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What is Accelerating Change?

In both universal and human history, there is a special subset of events that have continually increased their speed and efficiency of change. Accelerating systems are regularly able to accomplish more with fewer resources; as a result, they avoid normal limitations to growth. Over the 20th century, several domains of technological development have accelerated, even during deep recession, driven primarily by the powerful new physical and economic efficiencies that they introduce into the human economy. Perhaps even more interestingly, looking ahead we can see no natural limit to specific accelerating physical and technological efficiencies.

For example, when we consider an approaching limit (circa 2015) to chip miniaturization, we realize this will simply move us into an era of system miniaturization, a process that is already well under way (e.g., systems-on-a-chip: cellphone-on-a-chip, GPS-on-a-chip, etc.). As chips become more reconfigurable and true commodities, the exploration of massively modular systems becomes economically feasible. Today's modestly-parallel computing architectures (e.g., graphics render farms, distributed computing, and early grid computing) signal tomorrow's more parallel and more biologically inspired computing. Rolf Landauer and others have calculated that there is no minimum physical energy of computation. Seth Lloyd has calculated that the "ultimate laptop" has black hole-level energy densities, and today's Pentium chips already have far greater energy densities than any living system on Earth. Intel's Andy Grove tells us that gate leakage current is becoming a problem with gallium arsenide semiconductors, yet hafnium arsenide has 1,000 times less leakage, and is one of several contenders expected to keep Moore's Law alive and healthy in the metal oxide semiconductor substrate for as far as we can see into our extraordinary future. So it is that new physical discoveries have continually removed historical blocks to rapid computational advance, so much so that fat-fingered 21st century humans have learned to create multi-million mirror MEMS devices (i.e., optical waveguides) to teleport light and run programs on a single atom of calcium.

We have entered an era of continual surprise. Many serious observers now expect the power and intelligence of computer-related industries to continue their stunning rate of progress for many decades to come. Developing foresight with regard to the meaning, implications, risks, and opportunities of accelerating change has become our greatest priority. [For more, see "Understanding the Accelerating Rate of Change," Ray Kurzweil and Chris Meyer, 2003.]


©2003 Acceleration Studies Foundation
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