That’s because over the last five decades the number of transistors—or the tiny electrical components that perform basic operations—on a single chip have been doubling regularly.This exponential doubling, known as Moore’s Law, is the reason a modern smartphone affordably packs so much dizzying capability into such a small package.
A range of other technologies demonstrate similar exponential growth, whether bits of data stored or DNA base pairs recorded.
The outcome is the same: capabilities have increased by thousands, millions, and billions for less cost in just decades.
The result is a flood of new resources—such as increased R&D budgets, recruiting top talent, etc.—which are directed to further improving the technology.
This wave of new resources triggers a “second level” of exponential growth, where the rate of exponential growth (the exponent) also begins accelerating.
(In fact, two-thirds of Americans own one, according to a Pew Report.) Intuitively, it feels like technology is progressing faster than ever. This article will explore Kurzweil’s explanation of this driving force, which he dubbed the law of accelerating returns, and the surprising implications of technology’s acceleration.
Computer chips have become increasingly powerful while costing less.
Like in 1990 when he predicted that a computer would beat a pro chess player by 1998, which came true in 1997 when Garry Kasparov lost to IBM’s Deep Blue.
(Now, in 2016, a computer has mastered the even more complex game Go—an accomplishment not expected by some experts for another decade.) We’re only 15 years into the 21 century and the progress has been pretty stunning—the global adoption of the Internet, smartphones, ever-more agile robots, AI that learns.
Kurzweil’s big idea is that each new generation of technology stands on the shoulders of its predecessors—in this way, improvements in technology enable the next generation of even better technology.
Because each generation of technology improves over the last, the rate of progress from version to version speeds up.