I have been involved in inventing since I was five, and I quickly realized that for an invention to succeed, you have to target the world of the future. But what would the future be like? To find out, I became a student of technology trends and began to develop mathematical models of different technologies: computation, miniaturization, evolution over time. I have been doing that for 25 years, and it has been remarkable to me how powerful and predictive these models are. Now, before I show you some of these models and then try to build with you some of the scenarios for the future—and, in particular, focus on how these will benefit technology for the disabled—I would like to share one trend that I think is particularly profound and that many people fail to take into consideration. It is this: the rate of progress—what I call the “paradigmshift rate”—is itself accelerating. We are doubling this paradigm-shift rate every decade. The whole 20th century was not 100 years of progress as we know it today, because it has taken us a while to speed up to the current level of progress. The 20t h century represented about 20 years of progress in terms of today’s rate. And at today’s rate of change, we will achieve an amount of progress equivalent to that of the whole 20th century in 14 years, then as the acceleration continues, in 7 years. The progress in the 21st century will be about 1,000 times greater than that in the 20th century, which was no slouch in terms of change.
3-D Molecular Computing
When the trend for traditional computers runs out of steam—and we can see the end of that road—we will have three-dimensional molecular computing.
I pointed this out in my book The Age of Spiritual Machines four years ago, and it was considered a radical notion then—but there has been a sea change in attitude toward that idea. It is now the mainstream view that we will have 3-D molecular computing long before Moore’s Law runs out.
There has been enormous progress in four years. In fact, the favorite technology appears to be the one I have felt would win: nanotubes, comprised of carbon atoms, that can be organized in three dimensions and that can compute very efficiently. They are up to100 times as strong as steel, so you can use them to create structural components and little “machines.” A one-inch tube of nanotube circuitry would be a million times more powerful than the human brain.
We are miniaturizing all technology. The first reading machine we created in the early 1970s used a large washing-machine-sized computer that was less powerful than the computer in your wristwatch now and cost tens of thousands of dollars. And we are also miniaturizing mechanical systems, which inevitably will lead to nanotechnology by the 2020s.