Exponential growth is a feature of any evolutionary process, of which technology is a primary example.
So we won’t experience 100 years of progress in the 21st century — it will be more like 20,000 years of progress (at today’s rate).
The “returns,” such as chip speed and cost-effectiveness, also increase exponentially.
Most technology forecasts ignore altogether this “historical exponential view” of technological progress.
That is why people tend to overestimate what can be achieved in the short term (because we tend to leave out necessary details), but underestimate what can be achieved in the long term (because the exponential growth is ignored).Recently a Noble Prize winning panelist dismissed Bill’s concerns, exclaiming that, “we’re not going to see self-replicating nanoengineered entities for a hundred years.” I pointed out that 100 years was indeed a reasonable estimate of the amount of technical progress required to achieve this particular milestone –in only 25 calendar years.When people think of a future period, they intuitively assume that the current rate of progress will continue for future periods.Until I return to a further explanation, however, do read the first sentence of this paragraph carefully.) Now back to the future: it’s widely misunderstood.Our forebears expected the future to be pretty much like their present, which had been pretty much like their past.Today, in accordance with the common wisdom, everyone expects continuous technological progress and the social repercussions that follow.But the future will be far more surprising than most observers realize: few have truly internalized the implications of the fact that the rate of change itself is accelerating.However, careful consideration of the pace of technology shows that the rate of progress is not constant, but it is human nature to adapt to the changing pace, so the intuitive view is that the pace will continue at the current rate.Even for those of us who have been around long enough to experience how the pace increases over time, our unexamined intuition nonetheless provides the impression that progress changes at the rate that we have experienced recently.Bill and I have been frequently paired in a variety of venues as pessimist and optimist respectively.Although I’m expected to criticize Bill’s position, and indeed I do take issue with his prescription of relinquishment, I nonetheless usually end up defending Joy on the key issue of feasibility.