Thursday, January 16, 2014

Accelerating Change

My previous posts on my first computer and on my first Linux computer are snapshots of some changes that I have seen in computer technology in my short lifetime.  Those are just one aspect of change that I have witnessed.  In future articles, I plan on expanding on this theme.

In contrast to my short lifetime of 1/2 of my Grandmother's, imagine the changes she saw between her birth in 1892 and death in 1993 -- horses and candles to electricity, computers, cars, and space travel. She told us many stores including about the first time they had cars and when she first drove a car.

Some discoveries during her lifetime included:
  • discovery of the electron in 1897, understanding the structure of the atom
  • creation of quantum mechanics in the 1920s
  • creation of the special (1905) and general theory of relativity in 1916
  • understanding the nature of galaxies and age of the universe, Hubble 1920's
  • discovery of DNA and start of the Human Genome Project in 1987
  • widespread use of antibiotics
  • discovery of viruses in 1892
  • creation of new diagnostic/treatment technologies including nuclear medicine, MRI, etc.
  • invention of modern electronics, vacuum tube 1904, transistor 1947, IC 1958
  • practical use of radio and invention of television leading to color TV
  • use of audio in movies, addition of color, computer generated graphics in the 1980s
  • invention of the airplane in 1903 leading to jet travel and the Concorde SST
  • invention of liquid-fueled rockets in 1926, satellites, and space travel in the 1960s 
  • landing a man on the moon in 1969 and launching the space shuttle in 1981
  • invention of computers in 1937 and microprocessors in 1972 
  • development of computer-to-computer communications and the Internet
  • radio phones leading to cell phones (she did not live to see the iPhone, however)
  • invention of mass-produced cars and the Interstate Highway System
  • invention of modern plastics and plastic manufacturing techniques
  • invention of synthetic fabrics in 1894 leading to polyester, rayon, etc.
The problem with change is that we don't recognize how fast things are changing. The change we see daily seems to be linear change.  Get a new computer and it comes with more storage, is a bit faster, and has more features than the old computer from a few years ago.  Get a new phone and it has a better camera and display than your old one, and that was better than your blackberry. What we totally miss is that these changes are happening faster and faster -- growing exponentially.  The rate of change is exponential.  It is accelerating change.

How can we keep up with this accelerating change?  We are becoming specialists in our own problem domains because we can no longer be generalists.  Hundreds of years ago, an educated man (women were rarely educated) could have a good grasp of technology, agriculture, language, music, math, and science. Today, most of us pick a few core areas and then specialize within those domains, and we are struggling to keep up.

How can we educate our kids and help them cope with this accelerating change?  We can't expect them to be generalists, yet while young how do you specialize?

In future posts, I'll talk about accelerating changetechnological singularity, change in education, and many related topics.  I'll also list some of the changes I have seen in my lifetime (only a bit over 1/2 of my grandmother's lifespan).  I also have a great thought experiment discussing change in the past and extrapolating to the future (I have shared part of this with some of you recently).

Could you have predicted the iPhone?  GPS?

I leave you with this quote  "I think there is a world market for maybe five computers." -- Thomas Watson, chairman of IBM, 1943.  [Bad Predictions]

1 comment:

  1. Reading this made me think of scenes in Downton Abbey when various staff were commenting of the absurdity of electricity and how surely it had "no use in the kitchen". How quickly we adapt to these technological changes and soon can't imagine life without them!