Science, Science and Tech

Exponential evolution

The first commercially available mobile phone was the Motorola DynaTAC. It weighed close to a kilo, stood at a foot tall, had a memory of thirty numbers and could only be used for an hour before its batteries ran dead. Since then, information technology has become an integral part of everyday life. Many now possess mobile phones a couple of centimetres thick which allows access to an enormous database of knowledge at the tap of a touchscreen.


Technological advancement is exponential; Moore’s Law states that computer capability doubles around every two years, therefore the average mobile phone today is several thousand times cheaper and more powerful than the sprawling monolithic computers of the Seventies. At the time they were considered alternatively as the cutting edge or as a futile waste of resources, excepting a small commune of neo-Luddites who saw them as evil and organised habitual computer smashing.

The noted futurist Ray Kurzweil uses this exponential theory as the foundation for several predictions of the coming century. A revered name to most of the technological community, in the eighties Kurzweil predicted the development of wireless internet devices and the exact year a computer would beat humans at chess. He also invented the first reading machine for the blind. However with the publication of his new book, The Coming of the Singularity, comes controversy. Kurzweil sees a future in which ‘nanobots’ will integrate into the immune system, eradice disease and enter the nervous system, creating a virtual reality indistinguishable from the real world. Kurzweil believes that in fifteen years we will be able to endow computers with emotional intelligence and by 2045, machines will have surpassed human intelligence and improve their own software design. This is the time described as the singularity, which means a horizon over which it is hard to see.

These statements have been met with scepticism, as most scientists agree that this could not occur on such a timescale and several neurologists state that the brain is downright non-computable. However, we are undeniably moving closer to an age similar to that which Kurzweil portrays. Artificial intelligence controls 70% of today’s stock market, driverless vehicles have been pioneered and an earthworm’s brain has been simulated in a computer chip. Handled with wisdom and foresight, this technology could transform green living, medicine and give us a lifestyle full of technological luxuries. Who knows what will happen in the future; we should be optimistic and also remember that Ray Kurzweil was right before!


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July 2021
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