When we think about the future we think of The Jetsons or of Back to The Future but we’re way past 2015 and we are nowhere near hoverboards or flying cars. Why? Well, that’s probably because the rate of technological advancement is slowing down, and some believe it might just stop completely. But will it actually?
First, let’s get our terminology straight. “Technology” has a few definitions, this one works for today: Technology is anything built using information to achieve some practical purpose. Information - all information can be stored in binary, with each binary digit called a bit. Now that we have that out of the way strap in, because before we’re done we’ll be exploring the edges of space.
Got it? OK.
As stated by (San Diego State University",2013), over the years, a number of mathematicians and information theorists have set out to quantify the relationship between technological progress and our ability to compute information. The most famous of these is probably Moore’s law, which states that the number of transistors per microchip doubles approximately every two years.
But will Moore’s law always hold true? According to Vernor Vinge in a San Diego State University article (San Diego State University",2013) “There’s a theoretical limit to the number of bits per second you can transmit over, say, a phone line, and it’s a very well thought-out and strict limit",”
Vinge said, “We’ve far exceeded that, but we didn’t exceed it by breaking the laws of physics. We did it by changing the characteristics of the communication channel.”
In other words, what humans have always excelled at is finding ways around technological limitations by building new technology.
People have been predicting the end of technology for decades and every time they are proven wrong. Humans will always innovate. Humans will never completely run out of new ideas. What we will run out of, is energy.
Humanity will never run out of new technology to develop however we will run out the energy required to make those advancements. Energy is necessary for everything we do, and we consume more and more of it every day. However, exponential energy use is hard to sustain! Luckily for us, we have a giant ball-shaped nuclear fusion reactor supplying us with more energy than we can currently harness.
Vidal states that we currently only make use of less than 10% of the suns energy. He claims the one way to harness all the energy the sun provides us with is by covering the earth with solar panels however that that is centuries away (see Is there a limit to technological progress? - Clément Vidal.2016.)
While this may be 400 hundred years away from being possible it is also a sign. A sign that humanity is already aware of the issues that may slow down or even stop human development and future advancements. A sign that shows we have already found a way around our technological limitations by thinking of new technology. Now, all we have to do is find a way to make this new technology possible.