Time travel technology

Today I want to show you how it’s possible to cram 20,000 years of human progress and innovation into a single decade.

You may well think that’s impossible. And it’s a claim you’ve probably heard before. It’s easy to be sceptical – and cynical – about this kind of idea. Today’s letter is dedicated entirely to the sceptical part of your mind. I want to take on your inner sceptic and prove to you exactly how this kind of giant leap forward is possible, thanks to two specific tech advances we’ve seen in the last couple of years.

The idea of such rapid change may be scary. It may leave you feeling like a dinosaur. Rapid change like that would make most people feel lost; stranded as the world around them changes so quickly they feel frozen in time. But there’s nothing to fear. In fact, as I’ll show you today, this could be the best time in human history to be alive (and investing!).

The progress formula

We talk about technology bringing about “revolutions” in human life. But that’s the wrong way of thinking about it. Why?

Because the real force behind every real advance – in the universe – is evolution.

Life. Intelligence. Complexity. They all ultimately emerged out of chaos in the universe. Human advances have been the same: Newton claimed to have seen further because he was standing on the shoulders of giants. But all advances in technology are similar. They evolve and emerge out of what had come before.

Think of evolution as a formula through which complexity and progress emerge. I’d lay it out like this:

Experimentation + Time (lots of it) = Progress

In nature that experimentation is random. It’s mutation. It isn’t guided. It just happens. But over time – vast amounts of time – the mutations that lead to a competitive advantage get passed on and built upon. The same principle is true of technology as it emerges.

When you think of it like this, the idea that we’re about to see an explosion of progress at a never-before-seen rate is easier to understand. You need to speed up the rate of experimentation or speed up time. Or both.

We can’t yet control the flow of time. But we can exponentially increase the amount of experimentation taking place, thanks to two new technologies…

The AI “Cambrian Explosion”

The first technology is artificial intelligence (AI).

Around 542 million years ago the world saw something called the Cambrian Explosion. It was a time when the number of species suddenly went exponential. In economic terms you’d call it a period of intense specialisation and diversification. Examine the fossil record and you see all kinds of weird and wonderful new types of life.

Nothing “told” it to happen. There was no guiding hand. No one was overseeing things. The experiment guided itself.

We’re seeing a similar phenomenon in the field of AI at the moment.

Suddenly, the conditions are right and the technology is scalable enough for an explosion of different uses of AI. None of these are general AI like Terminator or C-3PO. They’re all narrow and highly specialised: AI lawyers, doctors, writers, financial advisors, drivers, fund managers, traders, business consultants, fighter pilots, home carers, accountants, personal assistants…

The list is endless. And growing. At an incredible speed.

To further the analogy with the Cambrian Explosion, you wouldn’t necessarily expect all of these new “species” of AI to succeed. Some will be evolutionary dead ends. But some won’t: they’ll split, mutate and adapt in new and increasingly inventive ways.

But it doesn’t stop there.

Because what these machines really are is data crunchers. They’re able to take information and analyse it in a meaningful and useful way. That means they’re able to actually accelerate the process of experimentation.

For instance, researchers looking for the next super-material or super-chemical now routinely use AI to speed up the process. Rather than actually creating new chemicals or physically manipulating materials on a molecular level, they’re now able to run a virtual lab test 24/7, vastly increasing the number of new combinations.

The big breakthrough of course will come when AIs are set to work designing and experimenting with the design of the next generation of AI. That’s the point at which progress will accelerate even further.

Hijacking evolution

There’s another side to this, though.

It involves gene editing, gene writing and synthetic biology. This allows us to guide the process of evolution: to increase the number of new biological experiments, and guide mutation in a new direction.

This is a big deal. I recently went on a tour of some laboratories at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), where researchers were using the CRISPR/Cas9 gene editing technology to “write” and “edit” new forms of life that wouldn’t have existed without their intervention.

It was referred to as the “Sculpting Evolution” tour. This isn’t some theoretical idea I’ve come up with. It’s what’s happening, in research labs all around the world, every single day.

I’ll leave the ethical considerations of this to one side for now. Because to be honest they don’t matter. This stuff is happening. It’ll keep happening. You can’t close Pandora’s Box, no matter how much you want to.

Which is ultimately the point. These are two of the most promising, and controversial, technologies in the world today. They’ll reshape how we live our lives. And they’ll make it possible for us to speed up evolutionary forces and see rates of progress that would have taken thousands or millions of years in the past.

That’s important. You need to understand how that world is going to look. Anticipate what it means for you. Take action where you can to benefit from it.

In the meantime, if you want to have your say on the really big advances in technology, the stuff that will change things on an evolutionary scale, I’d love to hear from you. Get in touch!

Until next time,

nick_signature

Nick O’Connor
Publisher, Exponential Investor

Category: Artificial Intelligence

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