By Mike Cronin
You’ve probably heard of the concept that computer speed doubles roughly every 12-18 months. This concept is called Moore’s Law, named after Gordon Moore, one of the co-founders of the computer chip company Intel. He made his observation in 1965, and it has largely been accurate. Moore’s law is part of a larger phenomenon, something called the accelerating rate of change.
Think of it this way: A farmer from the 1500s transported 200 years into the future would not have been amazed by the technological advancements to farming in the 1700s. For the vast majority of people, technology simply didn’t change during their lifetimes. Fast forward to the late 1800s: My maternal great grandmother crossed the plains in a covered wagon in the 1890s and settled in what is now the little town of Kiowa, Colorado. Steam technology existed then; she had probably heard of, or may have even ridden on a steam locomotive. She might have sent and received telegrams. But most of the new technology of the day was concentrated in the coastal cities. Pioneers and settlers were still using wagons and draft animals. A Roman Centurion from 1800 years in the past might have been amazed by a steam locomotive or a telegraph, but he would have found her Conestoga wagon unremarkable. This same great-grandmother lived to watch men walk on the moon.
In her lifetime, gasoline and diesel-powered cars and trucks replaced the horse as the primary means of personal travel. The automobile industry disrupted the horse culture; now horseback riding is primarily a hobby for people who can afford to keep horses. Telephone, radio, and television grew to become the primary means of sending and/or receiving information. These technologies disrupted (but didn’t eliminate) mail service. She was born at the tail end of the Industrial Revolution and lived through the Gilded Age, the Jet Age, and the Space Age.
She died in the early 1970s. Since then, the rate of change has only accelerated. The computer network that would become the internet was just getting started in the 1960s when Moore made his observation; now it is the predominate feature of modern life. Television and radio gave rise to the “mainstream media,” i.e. the big three networks: ABC, CBS, and NBC. Satellite and computer technology allowed cable upstart CNN to join the club in 1980, followed soon after by other cable networks. CNN disrupted the status quo and initiated the 24-hour news cycle. The “big three” had to play catch-up. Advances in internet speed and the invention of “hypertext mark-up language” (HTML), gave us the World Wide Web. Within a decade of CNN disrupting the existing main-stream media, “the Web” enabled even more disruption. News aggregators. Blogs. Online magazines. Email and RSS feeds. And now: Streaming media. Smart phones. Wi-fi. Digital currency. AI. Fusion. Nano-tech. DNA editing. Laser weapons. Robots. Self-driving cars. With the accelerating rate of change has come the accelerating rate of disruption. In our lifetimes, we will experience more technological advancement than has been accomplished in the previous 20 millennia – if we can successfully ride the waves of disruption!