Can we predict the technologies? – the founder of Obecto at TEDx


You can find the video transcript below.

Hello! Today we are going to talk about technologies.

“There is no reason for any individual to have a computer at home.” This is what Ken Olsen said back in 1977. He is the co-founder of the Digital Equipment Corporation company which is one of the leading computer and technology companies in the 70s. However, today technologies are everywhere. They are not only in our homes. We carry them with us in the form of mobile phones and other gadgets. They are not only more compact, more powerful but also cheaper. They are easier to use. They are so far easier to use that nowadays children play with technologies. However, if we try to predict, how technology is going to develop in the next 40 years, is it likely that we will do better that Ken Olsen did in 1977?

In the front part of our heads, we have the so-called prefrontal cortex. This is the youngest part of our brain which has been developing over that last 5 million years and has grown 6 times. This is one of the things that differentiate us from the animals. Even from our closest cousins, the monkeys. The prefrontal cortex allows us to solve mathematical problems, think about philosophical problems, compare, set and achieve goals, predict the outcomes of our actions, think about the future and make a prognosis. Our prefrontal cortex, however, has been developing out in the wild nature where things are relatively linear. A tree can grow by one meter per year which in 20 years will give us a 20-meter-high tree.

Another interesting thing, that our prefrontal cortex allows us, is to build technology, i.e. to create instruments. Both the first instruments and the ones that we use nowadays – the technologies develop driven by the same desire. The desire to create more, with less effort and with less resource as a whole. When we create a technology, when we discover an instrument, we do not stop there. Our desire to create more with less goes on. Then we use all the technology that we have already created in order to create a new one, an even better one. And the pace with which we create this new technology is faster than the one with which we created the previous one.

So, compared to the tree which grows at a constant pace and every year adds a meter to its size, technology develops in a different way. It develops significantly faster. And every year it starts developing even faster than the previous one. I.e. it grows exponentially. We can say that technology is a tree which doubles its growing pace every year. This means that in 20 years it will not be 20 meters but 1,000 km – the orbit where the satellites are floating. However, there is one fundamental issue with this – the lines of the linear and the exponential growth are very different. If one expects to observe linear growth, he will be initially disappointed by technology. Technologies are too expensive, too complicated to work with and even performing worse than the traditional method in some industries. I.e. there will be some initial disappointment with the technologies. However, because they grow faster and faster, at some point technology will become significantly better than the one that already exists in the industry and what has been used up until now. This is the way technology creates the so-called disruptive innovation.

It sounds like a bad thing but in reality, it is something very nice. Thanks to the disruptive innovation, the old and slow-paced industries start moving much quicker. They start moving with technology’s exponential pace. Typical examples for this are Airbnb and Uber. For example, the hotel industry has not developed much over the last years. It has been the same since its dawn – one builds a hotel and starts renting it. It was not a technology-dependent industry. However, now we have Airbnb. This is an application, a technology which gives everyone the opportunity to use his property and with several clicks turn it into a hotel and offer the so called bed and breakfast. Everything is really simple – payments are conducted through the application; everything is easy and convenient. Due to this there are significantly more beds, more competition among the hotels, which in turns knocks off the price which is better for the consumers. On the other hand, this is an additional income for the people who offer their properties. Everybody wins here; everybody, except for people who do not follow the technology, i.e. the old industry.

The same goes with Uber. What Uber does is the same as Airbnb but in the transportat field. It allows every person to work as a taxi driver, whenever he wants and earn additional income with his own car. Once again, this is great for the consumers because the driver who gets the order is the one with the highest rating. I.e. the best one and the one who is most liked by the customers.

How does the disruptive industry work? The disruptive industry has a specific way of working. Technologies get not only exponentially better, but they become exponentially cheaper as well. And when they become exponentially cheaper, new implementations of those technologies become possible. Those implementations target groups of people who have not used this technology up until now. Every time when technology is targeting people who have not used it yet, it broadens up its scope and thus it can disrupt whole industries.

A typical example for this is the 3D printers industry. The 3D printing technology has been discovered a long time ago; it is almost 30 years old. But it has been mainly used by engineers, cost millions of dollars and was highly specialized. Then, however, appear printers like RepRap. RepRap is an open source printer; everyone can download RepRap’s design and create such printer at home. What is more interesting about the printer is that it is self-cloning; i.e. it can create most of the necessary parts on its own. This means that when somebody creates a RepRap for himself, he can create a RepRap for his friend and as many more RepRaps as he likes. The price for all of the material of this printer is $500.

However, 3D printers are not limited to work on small objects made mainly of plastic. For example, with a 3D printer, one can print a castle in his backyard. In this case, this castle in a backyard has been made by a printer which does not even cost millions. This 3D printer has been constructed by a builder and technology lover in his spare time, in order to print a castle in his backyard. On the other hand, there are also 3D printers that work with great precision, with fine details. The biggest precision up until now is 100nano meters. Just for a comparison – the space between transistors in the Pentium 4 chip produced in 2002 are the size of 130 nano meters.

