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?

We all know that the rate of computing power is getting faster and faster, but figures like these really help us to put it into perspective. As Kaila Colbin says in her Florence Guild presentation, Riding the Wave of Exponential Change, computing performance is growing at an exponential rate, not a linear rate. It has been doubling roughly every 18 months beginning with electromechanical punch cards during the industrial revolution.

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.

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 Colbin is the New Zealand and Australian Ambassador for Singularity University. Amongst many other things, she is also the Co-Founder and Chair of the non-profit, Ministry of Awesome, and Curator of TEDx Christchurch. In her presentation Riding the Wave of Exponential Change (recorded as part of Florence Guild’s speaker series, The Antidisciplinary Future’), Colbin shared her insights on the nature of technological progression and the degree of impact it has on every single one of us. She explains everything in terms that are easy to follow and gives examples of the changes that are taking place right now that are the signs of things to come. Take the time to listen to Colbin’s presentation as it will reshape how you see the future. Be sure to share it with your friends, too.

‘The Antidisciplinary Future’ series narrative explores how we can look outside traditional disciplines to find better ways to live and work now and in the future. You can hear Colbin’s presentation by listening to Episode 17 of our ‘antidisciplinary’ podcast series. You can also keep up to date with conversations with other thought leaders by subscribing to our podcast on iTunes and Stitcher Radio.