Why we need to stop thinking of the future in linear terms

Did you know that today’s smartphones have access to more information than Bill Clinton had the entire time he was president? Or that the first digital camera had a resolution of .01 megapixels, yet today, you can get a 41-megapixel camera as part of a smartphone?

Kaila Colbin is the New Zealand and Australian Ambassador for Singularity University. She is also the Co-Founder and Chair of the non-profit Ministry of Awesome, Curator of TEDxChristchurch and TEDxScottBase, Chair of the New York-based Natural Gourmet Institute for Health and Culinary Arts, Deputy Chair of CORE Education Ltd, a board member of Canterbury Development Corporation Holdings Ltd and a Certified ExO Consultant with ExO Works.


Conversation Notes

  • How is it possible that an artificial intelligence system predicted that Donald Trump would win the US election weeks beforehand?
  • The doubling curve of computer price-performance explains why today’s smartphones have access to more information than Bill Clinton had the entire time he was president.
  • It’s not just about computing. This doubling phenomenon applies to any technology once it becomes ‘information enabled’.
  • The difference in something following a linear trajectory and something following a doubling curve is insane. Our brains are not wired for this.
  • It is not about what technology is available at any given point in time. That is not the key thing. The key thing is how technology changes over time.
  • What has to come together for mass uptake of the technology? It’s not just the technology that has to be ready, the regulatory environment has to be ready, the market appetite has to be ready, the investment environment has to be ready. When all those things come together, that’s when we hit that inflection point.
  • These technologies are now starting to converge. So now we have to consider what happens when something like exponential progression in AI hits exponential in something like robotics or biotechnology. Or bioengineering converges with 3D printing at the atomic scale? When we can literally print matter atom by atom? What happens is that everything accelerates even faster.


“Every new computer starts at the sum total of all the knowledge of all the previous computers – which is why these things progress exponentially. We’re continually using better tools to build better tools. So, that’s the terror, but it is also the opportunity.”


Straight line or gradually increasing curve?

This sort of growth does not show on a graph as a straight line but as a gradually increasing curve. So, given this rate of change, many predictions of when we are likely to have streets full of driverless cars and fully-functional human organs produced on demand will be blown out of the ballpark.

Are we ready for the change?

One of the biggest problems with the misunderstanding about the rate of technological change is that we are nowhere near ready for it. Our infrastructure is not ready. Our legislation is not ready. And, many of us, as individuals, are not ready to cope with all the consequences of rapid change.

For example, the recent allegations that 50 million US Facebook users’ have had their private information stolen has highlighted the need for the urgent regulation of our cybersecurity. Yet many of us unwittingly allow our private data to be shared every day and national governments aren’t equipped to deal with these issues in their own country, let alone to collaborate on a global scale.

On the positive side, these advances mean that we are more likely to see cures for many diseases, such as cancer and diabetes much sooner than we could ever have anticipated. New technologies won’t make all jobs redundant, either. True, some will go, but others will evolve and be further enabled by technology – much like how cars and trains replaced horse-drawn vehicles but allowed countless other industries to emerge.

Once we learn to grasp what exponential growth in this context really means, we’ll be able to see the potential of what humanity (assisted by technology) can achieve. It’s breathtaking!


Kaila’s Linkedin: K Colbin

SingularityU Australia Summit’s Website: singularityuaustraliasummit.com

SingularityU’s Website: su.org

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This episode forms part of our 2018 series narrative, ‘The Art of Focus’ which is based on the premise that, in an information-dense society, our attention resources have become depleted. The series’ speakers will help us identify and explore the areas in our lives where we may need to regain focus, increase our self-awareness and improve how we interact with those around us.

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