A simple exercise to predict the future

Humans suck at thinking exponentially

Ferdowsi

Humans are extremely bad at thinking exponentially. An epic poem written by the Persian poet Ferdowsi wonderfully details this fault. The poem depicts a wise man who creates the game of chess and presents his invention to the king. The king, elated by the game, is so happy that he asks the wise man to name his prize. The wise man asks merely to receive one grain of rice for the first square on the chessboard and then twice that for each subsequent square. Somewhat offended by this “small” prize, the king agrees. Unfortunately for him, there isn’t enough rice (1.8e19 grains) in the kingdom to pay the wise man and thus the wise man becomes king.

Can you use exponential thinking to predict the future?

The law of accelerating returns

In 2045, Ray Kurzweil believes that humanity will experience an epoch event known as the singularity. This singularity will be a superintelligence capable of improving itself ever faster, the results of which human brains (as is) will be unable to comprehend. To be sure, this event may not be determinate, but Ray made his prediction using some simple, applicable tools.

  1. The law of accelerating returns
  2. Estimate of the computing power needed to simulate a human brain

As you can see in the graph above,computing power per $1000 has been following an exponential increase since 1900. In fact since exponential growth on a logarithmic graph should be a straight line, the growth of computing power is itself increasing. Ray Kurzeil has a great excerpt from his book The Singularity is Near which expounds this point, at The Law of Accelerating Returns.

A simple method

Exponential returns span a number of information technology spaces. This includes process speed, cost, hard drives, RAM, internet speed, power efficiency, internet penetration and technology adoption.

These laws have transformed laptops from grey boxes to aluminum slivers. Cellphones from heavy bricks into svelte glass and TVs from building them into walls to hanging them like a painting.

So here is the simple formula.

  1. Take a product that exists now
  2. Pick a dimension you want to predict (size, cost, speed)
  3. Pick how many years out you want to predict
  4. Double that dimension for every 1.5 years until you reach your date

Simple

Try predicting 1.5 years from now for the devices you use every day like your cell phone, laptop or fitbit(fuelband, up). Predict how long until you have a laptop with week long battery or a fitbit the size of a grain of rice.


Epilogue: Google Glass

Glass is revolutionary. It’s the beginning of humans merging with technology.

Glass may look dorky, but I want you to apply the formula above to it.

Predict how long until it’s merged into the frame of your Ray-Bans. Then predict how long until it’s built into a contact lense.

These will happen sooner than you think.

That’s the power of exponential progress.

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