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Acceleration of Change

Is change accelerating or are we just getting wowed by shiny new things?

My son is taking grade 11 physics in high school and we have been talking about the formula for acceleration: Δv / Δt = (vf - vi)/(tf - ti) Acceleration is “the rate of change in the velocity of an object as it moves”. I think we can agree that technology is changing and moving forward. But to say that the rate of change is accelerating means the rate of change is increasing. There is a lot of talk these days about how technology is changing so fast. How new “things” are coming out every day and once you buy a piece of technology, the next day there is a better, shinier version. But is it really accelerating? Think back to 12 years ago (2007) when the first iPhone came out, how much society changed as a result of the iPhone over the following 1 year. I would argue the iPhone’s true impact on our society took several years to feel. We might have seen where it “could go” but society in general did not feel the effects of that change right away. The benefits of the iPhone were likely not felt in earnest until 3 + years later when there were more Apps, more Bluetooth devices and more people were committed to the platform. Interesting note on Bluetooth devices. In 2009, the number of Bluetooth devices bought since its inception worldwide totaled 2 Billion. In 2012, annual Bluetooth shipments for that year alone was 2 Billion. iPhones would be less valuable if there were not the number of things it could control via Bluetooth or Apps. Like your stereo, your home HVAC system, car navigation and making payments with Wallet apps. All these took time to create and hit a critical mass, and they make the value of an iPhone greater. In today's terms, what is the iPhone equivalent? Artificial Intelligence? 3-D printing? The Internet of Things (IoT)? These areas of technology are changing, but is the pace of change accelerating? I don’t think we have felt their true impact yet. AI most certainly is here and all around you right now. It will start to have a greater impact as businesses get better at incorporating it into their services. We are only seeing the pioneers coming to market with AI enabled products, the mainstream businesses are slower to adopt. There is a good chance that you have talked to AI on the phone already and not known it. AI is responsible for guiding the type of music you listen to by making suggestions in your music app and if you shop on Amazon, you may have wondered how it knows what you want before you do. Check out this video where a Google AI books a hair appointment. That is machine learning and AI in the background. The uses of AI at this point in time are interesting but are they pervasive and disruptive today? 3-D printing is at a point where it is accessible to the average person. With 3-D printers on Amazon for as little as $350, anyone can get one. At this point the average consumer does not see an everyday use for them, although they may be benefiting in ways they don’t realize. For example, rapid product prototyping and spare parts creation. There are everyday uses, but they have not crept into the minds of the common consumer. While these are interesting items to print, the real hockey stick curve of innovation comes when we can print new clothes or meals. Yes, you can 3D print food today, but the options are limited. Sound familiar? (iPhone circa 2007). IoT or Internet of Things devices, are probably the one thing that is around us the most, we just don’t see it. They are everywhere. Your car is littered with them. If you have a NEST thermostat at home, that is one. They are used in retail, agriculture and logistics. Practically every industry has a potential use for them. IoT is a technology that has slowly seeped into our daily lives and many people don’t realize it. I think this is an accelerating technology that is under the surface of our daily lives and we don’t even realize it. Ray Kurzweil, an American inventor and futurist, has talked at length about how technology is advancing and where it is going. An interesting observation he has made is when you consider how an element of technology advances, it is not always that individual element’s advancement that creates the drastic change, it is the pieces that need to be invented to overcome barriers that cause the more rapid advancements. For example, with Moore’s Law, (the observation that the number of transistors in a dense integrated circuit doubles about every two years), barriers have been faced many times over the past several decades. Each time, it is the creation of a new technology that has enabled the steady growth to continue. That “new technology” has spawned other advances, not just supporting the doubling of transistor density. What do you think? Do you feel the rate of change is increasing and the relative benefits we get from technology over the past 12 months are of a greater rate than the previous 12 months? I feel like I have been lulled into a sense of normalcy with constant change and that the pace we are at has been constant and not accelerating, but with the technologies mentioned above, I feel we are headed towards some drastic accelerated change.

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