Furthermore, 3D printers are not limited to working with non-living materials. The so-called bioprinters can work with stem cells. This means that patient’s stem cells can be used to print an organ which can afterward be used for a transplantation; i.e. a spare organ. 3D printers have a very important role in general. They are the connection between the information technologies and the material world. What 3D printers allow is to materialize information. And like information is something that can be copied almost for free, 3D printers allow us to create different objects – from homes to organs almost for free. You can download the object’s design from the internet, switch on the printer and in a while you will have the ready product. This means that information technology is the moving power for the rest of the exponential technologies.

Let us observe how the information technology is developing. This is an example which is really close to me and I think it is really indicative. I entered the world of computers and programming back in 1996. Back then, in order to reach 1 gigaflop computing power one needed 32 Pentium Pro processors connected in a cluster. This would cost $30,000 and one really noisy and electricity consuming machine. Nowadays, one can buy 10 gigaflops computing power in the form of a wristwatch and wear it on his hand. This is a graph which shows how much computing power we can buy with $1,000. You can see the historical data which clash with the exponential curve and when we prolong the exponential curve, we can observe some interesting stuff. If we prolong the curve, in 2029 with $1,000 we will be able to buy so much computing power that we will be able to simulate a human brain. If we prolong the curve, for $1,000 we will be able to buy computing power which is equivalent to the computing power of all people in the world with their brains. Can you imagine the world in which for $1,000 you can buy a machine which is smarter than all the people in the world? What would be important in such world?

And to be honest, this is not so hard to imagine. We do not need to wait until 2029.

Watson is a machine produced by IBM which learns by itself. It does not need to be programmed or be told what to say. This machine is simply reading, it reads internet, Wikipedia, books, and learns. Machine’s aim is to answer questions. It works as an expert. You ask it a question – is it OK to do this, is this nice – and it gives you recommendations based on proofs that it collected in internet. Currently the machine is not a human being. It can conduct simple things, it can answer to questions as an expert. But it is good enough to be able to beat the two best human players in the American TV show Jeopardy!, where questions are difficult even for human beings. One of the players had 76 consecutive wins. The machine beat both of them. Still, this is a machine created with the processors that we currently have. It has several thousand 3,5 gigahertz Power 7 IBM processors which are the most standard processors. What you see on the picture is the new IBM processor called TrueNorth. TrueNorth is a hardware neuron network. It means that it does not need to simulate a neuron network – it is a hardware neuron network. It contains 1,000,000 silicone neurons. This number is still a small one, 1,000,000 neurons are not that many but bearing in mind technology’s exponential growth, it is possible that in several years TrueNorth will have as many neurons as the human brain or much more.

However, the technology that we have nowadays is accessible only to a small group of people. One-third of the world’s population uses the internet. The rest two does not. This is also the reason for Google’s project which aims to put balloons in the stratosphere and to secure network coverage for the whole planet and for everyone. Facebook has a similar project. However, they are planning to use solar-powered internet planes which will fly at a significant height. When all of this comes to reality, we will witness two more thirds of the population connected to the internet. And if we were able to realize all of those beautiful things only with one-third of the population being connected and working for the technologies’ development, can you imagine what will happen, if all people connect and start working together for their development in one global network. This will be an enormous boost for the mankind.

However, let’s observe technologies from a different point of view. The project for studying the Human Genome, i.e. understanding what is written in the human genome, took circa 15 years and $3 billion. As a result, we were able to read the DNA for the first time. Currently, it is possible that one reads his own DNA for less than $100. It gets more interesting when this technology meets 3D printing. We can read DNA but can we write it? Yes! Currently, new 3D printers are being developed which can manipulate the substance at a molecular level. Then, besides being able to read DNA, we will be able to write it. Once again, this is technology, which will need some time to develop. Currently, several thousand bases are being developed and when we are able to develop 3 billion bases, as many they are in the human DNA, we will be able to print DNA. And when this happens, the programming itself will be defined in a different way. The DNA is a program. A program put in the cell, and being carried out.  The cell is a processor where you put DNS and is being performed. In this way, one can download stem cells, can download software for writing DNA, program a DNA and create whatever organism he wants – ranging from bacteria through banana reaching to the human being. All of this will be a matter of programming.

Another interesting thing is the Human Connectome Project. The connectome is the connection of all of the neurons in the human brain. Once again, this is a project that is being currently developed. It has advanced but it is still unfinished. Most probably it will take several years, will absorb several billion dollars but eventually, we will have a USB flash drive which will contain all of our brain’s connections. We will have a USB flash drive with our DNA which we will be able to print with the 3D printer and create an organism; we will have a USB flash drive with our consciousness.

What can we achieve in such a moment? What is alive and what is not in such a world? If at least half of the currently developed technologies will become available. The next 30 years will be very interesting for the world. Can we even imagine what this world would be like? Can we even comprehend the speed it develops with? And, in general, isn’t our striving to achieve more with less leading us to a moment when technologies will be the only existing thing and people will become unnecessary?

However, the answer of all of those questions is abundance and endless possibilities. Having the technologies and the machines which create everything a person needs will allow people to unlock their potential and start dealing with more humane things. Technologies will eliminate many professions, eliminate jobs, but at the same time will create many new jobs. According to me, the professions of the future are the ones being more human. They are the ones connected to science, creating new technologies, art, and, in general, to everything that is connected to discovering new horizons and creativity. These are the things people really need to do. Everything else is better done by the machines. Thank you!