Within the last hundred years we have seen unparalleled growth in every kind of technology. In the early twentieth century we opened our eyes to germ theory, nuclear physics and relativity, and as we edged closer to the new millennium the growth of technology has gained momentum never before seen in history. In as little as three or four generations we have gone from the invention of the automobile to the use of drone spaceships and permanent orbiting laboratories, however there have been dramatic costs in addition to all the benefits of the silicon age. Today a sixteen year old can 3D print a functional fire-arm and a virus can spread continents in a matter of hours, not to mention the fact that our everyday transportation and food production have had a possibly permanent, devastating effect on the climate on a global scale.
If you look at the advancement of technology, and the intervals between landmark achievements in almost any field, it is obvious that we are on the initial climb of a dramatic exponential curve. Moore’s Law is the explanation of this trend. Gordon Moore, a founder of Intel and pioneer of silicon processors, predicted that the number of transistors on an integrated circuit would double every two years. This prediction has held true for decades, and the functional doubling of the processing power of computers every two years has resulted in exponential advancement in any field relying on computers. Medicine, robotics, aviation, military technology and almost every other field have seen rapid advancement, riding the coattails of processor power.
Sometimes technological advancements are not a factor of achievements, but funding and access. Take self-driving cars for example. It was not long ago that driverless cars were nonexistent; even though airplanes and ships have been enhancing their autopilot controls steadily for years. One man, Elon Musk, has led several of the most groundbreaking companies in robotics and artificial intelligence due to having the vision and funds to make it happen. Now vehicles in every market have auto-braking and semi-automatic driving, using computers and different kinds of sensors to automatically prevent rear-ending and drifting out of your lane. These innovations, and their inevitable successors, have not only created a historic turning point in the automotive industry, but also driven the development of robotics and artificial intelligence with a practical, innovative application. The interesting thing is that this technology has been possible for years, but only recently has been utilized and pushed to a functional point by Elon Musk and Tesla.
While self-driving cars are an interesting development this decade, the most important advancements recently and in the near future are in medicine and biotech. Researching cures for common diseases creates an environment where investigation can give us new insight into how our bodies and minds work. As I said before, the medical industry is not independent of computing advancements, and this will very quickly produce biotech that now seems like science fiction. 3D printed organs, prosthetics which are controlled like real limbs and our increasing ability to repair the body in brand new ways are just the beginning of what will soon be possible. However, there is a problem. These advancements, while being revolutionary, are usually available only to the most connected and wealthy of the world. Even in most first world countries the ability to get reliable medical care is not guaranteed, let alone in less developed ones. Places like the Mayo Clinic and other medical institutions on the cutting edge of medical procedure and technology are able to push boundaries of restorative medicine, but only for the right price.
Understanding where we are in relation to our past is important to seeing how fast we can progress in the future. Historically, new research achievements have the potential for devastating effects on our future while bettering our lives at the same time. With germ theory came germ warfare. With the understanding of physics and relativity came the atom bomb. The most important hurdle is not destroying ourselves before we can progress a bit further and see the expansion off earth of our civilization. This may seem like an exaggeration, but with commercialized spaceflight becoming the standard and developments in fabricated living environments it will probably be here sooner than most people think. Unfortunately in most of the world, money that could be used for research to better our ability to sustain ourselves is used on military campaigns and weapon stockpiling. The newest Zumwalt class destroyers in the US Navy are being built for about 4 billion dollars apiece, for a branch of the military already tenfold better equipped than any other on earth.
The ruthless advancement of technology in this age is not controllable or entirely predictable. When research progresses fast enough into new technologies, obsolete methods and materials take with them their variables and predictions. What good is Moore’s law in the age of quantum computing? With the pace of innovation in the twentieth century, the face of the earth, and especially the most technologically advanced countries, will be irreparably changed. How many truck drivers, taxi drivers, sailors and the like will be made obsolete by cars and boats and airplanes controlled entirely by artificial intelligence? The next industries and professions after that to become automated or eliminated as a byproduct of progress are not pitiable victims, just the most recent casualties in centuries of technological advancement. The next 50 years will put us farther up the exponential growth curve of our technological progress, and as the future comes, benchmark achievements will hopefully solve more problems than they create, as they will only come faster and faster.
This article was written by Jake Perry, a writer for dusk magazine.