> Melanie Swan
> The Future of Technology
> Melanie Swan, principal of the MS Futures Group, is a technology analyst
> and hedge fund manager researching emerging trends in science and
> technology and their implications. Her educational background includes an
> MBA in Finance and Accounting from the Wharton School of the University
> of Pennsylvania, a BA in French and Economics from Georgetown University
> and recent coursework in physics, computer science and nanotechnology.
> Her career has focused on finance, research, and entrepreneurship,
> including founding a technology startup company, GroupPurchase, which
> aggregated small business buying groups. She serves as an advisor and
> consultant to a variety of public and private organizations and is active
> in the community promoting science, technology and opportunities for women.
> Melanie will present a futurist’s look at how linear, exponential and
> discontinuous growth paradigms are shaping the future of technology and
> what may be expected in key areas such as computing, biotechnology,
> 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.