The Social Will to Accelerate

April 09 2008 / by Alvis Brigis / In association with Future
Category: Culture   Year: General   Rating: 15 Hot

Exponential technology and information are poised to transform the world, but can the human species muster the social will to let that happen?

To date we’ve created amazingly fuel-efficient cars, robust water purifiers, revolutionary stem cell -based therapies, and better, cheaper light bulbs, all of which have met with great social and political resistance, greatly slowing the pace of their spread. This has caused many to scratch their heads in confusion, others to curse up at the sky, and some to chuckle at the naivete of their fellow meme-monkeys.

Take for example Dean Kamen, the Edison of our time who invented compact kidney dialysis, the Segway human transporter and most recently a water purifier that could save upwards of 5 million lives in under-developed nations if widely deployed. Kamen’s innovations have repeatedly encountered social barriers, causing him to proclaim that creating new technology is the easy part.

“I’m disappointed with every project I ever do. Because you work on something for years that you think should take hours. You finally get it done and you think, ‘Now the world’s going to be a better place,’ expressed Kamen in a recent Newsweek article, “Then you find out that as fast as technology moves, people move at the same slow, cautious pace they always did. If anything, people have gotten more cautious, more afraid of change, more skeptical, more cynical.”

Sloth-like technology diffusion is nothing new. The late great Everett Rogers taught us that all technologies except for Interactive Communication Technologies (ICTs) spread at an amazingly slow rate due to cultural barriers. Seasoned futurists all point out a consistent bias in favor of overly ambitious predictions and sternly warn their fellow prognosticators to avoid similar mistakes. And now Kamen has joined the ranks of those with enough experience to back up the notion. (cont.)

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Aging Exponentially

July 11 2008 / by Jeff Hilford / In association with Future
Category: Health & Medicine   Year: General   Rating: 13 Hot

One of the themes on Future Blogger and for fans of accelerating change in general is life extension and the prospect of relative immortality. We covered this topic in our very first interview with Aubrey de Grey and Dick Pelletier has addressed it many times. One of the core arguments in this debate is that, regardless of increasing life expectancy rates, humans have an upper limit. This is probably best categorized as the Hayflick limit argument . That there is a maximum number of years that a human can live and if nothing gets to you before reaching that threshhold, when you do, that’s it – it’s over. That limit is about 120 years of age, with the oldest documented lifespan being the 122 attained by Jean Calumet

Increases in life expectancy are ultimately discounted by this assumption. In response to Jack Uldrich’s recent piece on the prospect of living to 1000, John Frink correctly points out that the radical increase in life expectancy that developed societies have experienced over the last 170 years or so (roughly doubling) is largely due to advances in health/medicine and hygiene. He cites the vast reduction in the infant mortality rate as being of particular note. But that is more reflective of initial gains and merely part of a larger trend at work. (cont.)

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Think 10X, Not 10%

April 21 2008 / by juldrich / In association with Future
Category: Culture   Year: General   Rating: 11 Hot

By Jack Uldrich

Cross-posted from

One of my favorite quotes comes from Kurt Yeager who once said: “In periods of profound change the most dangerous thing is to incrementalize yourself into the future.” I was reminded of this quote because although I often speak to businesses about the future of technology, I frequently encounter push back from executives who are mostly interested in identifying ways to incrementally improve their businesses or products. In short, they are looking for improvements in the range of 10%.

I constantly remind them, however, that we are no longer living in an era of linear growth – a 10% improvement might have been sufficient to keep them competitive in the past, but it is no strategy if they desire to be in business in 10 years. To achieve that goal, they must be on the lookout for how 10X improvements will transform their business. (Ray Kurzweil, in this excellent editorial , also emphasizes this point.)

To this end, I recently came across a couple of articles that highlight this point. The first addresses how a number of researchers are looking to increase data storage by “a factor of a hundred.” It is difficult to contemplate how a 100X improvement in data storage might transform education, media, advertising and even health care, but it is imperative that professionals in these fields start thinking along these lines immediately. (cont.)

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Is Evolution Exponential?

May 09 2008 / by juldrich / In association with Future
Category: Culture   Year: 2020   Rating: 10 Hot

Jack Uldrich

Cross-posted from

When Charles Darwin first proposed writing his landmark book on evolution, The Origins of Species, his editor suggested writing a book on pigeons because, in his words, “Everyone is interested in pigeons.” Fortunately, Darwin chose to ignore the advice. I am reminded of the story because even though Darwin’s theory was proposing only that species make modest, incremental changes over long periods of time, it was – and in many circles still is – a revolutionary idea.

What then happens if evolution is not just incremental in nature but rather exponential? That, too, is a revolutionary idea – especially since it could impact us within our lifetimes.

Well, we are now approaching a time when this exponential theory of evolution will be put to the test.

If you accept the notion of evolution, you will agree that the earliest life appeared on earth approximately 4 billion years ago. Complex cellular organisms showed up 2 billion years ago, and the first multicellular organism about 1 billion years ago. The first reptiles and dinosaurs made their appearance 300 million years ago; the first primates 40 million years ago; homo sapiens appeared 160,000 years ago; Cro-Magnon man 40,000 years ago; and modern civilization as we know it began about 10,000 years ago.

Thinking about this much progress over such an extended period of time is difficult. Years ago, Carl Sagan, the famed astronomer, offered up a “cosmic calendar” to make such progress more comprehensible to the layperson. He asked that they imagine the entire history of the universe as being compressed into a single year. (cont.)

