Most inventions fail not because the R&D department can’t get it to work, because the timing is wrong. Not all of the enabling factors will be in place when they’re needed.
People say you can’t predict the future – and if you ask, will a share price be higher or lower in three years from today, it’s very hard to say – but if you ask what the price of sending data will be in five years, or the cost of sequencing DNA, these things are actually easy to predict using mathematical models.
The nature of exponential growth is that once it reaches the curve it explodes. It took years to make only 1/10,000th of the progress in the gnome project, and it looked impossible. But when technology catches up, you hit the exponential curve, and progress is incredibly fast. People tend to forget that the tools available will be substantially faster, cheaper, better.
An example: it took 15 years to sequence HIV. It took 31 days to sequence SARS.
Every time one paradigm ran out of steam, another one came out of left field to take its place. Vacuum tubes ran out of steam as they made them smaller and smaller – along came the transistors to take its place.
We will succeed in reverse engineering the human brain by the 2020’s. As we make these kinds of technological leaps, we will also see continued productivity growth, and economic growth. We will also merge with our technology by the 2020’s. They’ll interact with our brains and biological neurons.
In summary, progress and technology is exponential, not linear.
(Part of TED a day for June)