Why the World is Changing so Fast
Understanding how computational systems work is essential in understanding the growth and development of our modern society is a primary message of John Maeda’s 2019 book How to Speak Machine. The evidence to support this statement is that computational systems are at the core of most large social and information structures in our society.
We are in a data-driven society
It’s easy to understand that is the case, but why is a important question.
I speculate that our current reliance on digital data sources has much more to do with the rate at which technological development has been occurring than the initial ease of use or public acceptance of these digital systems.
Maeda describes the rate of change of the hardware, the core of all digital technology, through an analogy that I found particularly noteworthy.
In 1899, a vehicle called the La Jamais Contente, was the first to travel over 100 kph. It did so using two 124 amp-hour electric motors that produced a total of 68 horsepower.
The current land speed record, set in 2017 is 1,220 kph.
From this, we can calculate the linear rate of change in the land speed record. The world’s fastest vehicles have been increasing in speed at a rate of 11.4 kph a year.
If the land speed record were to develop at the same rate as the microchip technology, the is a primary driver in the growth of the technology sector, a predecessor of the La Jamais Contente would have broken the speed of light by 1924. It is hard to imagine this rapid change going unnoticed. Many people would want to do something about it. How does the convenience and commercial benefits of such speed balance against the safety and structural changes required to allow it?
Yet that level of growth is precisely what has been happening in the world of technology for 40-plus years. Microchip processing power is no longer developing at an exponential rate, but what that growth has allowed has fundamentally altered to structure and norms of society. The hardware change alone did do this. The convenience offered by very precise and efficient computation systems, the continued improvement of ease of use of software, and the emergence of dense online-based social networks put these technological changes into action. We trade information about our location for the convenience of a mapping application that knows where we are. It’s a very different world.
Something as complex as society change is never going to be captured by a single cause. Based on your experience you end up seeing the impact of any particular factor having a greater or lessor impact of the root cause. My experiences are telling me this is a big factor in understanding who we are. That makes it worth understanding.