> Melanie Swan
> The Future of Technology
> Melanie Swan, principal of the MS Futures Group, is a technology
> and hedge fund manager researching emerging trends in science and
> technology and their implications. Her educational background
> MBA in Finance and Accounting from the Wharton School of the
> of Pennsylvania, a BA in French and Economics from Georgetown
> and recent coursework in physics, computer science and
> Her career has focused on finance, research, and entrepreneurship,
> including founding a technology startup company, GroupPurchase,
> aggregated small business buying groups. She serves as an advisor
> consultant to a variety of public and private organizations and is
> in the community promoting science, technology and opportunities
> Melanie will present a futurist’s look at how linear, exponential
> discontinuous growth paradigms are shaping the future of
> what may be expected in key areas such as computing,
> nanotechnology and virtual worlds.
Melanie began her talk by
summarizing the key points: Growth paradigms are sometimes linear,
sometimes exponential, and sometimes discontinuous; technological
change can no longer be separated from other changes because they have
a way of blending together to create the gestalt future we experience;
thanks to Moore's Law hardware improvements in speed and density are
likely to continue at least another decade, but in software the
improvements are less predictable; and it's possible that in the next
fifty years something with greater impact on our lives than the
internet might come along. As a firm believer in open source she has
made the slides available at melanieswan.com if you want to get the
whole presentation there.
Then she quickly went over the
various kinds of change. Linear examples were our economy (a few
percent growth per year) and human life span (growing by a few months
every decade). Exponential growth is exhibited by bacteria in a petri
dish and semiconductor gate density in computers. She listed off a
specific breakthrough (high K+ metal gate transistors) that is going to
keep semiconductor density doubling for the next few years, despite the
fact some had thought we reached the limits of that law already.
Discontinuous change happens when a paradigm shift makes new
possibilities develop. Examples of that were the a-bomb, computer, and
globalization. Who would have predicted the iPod? It took good
batteries and good data storage to make it happen, things that were
only developed recently.
Melanie presented some of the
tradeoffs between getting people to do things and getting computers to
do them. On the one had a computer can be made to do something in a
matter of years. On the other it takes thousands of years to evolve
humans into a new niche. Similarly, computers are very good at doing
specific tasks. People are better at fuzzy reasoning and in poorly
defined situations. Information in computers can be duplicated exactly,
whereas humans can only tell subjective stories. Computers have more
compute speed, but people can remember more information. There are
currently some applications for AI, but most of them are experimental
at this time.
Nanotechnology was the next topic.
There are some fabs at places like MIT, but for the industry to go
mainstream there need to be more ways to get these great ideas made.
Melanie sees applications in genetic sequencing and splicing, and human
life expectancy lengthening. She sees an average human life expectancy
of 83 years by 2050 as a worthwhile goal for the applications of this
technology. She likes the work the Metheusala Foundation is doing in
research to repair and reverse the damage of aging.
After that she quickly mentioned a
few areas and their highights. Virtual reality: applications are
getting interesting. One she likes is a mobile phone app that lets you
see where traffic is moving in real time by collecting information from
GPS enabled cell phones on the road. Another is virtual meeting space
for widely separated people to teleconferance. She stretched our
imaginations with a purple octapus on the empire state building.
Affordable space: Commercial launch vehicles are coming, and will be
cheaper than govt. programs in the area; the space elevator is not yet
technically feasable, but there is a lot of work going on in the area.