Another repost from the mysterious elsewhere:
Climate Change Predictions
“But of course, within a few years, nobody rode horses except for sport. And in 2000, France was getting 80 percent of its power from an energy source that was unknown in 1900. Germany, Switzerland, Belgium, and Japan were getting more than 30 percent from this source, unknown in 1900. Remember, people in 1900 didn’t know what an atom was. They didn’t know its structure. They also didn’t know what a radio was, or an airport, or a movie, or a television, or a computer, or a cell phone, or a jet, an antibiotic, a rocket, a satellite, an MRI, ICU, IUD, IBM, IRA, ERA, EEG, EPA, IRS, DOD, PCP, HTML, Internet, interferon, instant replay, remote sensing, remote control, speed dialing, gene therapy, gene splicing, genes, spot welding, heat-seeking, bipolar, Prozac, leotards, lap dancing, e-mail, tape recorders, CDs, airbags, plastic explosive, plastic, robots, cars, liposuction, transduction, superconduction, dish antennas, step aerobics, smoothies, twelve-step, ultrasound, nylon, rayon, Teflon, fiber optics, carpal tunnel, laser surgery, laparoscopy, corneal transplant, kidney transplant, AIDS. None of this would have meant anything to a person in the year 1900. They wouldn’t know what you are talking about.
Because my bread and butter for many, many years has been earned as a professional science fiction writer, I think about stuff like this all the time. And I’m painfully aware that most folks don’t think about it at all.
The human mind is primarily ruled by inertia, and the assumption that how things are today is how they will continue to be for the foreseeable future. You can point out stuff like the above all day long, or what Ray Kurzweil explains about how Moore’s Law affects the exponential (not linear) advance of science and technology, and it’s water off a duck’s back. Why? Because, from the point of view of most folks, their daily lives don’t seem to have changed all that much. This is a factor of having forgotten about what their lives were like before Things Changed, and wild fantasies became the New Normal.
This is a function of the fact that people automatically get used to anything, and discount it. Old people like me remember a world almost impossible for today’s Millennials to imagine, for instance: A single black analog telephone crudely hooked up to a “party line” was our “internet.” Television was a tiny, fuzzy screen maybe ten inches square, on which you viewed two or three “channels.” Everybody got what little information about the world that made it through “gatekeepers” via dead tree substrates: Books, magazines, newspapers. Want to research something, look something up? Make a special trip to the library, pal, and lug home thirty pounds of dusty paper – in a “book bag,” most likely. The ubiquitous modern backpack hadn’t quite made an appearance yet.
Heart surgery? Didn’t exist.
Hundreds of thousands of little kids were crippled or killed by polio. Summertime was hit or miss whether you’d be able to go swimming at the local pool (home swimming pools? You kidding? That was for the very rich only).
My family was solidly middle class in those days – my dad an executive with the local power company – and we had a new car every other year. Yet my mom did her own canning to save money, and the world of the post-WWII decade in which I was born and raised was a much bleaker, drabber, more pinched existence than what we would consider normal today, although at the time it seemed to consist of nothing but wonder upon wonder – huge, gleaming passenger airplanes (I used to go back and forth to boarding school on a train as late as 1963) – my “computer” was a slide rule, and a “cell phone” was something Dick Tracy, a cartoon character, wore on his wrist.
The key concept here is “exponential” increase.
Kurzweil is fond of citing his use of Moore’s Law to make one of his most famously accurate predictions about the Genome Project.
The general consensus among the scientific community studying the human genome was that it could take as long as 250 years to catalogue the entire human genome, even as the Human Genome Project was first getting off the ground:
Ray Kurzweil and Exponential Growth — Russell Steinberg
Seven and a half years into the Human Genome Project, scientists announced they had decoded only 1% of our genetic code. The project was budgeted for only 15 years. Skeptics said it wouldn’t work; it would take a century to complete. Ray Kurzweil—inventor, philosopher, futurist—had a different reaction. He said the genome was practically solved. And indeed the mapping was completed in another seven years. The amount of data sequenced each year practically doubled.
Kurzweil was correct in his prediction because he understood (and understands) the power of exponential increase. Here’s how it worked:
Step 1: 1×2=2% completed (doubled)
Step 2: 2×2=4%
Step 3: 2×4=8%
Step 4: 2×8=16%
Step 5: 2×16=32%
Step 6: 2×32=64%
Step 6: 2×64=128%
So, sometime between steps 6 and 7, the Human Genome Project reached 100% completion, the genome was completely decoded, and Kurzweil’s prediction was shown to be accurate.
This process is at work in almost every aspect of our world today.
Kurzweil makes the point that this exponential progress (of which Moore’s Law is only one aspect, not the prime cause), works best in the so-called “information sciences.” At one point these were mostly the mathematical and hard technology areas – mainly computers. But as the power and scope of computing has increased under the pressure of exponential growth, information science has sucked into its purview other areas of knowledge – medical science, for instance, has become essentially a branch of information science in general, and is now subject to the same sort of exponential increase in knowledge and power as computers and information processing themselves.
Others will follow. We’re only now embarking on the expansion phase of “Big Data,” for instance, but this will shortly become the largest and most productive segment of knowledge growth.
Decades ago I wrote a SF story positing that one of the growth industries of the future would be library science, because we would need librarians to catalog and sort all the new knowledge we were acquiring. At the time, the computer age was barely peeping above the horizon, and even I, with my focus on the future, did not take into account the Internet, digital books, digital forms of other things like music and art, or the idea that a lot of this stuff might end up organizing itself, more or less. Suffice it to say, library science is not one of the burgeoning fields of employment these days.
It is this basic failure to understand the power of exponential growth that leads to foolishly ignorant statements like the following:
California’s Self-Driving Car Regulations