issues
around biological upgrades by 2030.
- Humans will reach mars and set up a base
on the moon by 2035.
- Tree planting drones will curb our loss
of vegetation by 2080.
- There will be heavy taxes on the use of
industrial robots and commercial AI, which will help pay for the universal
basic income necessary for free basic food and housing for all US citizens
· Manufacturing and
distribution will be heavily optimized by AI and cloud solutions by 2025. This
will increase quality and decrease waste and environmental impact.
· Quantum computing will become
useful by 2030 and allow us to simulate complex systems with large implications
for areas such as pharmaceuticals and performance materials.
· A variety of new
technologies will help us to both reduce and remove carbon emissions helping us
approach a net-zero carbon footprint by 2050.
I recently read a great
book called "New Thinking" by Dagogo Altraide. It describes some of
the most important inventions of the last 300 years in chronological order. It
is a fun read because it allows you to follow accelerating returns through
time. I used the book, along with several websites and Wikipedia to help me
compile the following list of inventions. As you read through it, I hope you
get a sense of how technological progress has been growing with compound
interest and of how your future is brighter than you might have previously
Moveable type printing
The Newcomen Steam
The Watt engine
The spinning jenny
Factories and textiles
Hot air balloons
The voltaic pile, an
Multi signal telegraph
The theory of evolution
The difference and
analytical engines (early mechanical computers)
The internal combustion
The horseless carriage
The assembly line
movies, and motels
The Wright brother’s
The Ford Model T
The pop-up toaster
Bread slicing machines
Tanks and submarines
Vacuum tube electrical
Mass production through
Cathode ray tube
The first transatlantic
The Turing machine
Aerosol spray cans
The jet engine
Univac tape drives
The solar cell
The black box
DNA and the double helix
The fender Stratocaster
The polio vaccine
controllable robotic arms
NASA and Darpa
Tennis for Two, the
first video game
The integrated circuit
Teflon nonstick pan
Stem cell therapy
First spacewalk, and
Digital video game
Soft contact lens
ARPANET, first Internet
Word processing program
Disco, glam rock, power
C programming language
Post it note
Genetic engineering and
Magnavox Odyssey home
Computer 3-D animation
Graphical user interface
Portable cassette player
General PC operating
World Wide Web
Computer worms and
SMS text messages
Graphical web browser
Human genome project
Internet search engines
Dark matter and dark
Digital video recorder
Capacitive touch screens
USB flash drives
Blogs and wikis
AI transcription and
James Webb telescope
There are some definite
inconsistencies in this list. At times I chose to include an invention in the
decade it was actually discovered. At other times I chose to list the invention
in the decade that it became widespread. There’s also a lot of gray area
between the first instance of an invention and I the point where it is ready
for commercial use. In placing them on a timeline, I tried to use reason and