By Jack Uldrich
Cross-posted from www.jumpthecurve.net
The other day I explained why society doesn’t always absorb new technologies as fast as early advocates often believe will happen. As with almost every issue, there is another side to the story and I’d now like to argue why emerging technologies will be adopted at an ever accelerating rate.
Ray Kurzweil addressed this issue in his outstanding book, The Singularity is Near, when he noted that the rate of “paradigm shift” is doubling every decade. As a historical analogy, he noted that it took 35 years before 25% of the population adopted the telephone. The radio took about 31 years; the television 26 years; the personal computer 16 years; the mobile phone 12 years; and the World Wide Web only 10 years.
Since then Google, Wikipedia and a number of other social networking applications have been adopted in an even shorter amount of time. This acceleration, however, has not been limited to only communication-related devices. Robotics are being adopted at an accelerating rate. In 2005, only 1% of all prostatectomies were performed by robots. Today, over 50% of all such operations are performed using a da Vinci surgical robot.
The fields of rapid prototype manufacturing and systems biology are also experiencing acceleration. To this end, I encourage you to watch the short two-minute video on the fab@home project (an open source rapid prototype manufacturing platform) as well as read this excellent interview with biotechnology guru and system biology advocate LeRoy Hood.
What I find interesting about the Fab@home project and Hood’s project is that they both are open-source initiatives. And of all the things that are enabling the accelerating adoption of technology – and there many: better tools, faster computers; new materials, improved bandwidth, etc. – the open source movement is the most powerful of them all. This is because brilliant and innovative minds from all over the world are now being given direct access to the information and the technology necessary to improve products.
This access, in turn, yields better and more information and technology. Essentially a “virtuous cycle” is created and it amounts to a process whereby evolutionary design is speeded up.
And, in order to survive in this new environment, people must adopt these new technologies at an accelerating rate. To paraphrase Charles Darwin, it is not the strongest or the fastest that survive – it is those who can change and adapt the quickest. Therefore, I would argue, the accelerating adoption of new technology is nothing more than the manifestion of that most human of instincts: survival.