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Will technology trends continue? If they do, the result will be profound.
To understand why that is so, consider a chess board and on the top left corner there is a single grain of wheat. On the one next to that there are two grains of wheat, and on the one next to that, four grains, followed by eight and so on. By the time you have followed the chess board from top left to the top right corner you have 128 grains of wheat.
By the time you have reached the right-hand square in the second from top row, you have around 32,768 grains of wheat. By the time you have reached the bottom right square you have over a trillion grains of wheat.
Some technology trends illustrate this relationship.
Take Moore’s Law, as an example. Let’s say computers have been doubling in speed every 18 months since 1965, when Gordon Moore, co-founder of Intel, first talked about the number of transistors on an integrated circuit doubling every 18 months. That means a computer today would be roughly one billion times faster than a computer in 1965.
But suppose that trend continues, if that is so, then the future trends in technology mean that in 45 years-time, the average computer will be one billion times faster than the average computer in 2016. Roughly speaking, in around 50 years-time there will be more processing power in a single computer than currently exists in all the computers presently linked to the internet.
If future trends in technology are just like the trends we have seen in the last 50 years, then the impact on the world will be far reaching indeed.
Take another example of a trend, that, if it became a future trend in technology then its impact will be extraordinary. The cost of one unit of energy generated from a solar panel today is one per cent of what it was 40 years or so ago. In many parts of the world, solar power is now at what is called grid parity – meaning, electricity generated from solar roughly costs the same as the average cost from other sources. But just imagine that in 40 years’ time the cost of one unit of energy generated from a solar panel is one per cent of what it is today. For as long as it is sunny, the cost of energy will be so cheap, that it is practically free.
But to get energy generated by solar when it is dark, we need energy storage. The cost of lithium ion batteries has fallen from $1,000 a megawatt hour in 2008 to around $200 in 2016.
If future trends in technology means that the cost of energy generated from solar and energy storage carry on falling at the trend we have become used to, then the impact on the world will be profound.
Or take another past trend that is now close to making a specific technology ubiquitous. Between 1990 and 2003 the human genome was sequenced, it cost $2.7 billion. Today you can get your genome sequenced for $1,000 in a matter of hours. If future trends in technology are like those we have seen so far this century, then having your genome sequenced will be as easy and as cheap as preparing your breakfast.