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The Law of Accelerating Returns

Do you ever catch yourself thinking ‘I can’t keep up with technological change’ or ‘I’ll catch up on the latest communications developments when the dust settles’ or, perhaps in less considered moments, ‘aaaaarrrrrrggghhhh!’? Unless you’ve been in a coma for the last five years, you’ll be fully aware of how fast the communications industry is developing, and that change is being driven by technological evolution. But it has to slow down, right?

Unfortunately, the bad news is that Moore’s Law means that the rate of change is unlikely to decrease any time soon. In fact, given than technology is the major catalyst, it’s more likely to increase than decrease, certainly in the next few years. Moore’s Law depicts a 50 year trend where, in simple technological terms, the number of electronic chips that can be placed on a circuit doubles approximately every two years at no additional cost. The performance of many digital communications devices (computers, mobile phones, digital cameras etc) is inextricably linked to Moore’s Law due to factors such as the performance of processing speeds and memory capacity, which are improving at roughly exponential rates. Which, in layman’s terms, is “very fast indeed”.

Increasing Rate of Change

Futurist Ray Kurzweil proposed ‘The Law of Accelerating Returns’ in the early 2000s, positing that the rate of change in a variety of evolving systems increases at this exponential rate. He says thatwe won’t experience 100 years of progress in the 21st century; it will be more like 20,000 years of progress (at today’s rate)”. So if you’re finding it difficult to keep up now, what’s it going to be like in ten years’ time?

If Kurzweil’s correct, the communications industry hasn’t even begun its own evolutionary change. He argues that whenever a technology approaches a barrier to progress, a new technology is invented to cross that barrier. And as we invent better technologies, we also discover more effective ways of doing things – like communicating. Furthermore, Kurzweil predicts that, within a few decades (he’s stated 2045), machine intelligence will surpass human intelligence leading to a ‘technological singularity’. Mathematician Vernor Vinge popularised this premise in his 1986 novel, ‘Marooned in Realtime’.

If it all sounds a bit “Danger Will Robinson!” to you, think about the last 60 or so years. Life has changed almost beyond recognition since the Fifites. And it will continue to do so, but at an ever-faster rate.

Keeping Up

So what’s the point? Well, I was asked at last week’s Future of Communications panel discussion in London how to keep up with all of the changes in the tech, social media and communications fields. My answer was rather low-tech: read. Read articles, read blogs, read news and opinions. And then experiment with things. Play with tech, try out different social media platforms and functionality, take nothing for granted. You’re doing yourself no favours whatsoever by leaving communications tech to the company social media geek or the IT staff. Don’t have time? Make time. Subscribe to blogs using RSS and read them on-the-go on your mobile. Spend half an hour playing with social media tools on your lunch break. If you don’t do it, someone else will. Your career, your choice.