A quarter century is a long time. I’m not particularly fond of our ritual marking of the passage of time. This wasn’t always the case. Birthdays were pretty fun when I was a kid as I was in quite the rush to get older. My mind always felt advanced for my physical years and I was eager for my body to catch up. Being older seemed better, to a point.
It was during college that birthdays lost their appeal. Seeing the rapid success of others made it abundantly clear that a lot could be done in a little time and time, being scarce, became the enemy. I began to view accomplishment not as a state, but as a rate. My peers set the bar for the number of milestones to achieve in a year, a month, a day — the numerator always growing and the denominator compressing faster than commodity hardware margins. I couldn’t win the rate race for I barely knew where it started, nevermind where it ended, so I sidestepped the game entirely and went down a random walk of life and learning; a fitting way to spend my first quarter century.
Step back 25 years to 1990, the year of my birth. The world was an entirely different place. The digital age had not yet started in earnest but something was brewing. Exactly a quarter century before, Gordon Moore wrote a seminal paper predicting the exponential rise of silicon with prophetic accuracy. Empowered by a 1000x increase in computing power from the date Moore published that paper, mainframes were running seemingly everything behind the scenes. For a typical person, however, this wasn’t obvious.
The personal computers of the day were little more than expensive, glorified typewriters. Scanning memories from my earliest years, I can recall manual typewriters and audio/video cassette tapes. Humanity, a mere 5.2bn strong, was living in an analog world and barely cognizant that digital technology was about to hit escape velocity. A lot can happen in 25 years. A lot did happen those 25 years. Fast forward.
The last 25 years were no less eventful, but you all know that. The breakneck pace of technological advancement has been impossible to ignore and more than 2 additional humans have joined this party for each of the nearly billion departed, many loved ones amongst them. Do the math and we’re at 7.5bn, half of us online with the technobillionaires on a mission to ensure the rest join soon. Technology is changing the world and everyone knows it (though most underestimate it). To say that we are now entering uncharted territory is an understatement. The next 25 years will be a wild ride — for humanity, and for me.
Why talk about technology while reflecting upon my own life? The purpose of my random walk til now has been to find a purpose. I have found one. There were many great purposes to chose from. Medicine, the hard sciences, humane studies, philosophy, and mathematics are all noble pursuits. My extraordinary friend Dan Goodwin took 29 years to find his purpose of advancing neuroscience but in the spirit of the rate race, I may have him beat. I’m back in the game and there are no more timeouts.
The g of of macroeconomic models represents technological advancement’s contribution to total societal output and is by far the greatest driver of our economic progress and social change. Technology has its discontents—moving fast and breaking things, well, breaks things and humanity is a scary thing to break. It is our lives and livelihoods at stake. But I will be here at the forefront as a technogeneralist devoted to envisaging, building, and understanding the technologies that matter; the ones that will change things for better and hopefully not worse. Common wisdom states it takes 25 years for your brain to mature suggesting that in just under a week, my mind will be credibly fully-formed and plausibly capable of doing something halfway useful (Stephen Rueckert once claimed that I had done something halfway decent, it was kind flattery).
It wasn’t until microprocessor design began to test physical rather than engineering constraints that digital technology really began to have an impact. Much happened but there was relatively little to show for it during the first 25 years of the silicon age. The key word there is “relatively.” Of course, a lot happened, but it pales in comparison to what happened after.
A lot will happen the next 25 years, but here’s to the last week of my first. Unassuming as they may have been, the seeds of the future have been planted amidst them. In my own life relatively little has happened but something is about to. I can feel it — I’m excited.