By: Chad Huskins
Editor’s Note: any opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of OnePlus.
Phones. Video games. Movies. Computers. Netflix. Streaming.
Less than a decade ago, no human being would have been able to see a connection between the words above. In fact, a couple of the words would’ve had no real meaning to them. Now, however, we see that they are connected. It seems natural to us that they be connected. “How could they not be?” we now ask.
There was a time, not too long ago, when we saw absolutely no correlation between phones and video games, or between phones and computers, or even imagined we could watch movies on our phones. “Streaming” didn’t mean what it means now.
This crossover of technologies and their variegated uses is unique to the digital age, and while it would’ve once sounded silly to say that we’ll play video games on our phones someday, or read books on our phones, we now see that it was inevitable.
This is continually happening, and, if you believe Raymond Kurzweil and his “Law of Accelerating Returns,” it always will.
Kurzweil is a futurist, and “The Law of Accelerating Returns” is a term coined by him to give the concept of rapidly combining and accelerating technologies a name. Kurzweil is a man so knowledgeable and accurate with his predictions on technologies of the future that Bill Gates makes sure to read everything the man writes, and listens to every lecture he gives. The Law of Accelerating Returns goes something like this: the rate at which technology is advancing is growing exponentially, never slows down, is not impacted at all by wars or economic recessions, or depressions, and it is so predictable that it allows us to know precisely where we’ll be technologically in the future, almost to the year.
He’s not alone in believing the world is bound to always be racing towards scientific breakthroughs at breakneck speeds. This is in due in large part to the much-maligned system called “social media.” Because of online interactions between persons from different fields, inventions and research can be accelerated. Information can be shared instantly, without having to wait on a carrier pigeon, mail man, or calm weather to send a message to a colleague.
Technology is also advancing rapidly because of everyday user demand, and the potential that people see in it. I, for one, am a published author, and have sold the film rights to my novel, Psycho Save Us, only because of the “ebook movement” that has taken the publishing world by storm. It is reshaping the landscape of an entire industry, just as sure as wind and rain reshape valleys and streams.
My entire life has been changed by the digital revolution. I’ve sold tens of thousands of copies of my books to people who read them, or listen to them on audio book, via their cell phones! Of those who have purchased physical copies of my books, most of them have done it by ordering them online, rather than in store.
I’m not the only author or entertainer that’s noticed this change in the public’s appetite, either. Stephen King often offers short stories and even short novels that are available exclusively on his website. It seems that whether you’re a pro or an up-and-comer, you cannot ignore the power, and the allure, of the digital movement.
Not only that, but fans now feel it is imperative to stay connected with their favorite writers, actors, and musicians on social media. There’s an intense, almost innate yearning for these instant connections. People forming bonds with their heroes, or else voicing their disdain via Twitter whenever a politician says something they find insulting.
Futurists like Kurzweil predict that this need for constant connection with the world is only going to increase. For instance, phones may eventually be like a wearable “server” on your hip, broadcasting signals to the contact lenses and the wireless headphones you’re wearing. The contact lenses will be like tiny screens augmenting your reality, and the headphones will be a voice reading aloud your emails, or Gone with the Wind, while you jog on your lunch break.
All this may sound outlandish to some, but Kurzweil also predicted, to the year, when the public at large would have access to a “world wide web” of information. He also predicted how quickly scientists would map the human genome, a process that even professionals thought would take 100 years or more. Kurzweil said it would be done in a few years, even though he is not a geneticist himself.
Part of it is just doing the math. It took the human race 400 years for the printing press to reach a mass audience, for example. But it took just 50 years to get the telephone to a mass audience. It took only 7 years for the cell phone to reach a quarter of the population. Social networks (blogs, wikis, Facebook-style sharing) took only 3 years. Kurzweil shows clearly with his research that the rate at which technology grows in power is never—that’s right, never—going to slow down, it’s never going to plateau (it never has), not as long as human beings exist, and not as long as we continue to manage our resources, or find them elsewhere (i.e. mining asteroids and comets, which the Rosetta Mission in November was just the first step in doing). In fact, barring a world-ending asteroid smashing into the Earth, the rate at which technology grows in power and capability is only going to accelerate.
This has to do with the compounding of technologies. Advancements made in, say, information technology, allows for greater communication between biologists, pathologists, virologists, botanists, zoologists, and all the other “ists” of the world. A single discovery in any of these fields almost immediately bleeds over into other fields of study in surprisingly beneficial ways.
Also, the discovery in one field of study can have multiple applications in various other fields of study: just as an example, advancements in metallurgy allowed for the Watt steam engine to revolutionize travel across waters, which revolutionized trade and travel by speeding it up, which brought goods and services more quickly to places that needed it, which stimulated the economy, which allowed for more funding of other projects, just one of which might be even further developments in metallurgy…
On and on it goes, a great big circle of innovation. First comes the new discovery, then comes the communication of that discovery to everyone else, then come the innovations and practical applications of that discovery in every other field of research on Earth.
This has a “ramping up” effect on R&D globally, something Kurzweil calls “doubling.”
Back in the 80s, Kurzweil developed a chart that showed how quickly technology was spreading to a mass audience. He was a little surprised to find that no matter what was going on in the world, no matter how good or bad things were, the level of technology on Earth and the rate at which it was spread across the planet doubled at the same predictable rate as the previous doubling.
Nothing affects it, nothing slows it down, nothing stands in its way. The future is coming, and nobody can stop it!
This is evidenced by the fact that almost always, whenever a new innovation comes along, multiple people have it at the same time. Isaac Newton and Gottfried Leibniz both invented calculus at nearly the exact same time, though they had never met. We’ve all heard about the rush to make social network sites on the Internet, Mark Zuckerberg just stuck his flag in it first. It was the next logical course of action considering the knowledge and technology of the time. Thomas Edison and Joseph Swan both invented the light bulb separately. Lists such as these go on and on.
We know more, about ourselves and the universe around us, than we ever have before. We’re living longer, and so therefore we can also contribute more to the world in one lifetime. Advances in dental care, for instance, has greatly decreased infection, which once came into the body through cavities and gum disease, which in turn has lengthened human life spans considerably. These advancements came both in technology and understanding—this is important, because it’s not just the tech that’s advancing, but our understanding of our bodies, what we are, what we’re made of, and what we’re capable of (predicting the future) that has advanced us.
It has been said that the future of science is born first in science fiction. This, at least, makes a strong argument for it. Our need to predict creates fantasy, and we are literally making our fantasies come to life now.
I, for one, began as a self-published author, a thing not possible just five years ago. I also have begun writing and editing for television now, also a thing not possible if not for the digital movement. It’s an entirely new set of rules for my career path now. And yours, too. And it’s only going to keeping changing, so you had better learn to keep up.
Chad Huskins is an Evvy Award-winning writer of science fiction, fantasy, and horror, and his books can be found online, and on Amazon. You can follow him on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, and find his website at www.chadhuskins.com. He has a blog where he discusses science, technology, writing, sci-fi, and more. He’s worked as a bodyguard and as a stunt man for film and TV. He lives outside of Atlanta, Georgia, USA.