An old man trying to figure out how to use an iPhone

How is technology advancing? What’s driving this accelerating pace of change in tech?

At some point, we’ve all wondered what the future might be like. Whether you imagine it replete with flying cars or personal AI assistants, Peter H. Diamandis and Steven Kotler contend that it’s likely to become a reality soon.

Let’s look at three reasons why technology is advancing so quickly.

Force 1: The Exponential Rate of Technological Progress

First, Diamandis and Kotler argue that a major reason why technology is advancing is the exponential growth of technology. This means that technology improves not at a steady rate, but at a rate that continually increases over time. More specifically, they define an exponential technology as one that doubles in power at a consistent rate while also becoming less expensive, thus becoming both more powerful and more affordable as it develops. According to computer scientist Ray Kurzweil, we’re about to experience as much technological progress over the next 100 years as we have in the past 20,000.

But why does technology develop exponentially? The authors explain that advances in technology allow us to discover and develop superior systems, processes, and resources. We can then use those improved technologies to make even more discoveries more quickly. This creates a positive feedback loop where technology builds on itself and accelerates its own progress—a concept known as the “Law of Accelerating Returns.”

Keeping Up With the Pace of Accelerating Change

The authors focus on the benefits of accelerating technology, but in Thank You For Being Late, Thomas L. Friedman highlights some downsides to this rapid change. He writes that the world is changing faster than we’re able to adapt: Humans need about 10 to 15 years to adapt to change, but by 2016 (thanks to the exponential pace of technological advancement), it only took five to seven years for the world to seem noticeably different. Friedman outlines three problems this misalignment causes:

1) Cultural angst: Thanks to rapid technological progress, the societal norms we establish can change startlingly fast, causing us to feel disoriented and lost. This can stress societies and trigger reactionary policies like shutting borders in the face of immigration.

2) Delayed benefits: Many people might not benefit from new technologies immediately because our ability to understand and use them lags behind their development. Computers, for instance, existed long before educational courses on how to use them effectively became widespread.

3) Slow legislation: Legal systems struggle to keep pace with inventions. For example, the legal challenges of regulating ride-sharing companies like Uber will likely be resolved in time for self-driving vehicles to pose a new set of legal challenges that will render ride-sharing regulations irrelevant.

Thus, while the “Law of Accelerating Returns” results in faster, less expensive, and more powerful technology, it also demands swifter adaptation and resilience to change on our end. 

Force 2: The Power of Convergence

Second, change is further accelerated by the convergence of exponential technologies, the authors write. This is when two different technologies that have been developing independently grow advanced enough to be integrated and combined. Convergence speeds up the rate of change because an innovation made in one type of technology can propel another type of technology further ahead.

For example, artificial intelligence can give robotics smarter functionality, allowing robots to execute more complex tasks. Similarly, more accurate sensor technologies can fine-tune AI capabilities, enabling them to better analyze patterns and make predictions.

(Shortform note: While Diamandis and Kotler highlight the advances technological convergence brings about, other experts argue that convergence also brings about regulatory, privacy, and data security challenges. When previously distinct technologies are integrated, defining regulatory policies and responsibilities becomes complex. Additionally, converged technologies may collect and use personal data without our knowledge. Moreover, as converged technologies generate and consume data, they create more access points susceptible to cyberattacks and data theft.)

Force 3: Upgrades to Human Life

Lastly, Diamandis and Kotler explain that a third accelerant of change comes from the broad upgrades to human life made possible through technological progress. As technologies advance, we get more of the abstract ingredients for progress: time, money, and opportunities.

1. Time: Technology allows us to carry out our day-to-day activities faster and easier, reducing the amount of manual effort we have to put into our tasks and allowing us to put more time toward improving our lives. For instance, instead of wandering through a grocery store and browsing for products, we can order groceries online. Further, thanks to continuous improvements to health care, humans have longer lifespans. We can devote all of this additional time to innovating new and better technologies.

2. Money. Advances in technology lead to increased wealth that can be invested back into the creation of new technologies. Diamandis and Kotler explain that, as technology improves, we learn new ways to use resources effectively and to improve the productivity of systems—which saves money. Also, advances in technology allow us to create more affordable products, so that more people have access to sophisticated tools of progress and innovation.

3. Opportunities: Technological progress also shatters traditional constraints that hold people back from making contributions to society, such as geographical and socioeconomic limitations. This allows more people to, in turn, contribute to technological progress. For example, the internet provides resources like online learning platforms and allows people from across the globe to connect and share ideas.

Technology Is Advancing Fast: Here Are 3 Reasons Why

Katie Doll

Somehow, Katie was able to pull off her childhood dream of creating a career around books after graduating with a degree in English and a concentration in Creative Writing. Her preferred genre of books has changed drastically over the years, from fantasy/dystopian young-adult to moving novels and non-fiction books on the human experience. Katie especially enjoys reading and writing about all things television, good and bad.

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