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A Video for Your Mama: Futurist Jack Uldrich Breaks Down Exponential Growth

May 21 2008 / by memebox / In association with Future
Category: Technology   Year: General   Rating: 5 Hot

It is notoriously difficult to comprehend the compound growth potential of exponential forces driving innovations in computing, nanotech, and solar power, but pro futurist and regular future blogger Jack Uldrich does a great job explaining this counter-intuitive phenomenon in his latest book Jump the Curve . Therefore I was thrilled to come across this short & sweet video synopsis of exponential potential by the man himself:

By employing comprehensible metaphors and gradually relating accelerating change to our lives, Jack succinctly and effectively gets the idea that “the really big change is still ahead of us” across (no small feat). So if you’re looking for a link to send to your non Accel-aware buddies, co-workers or relatives, this is it.

Develop a Future Bias

April 25 2008 / by juldrich / In association with Future
Category: Culture   Year: General   Rating: 3 Hot

By Jack Uldrich

In my new book, Jump the Curve, I make the case that one strategy for “jumping the curve” and helping your organization innovate into the future is to “develop a future bias.”

A future bias is the opposite of “hindsight bias” and hindsight bias is, quite simply, the idea that after an event occurs most people take credit for believing that the idea was pre-ordained and that they “knew” it would happen. For instance, by 1920, most citizens claimed they knew that man would “always” fly.

Unfortunately, this isn’t true. Most people were completely blind-sided by human flight. Lord Kelvin, the world’s most renowned scientist claimed in 1899 that “Heavier than air machines are impossible,” and no less an authority than the New York Times wrote in an editorial in December 1903 – just two weeks before the Wright Brother’s historic first flight – that human flight would not be achievable for “1 to 10 million years.” My guess is that if a poll had been commissioned at the beginning of the turn of the 20th century the overwhelming consensus among the American public would have subscribed to similar opinions or, alternatively, something along the lines of “If God had intended man to fly, He would have given him wings.”

In the future, as a result of exponential advances in technology (see above chart, source – Collapsing Geography), many things that sound impossible today are, in fact, not only going to be possible they are going to be commonplace. Therefore, in order to embrace this future, it will be necessary to think exponentially – and not linearly – about the future. As Ray Kurzweil says in his book, The Singularity is Near: When Humans Transcend Biology, in the 21st century humanity will experience the equivalent of 20,000 years of change (using the 20th century’s rate of change). What he is trying to do in an indirect way is to get people to develop a future bias. (cont.)

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Intelligence Rising: Climbing the Stairs of Abstraction

January 06 2009 / by Alvis Brigis / In association with Future
Category: Technology   Year: Beyond   Rating: 3 Hot

A variety of thinkers have converged on the notion that humans rely on what is essentially "software" to build our simulation(s) of the world around us. 

Abstractions Driving the Flynn Effect: Cognitive historian James Flynn attributes the steady rise in IQ over the past 100+ years (known as the Flynn Effect) to better human abstraction abilities, not to any significant increase in physical brain power: glowing_brain_290.jpg

Our brains at conception are no better than they ever were. But in response to the evolving demands of society, we can attack a far wider range of problems than our ancestors could. It is like the evolution of the motor car in the 20th century. Are automotive engineers any brighter than they were 100 years ago? – no. But have cars evolved to meet modern demands for more speed and entertainment while we drive (radios, tape decks, etc) – yes. Our brains are no better but our minds have altered as dramatically as our cars.

Flynn's observations line up nicely with both the concept of memes & temes advanced by Dawkins and Blackmore, as well as philosopher Terence McKenna's theory that culture is in fact an operating system.

In other words, the abstract thought frameworks that we drill into our children during critical periods, including math, science, biology, maps, businesses, social networks, new language, etc, are in fact a form of software that affects our IQ and ability to navigate the world.

This simple yet powerful abstraction (npi) is a critical paradigm shift in our definition of what it means to be human and opens the door to additional metaphors for social, economic and intelligence studies. 

Particularly intriguing is the question of how quickly and/or regularly we (individuals, groups, societies, nations) experience software upgrades, akin to loading the latest Windows or Linux versions.

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What Could Be Better Than Free Money? Try Exponential Growth!

April 30 2008 / by juldrich / In association with Future
Category: Business & Work   Year: General   Rating: 2 Hot

By Jack Uldrich

Cross-posted from

As a result of my new book, I have been asked on a number of occasions to describe what I mean by the title: “jump the curve.”

It is a fair question and when answering it I like to recall the words of that old sage, Albert Einstein, who once said that if a person – especially a scientist or technologist – couldn’t explain what he or she was working on to an 8-year old child then that person was either a fraud or a charlatan.

It’s an excellent test and because I have both an 8 year-old daughter and a 6 year-old son, I decided to put the topic of my new book to this test. Liking a challenge, I decided to see if my youngest child could comprehend the idea of “jumping the curve.”

Without using an example in the book, I asked my son, who has yet to lose any of his teeth, whether he would rather receive a single dollar for every one of his 20 baby teeth or if he would instead prefer to receive a single cent for his first tooth and then have that penny double for the next 19 teeth?

Being fairly good at numbers and knowing that his dad often likes to trick him, my son selected the second option—the penny doubling. (cont.)

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