Digital disruption

We hominids evolved in a world where lives were usually within a day’s walk. When all we’d as a means of transmission was storytelling around the campfire in early days. Anything that happened on the other side of the planet wasn’t known. Life was linear and local.

Nothing changed for centuries and millenniums. Average human in the developed world, a century back, worked for 1800 hours to pay for a refrigerator. Now he/she’s to work fewer than 24 hours. Electricity, running water and appliances give us that time back –the many hours we spent pumping, canning, churning, pickling, curing, sweeping, scrubbing, wringing, drying, stitching, mending, knitting, darning, as they used to remind us slaving over a hot stove, working our fingers to the bone.

Time spent on suchlike household work went down from 60 hours a week to some paltry 10-15 hours. The printing press, the digital representation, storage, and exchange made possible by computers was that anything could be digitized—represented by ones and zeros—to be spread out at the speed of light and become free to produce and share.

In the present exponential world our linear mind literally can’t understand exponential progression. We’ve at our fingertips virtually all the works of genius prior to our time, together with those of our own time. People who lived before our time had neither. Better still, the world’s cultural patrimony is now available not just to the rich and well located but to anyone who’s connected to the vast web of knowledge which means most of humanity, and soon all of it.

Osborne executive portable in 1982 weighed about 14 kgs, costing around $2500. I Phones in 2007 weighed 1/100thand 1/10th of the cost, while sporting 150 times the processing speed and more than 100,000 times the memory. In rupee-terms per gram calculation on i Phones has 150,000 times more price performance than Osborne’s executive.

This astounding increase in computer power and memory, coupled with a concurrent drop in price and size, is exponential change at work. Computation keeps getting half as expensive roughly every couple of years, cutting the computer cost a whopping million, million, million times since our grandparents were born.

The dramatic drop in costs is a key reason why computation is everywhere these days, having spread from the building- sized computing facilities of yesteryears, in our homes, cars, and pockets and even turning up in unexpected places such as sneakers.

The computing speed seems to be limited by energy. A 1 kg computer that performs at a whopping 36 orders of magnitude more than the computer on which I work maybe a reality in sometime in future.

Quantum-computer prototypes have already miniaturized their memory by storing one bit per atom. If we keep improving our technology with enough care, foresight and planning to avoid pitfalls, life will flourish on earth and far beyond for years beyond the wildest dreams of our ancestors.

 When a camera was dematerialized by a digital camera, the former just disappeared. Following invention of digital camera the smartphones hit the market. The digital camera now itself dematerialized.

Not only did it come free with most phones, customers expected it to come free with phones. Millions of applications on our phones with billions of download combined, these now-dematerialized goods and services, used to require significant natural resources to produce, a physical distribution system to disperse, and a cadre of highly trained professionals to make sure that everything ran smoothly. None of these elements remain in the picture.

All the consumer goods and services that are now available with the average Smartphone are; cameras, radios, TV, web browsers, recording studios, HD-video camera , two-way video-conferencing via Skype/WhatsApp/Facebook/face time etc, editing-suites, movie-theaters, an EKG, GPS-navigators, weather-forecast, word-processors, spreadsheets, stereos, flashlights, board-games, card-games, tape-recorder, calculator, thermometer, clock,  full video game-arcade, a whole range of medical devices, health-data, maps, atlases, your record collection, encyclopedias, dictionaries, thesauruses, translators, libraries of books, world-class education, known as app store.

Imagine 1980s luxury technologies.

Forty years ago the devices in this collection would cost millions of rupees; today they come free or as apps on your phone. Smartphones are the fastest spreading technology in the history. Goods and services change hands without cost. Now sure there’s loss-leader free, and there’s an open source effort like Wikipedia, Linux, WhatsApp, Skype, Facebook etc, which are actually free. Either way a shadow economy is yet happening in plain sight.  Democratization happening, hard costs drop so low that they become available and affordable to just everyone. Physical objects turn into bits and then hosted on a digital platform in such high volume that their price approach zero.

With tablets and phones the cheaper wireless connectivity allows them to communicate with internet. Exponential growth, initially deceptive started becoming visibly disruptive. A new market created; the existing one disrupted. In an exponential era either you disrupt yourself or be disrupted by someone else. Whenever technology stops improving, it’s replaced with even better one.

Moore’s law isn’t the only law to emerge in the computer age; Kyder’s law about the exponential cost performance of hard disk computer storage, Coopers’ law similarly finds the number of possible simultaneous wireless communication doubled every thirty months since 1895 when Marconi first broadcast.

Anything that became digitized hops on Moore’s law of increasing computational power. In 1975 Moore altered his formulation, but either way he’s still describing a pattern of exponential growth.

With geometric progression, in this kind of doubling explosion, from meager to massive, and nearly overnight, makes exponential growth so powerful.

And which in our local and linear brains is so shocking.  Supermarkets and commodity exchanges sell items that we call ‘resources’. As future life that reaches the technological limit needs mainly the fundamental resource, so-called baryonic matter (anything made up of atoms or their constituents…..quarks and electrons)whatever form this matter is in, advanced technology can rearrange it into any desired substances or objects including power plants, computers and advanced life forms.