The Power of the Exponential

It all started with a presentation I gave that featured my former employers exponential growth curve in network connections.

connecting people-places-things

I believe the curve … we are living in a world where network connections are growing exponentially. Funnily enough this is a common theory, also known as the “network effect” so I really should not be surprised by this curve!

However I am pretty sure that the global wealth curve, or cumulative GNP of all nations is not following the same exponential curve. So I’m guessing this reflects in a negative way on the future profit levels in the telco industry. There will be a lot less money being spent on a lot more equipment unless something else changes.

What other phenomenon demonstrates a similar curve? The first to spring to my mind is Moore’s Law. Originally coined to describe exponential growth in our ability to put more transistors into the same size silicon wafer it is now used as a ubiquitous metaphor for the growth in computer power. And at the same time the cost efficiency of this power is increasing.

moores law

This set me thinking.

What else follows this curve?

The growth of man’s knowledge is one thing. We have generated more knowledge in the last 20 years than the previous 200 years. But the population is not expanding at the same pace. This implies that we each have to process drastically more information than ever before.

Well, I can certainly see this. Google searches are certainly delivering me more useless trivia than ever before … but I am not sure that my ability to process and retain the accumulated data and knowledge has increased exponentially!

So what’s the bottom line … more data and more knowledge, but growing faster than I can process it. This doesn’t sound good … What if someone finds a cure for cancer but I forget who or what?

So how do we develop an exponential increase in our knowledge processing capability?

Looking at our current education system (through the eyes of my 21-year old son at university and my 18-year old daughter in her final year at school) I am horrified by how old-fashioned and parochial our education system is. We are certainly not building awareness and capability to take knowledge and thinking to the next level into the next generation as far as I can see (harsh, perhaps?)

So my proposed solution is an adjunct processing capability. Call this a personal digital assistant, like a smartphone or a computer perhaps, maybe even a robot. Whatever it is it needs to have similar capabilities to me in terms of processing and storing knowledge but multiplied exponentially.

Smartphones, faster data networks and cloud processing seem to be a part of this solution. But there needs to be something more … Siri on steroids, perhaps?

When I was at uni (a long time ago …) we used to call this Artificial Intelligence or AI. Today we tend to use this term less as we deal in more sophisticated labels like machine learning, deep learning cognitive architecture and so on.

However I decided to approach the topic from a different angle because it seemed to me that people rapidly moved into discussing artificial neural networks, Bayesian learning, swarm intelligence and so on before thinking about the big picture of why we need to research and develop this area.

I hope this simple model of the power of the exponential helps. Until then I feed my smartphone protein additives to help build up its strength.


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