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The Acceleration of Acceleration: How The Future Is Arriving Far Faster Than Expected

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I think the authors are right that the next decade will see massive acceleration.

Used to be, folks were way too bullish about technology and way too optimistic with their predictions. Flying cars and Mars missions being two classic—they should be here by now—examples. The Jetsons being another.

But today, the exact opposite is happening.

Take Abundance. In 2011, when Peter Diamandis and I were writing that book, we were somewhat cautious with our vision for robotics, arguing that we were still ten to fifteen years away from a major shift.

And we were wrong.

Just three years later, Google went on a buying spree, purchasing eight different robotics companies in less than six months, Amazon decided it was time to get into the drone delivery (aka flying robots) business, and Rethink Robotics released Baxter (a story explored in my new release Bold), the first user-friendly industrial robot to hit the market.

Baxter was the final straw. With a price tag of just $22,000 and a user-friendly interface a child could operate, this robot is already making the type of impact we were certain would show up around 2025.

In the early ‘90s, the great science fiction author William Gibson famously remarked, “The future is here. It’s just not very evenly distributed.” 

While this was a lovely bit of phraseology, it may have been a bit glib at the time. Nanotechnology was not even a commercial industry yet. The hype around virtual reality went bust. There were no seriously funded brain emulation projects pointing towards the eventuality of artificial general intelligence (now there are several). There were no longevity projects funded by major corporations (now we have the Google-funded Calico). You couldn’t play computer games with your brain. People weren’t winning track meets and mountain climbing on their prosthetic legs. Hell, you couldn’t even talk to your cell phone, if you were among the relatively few who had one.

Holy smokes: Nanobots, 3-D Printed Organs, Reversing Aging, Brain Enhancement...

• Cryonics: Doctors at UPMC Presbyterian Hospital in Pittsburgh will place ten patients with life-threatening gunshot or knife wounds in a sort of suspended animation, theoretically allowing them more time to fix the injuries. They won’t quite be raising the dead through science, but if this work succeeds, cryonics will have to be taken very seriously as an alternative to dying.

• Nanobots in the human body: This year, nanotech scientists working in Israel announced a trial of nanobots to fight cancer. As the website Next Big Future exclaimed, “This is the development of the vision of nanomedicine. This is the realization of the power of DNA nanotechnology. This is programmable DNA nanotechnology.”

Nanotech enthusiasts have long treasured the hope that molecular “robots” — i.e., nanobots — could be designed to enter the body and eat plaque, kill cancerous cells, repair damaged tissue and, in general, act like a team of minuscule crack repairmen (or repairpersons, if you prefer) fixing anything that starts to go wrong before it can create much damage. This year marks a first really big hopeful step towards that potentially healthy and long-lived future.

(Video: Ido Bachelet talks DNA nanobots at a London event late last year.)

• 3D printed organs: Organovo used a 3D printer to make liver tissue. Fully printed replacement organs are only a matter of time. If nanotech can’t keep your organs young, print a new one.

• Reversing aging: Harvard Researchers have discovered a chemical that can actually reverse aging cells in mice. We continue to gather evidence that aging can be slowed, stopped and now reversed in living creatures, including mammals. We work our way up the food chain towards our selves.

• Brain enhancement: Researchers at Duke University found a type of neuron that can tell stem cells to make more new neurons. The scientists involved actually point to intelligence increase as a goal of their project, saying that they hope that they will find ways to “engage certain circuits of the brain to lead to a hardware upgrade.”

More brain enhancement: In the area of optogenetics and neuroscience, researchers successfully manipulated brain activity with pulses of laser light.

• Still more brain enhancement: DARPA announced a four year plan to create a brain implant that can restore memories. As Cornell and I noted in our book, we are on the cusp of technologies that can preserve memories, erase memories and, on a more frightening note, implant memories. DARPA also has a five-year program to create a brain implant that can fight mental disorders. Again, the ambiguity of allowing the army to alter your brain must be noted, but given the suffering caused by mental illness, this would seem, in balance, to be a good thing

The acceleration curve of innovation is non-linear and you can only tell where you are on it in retrospect. Tipping points happen all the time, especially when there is a breakthrough.  If you're paying attention to the breakthroughs in detail, you can see things coming.  But still people won't believe it.  For instance, we're on the edge of an explosion in robotic factory production because of advances in AI, machine vision, machine learning, etc., but few are investing in it yet.

Was there any breakthrough in particular that led to this explosion in robotic factory production?

Mainly what I listed: real machine learning, machine vision, and other AI.  Everything else is just details.  For factory robotics, the hardware problem is more forgiving than it is for humanoid mechanisms.

This is a good examination of the acceleration of innovation and how to participate in it.

I guess there was no moment where AI suddenly started accelerating.

It has been accelerating all along. Most people still don't realize.

Peter Diamandis does a good job of explaining the non-linear and exponential acceleration of innovation here:

Forget to mention he's pitching his book, Bold, in this video and his examples are angled to his audience of hopeful entrepreneurs more so than average consumers.

Thanks Rob. He's a cofounder of Singularity University, too.

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