A grain of rice, a chess board and Watson
Rick Mayo 2700018US0 firstname.lastname@example.org |
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I was listening to the BBC the other night as I was falling asleep (isn’t it great to have an internet enabled clock radio) and they were interviewing a couple of professors from MIT about the disconnect between economic growth and employment. Their basic premise was that technology, especially over the last 10 years, had reached the point where it was replacing a lot more jobs than it was creating. They also talked about how this trend will only accelerate in the future based on Moore’s Law.
As I’m sure you recall, Moore’s Law states that the number of transistors on integrated circuits doubles approximately every two years. This trend has continued over the years and we are now at the 32th doubling. The problem is most of us can’t relate to the scale of something that continues doubling for a long time. For example, using the fable about rice and the chessboard, if you put a single grain of rice (you probably wondered how I would tie the rice in) on the first square of a chess board, two grains on the second square, four grains on the third square, and continue doubling the rice on each square, how much rice would their be by time you filled the 64th square. Not being a mathematician, as I’m sure many of you are, I would guess that it would be a thousand pounds, maybe a few thousand pounds. This shows the average persons perception of something that doubles. When in reality the board, if you could find it, would be covered with 636 trillion pounds of rice (somebody should probably check my math, and I assumed long grained rice) a pile the size of Mount Everest. This is the amazing power of doubling.
At the 32nd doubling IBM was able to invent Watson, a stunning achievement, which shows the possibilities of what computers can do. There is a recent TED Talk titled, Ken Jennings: Watson, Jeopardy and me, the obsolete know-it-all that is worth a look. In the video Ken talks about the number of professions that are being effected by technology, and not just blue collar jobs but skilled professions like pharmacists and paralegals. Of course our lives will be better if our doctors have access to Watson to aid in their diagnosis. However, it does make one pause to wonder, as technology continues on this doubling path will we enter a new golden age of leisure and what will this mean for society and the economy. What will the world look like at the 64th doubling?