The Accelerating Rate of Change

Futurist Ray Kurzweill says that “the whole 20th century, because we’ve been speeding up to this point, is equivalent to 20 years of progress at today’s rate of progress, and we’ll make another 20 years of progress at today’s rate of progress equal to the whole 20th century in the next 14 years, and then we’ll do it again in seven years. And because of the explosive power of exponential growth, the 21st century will be equivalent to 20,000 years of progress at today’s rate of progress.” But is it all progress? What about recessions? “If you look at the economy as a whole, either per capita or just the total economy, it is growing exponentially. But the various recessions, even the Great Depression, are relatively minor features that you really see in this chart that is a big exponential. And what’s interesting is that when the recession is over, including the Great Depression, it starts back to where it would have been had that never occurred in the first place. It does not represent even a permanent slowing down or delay in the underlying exponential.” Kurzweill says that the really pervasive phenomena is the exponential growth. “We have exponential growth in productivity. Even that is understated because we’re measuring the value in dollars of what can be accomplished. But what can be accomplished for a dollar today is far greater than what could be accomplished for a dollar 10 years ago.” The acceleration of the rate of change will have numerous impacts, not least of which will be “the whole concept of what it means to be human” as humans merge with their technologies to become different beings.

Perspectives on Business Innovation Issue 9