Why Tech is Accelerating – Peter Diamandis

January 23, 2016

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No doubt you’ve heard of Moore’s Law.

What you might not realize is that Moore’s Law only refers to the exponential price-performance improvements of integrated circuits (over the last 50 years).

Did you know that exponential growth has been going on for a much longer period? Or that such growth is occurring in other fields outside of computing, such as communication and genomics?

Such exponential growth is actually described by “The Law of Accelerating Returns,” a term coined by my friend and Singularity University Chancellor/Co-founder Ray Kurzweil.

This blog aims to explain the difference between Moore’s Law and the Law of Accelerating Returns – an important distinction to understand for the exponentially minded.

What is Moore’s Law?

In 1965, Gordon Moore (a founder of Intel) published a paper observing that between 1958 and 1965, the number of transistors on an integrated circuit have been doubling roughly every 18 to 24 months. He projected this would continue for some time. This concept has held true for 50 years and is known as “Moore’s Law.”

To get a gut feeling of Moore’s law, let’s look at the physical evolution of the microchip. In 1958, a scientist at Texas Instruments developed the first-ever integrated circuit. It had two transistors (the more, the better) with a “gate process length” (the smaller, the better) of about ½ inch. This scientist would go on to win the Nobel Prize.

The first integrated circuit in 1958

The first integrated circuit in 1958

Now, fast forward 13 years.

The Intel 4004 Integrated Circuit

The Intel 4004 Integrated Circuit

In 1971, Intel came out with its first commercial product, a 4-bit CPU called the Intel 4004 integrated circuit. The 4004 had 2,300 transistors with a gate length of 10,000 nanometers, and computer power of about 740 KHz.

By this time, each transistor cost about $1, on average.

Now fast forward another 40 years…

2012 GPU from Nvidia

2012 GPU from Nvidia

In 2012, Nvidia released a new graphical processor unit (GPU) with 7.1 billion transistors, a gate length of 28 nanometers, and processing power of 7GHz.

The cost of a transistor: ~ $0.0000001

In just 40 years, the technology experienced a 100 billion-fold improvement, right on schedule for Moore’s Law.

The Law of Accelerating Returns

But Moore’s Law only describes the latest period (the 5th paradigm) of computational exponential growth.

As Ray Kurzweil described in his most excellent book, The Singularity Is Near, exponential growth in computation has existed for over a century, and has gone through five different paradigms of exponential growth:

  • 1st Paradigm: Electromechanical computers
  • 2nd Paradigm: Relay-based computers
  • 3rd Paradigm: Vacuum-tube based computers
  • 4th Paradigm: Transistor-based computers
  • 5th Paradigm: Integrated circuits (Moore’s Law)

Moore’s Law (the 5th paradigm of computation) is therefore a subset of a much broader exponential principle described by Kurzweil’s Law of Accelerating Returns.

Graphic from Singularity is Near, demonstrating

Graphic from Singularity is Near, demonstrating “Law of Accelerating Returns” in the field of computation

It’s important to note that Ray recently mentioned to me that the sixth paradigm – three-dimensional computing – is already underway.

Why is Technology Accelerating?

It is important to understand the underlying drivers for the Law of Accelerating Returns. Why is technology accelerating? As Ray references, “We won’t experience 100 years of progress in the 21st century — it will be more like 20,000 years of progress (at today’s rate)”.

Here’s the basic reasoning:

  • Evolution (biological or technological) results in a better next-generation product. That product is thereby a more effective and capable method, and is used in developing the next stage of evolutionary progress. It’s a positive feedback loop.
  • Put differently, we are using faster tools to design and build faster tools.
  • In biological evolution, the more advanced life form (think cellular) is able to gather energy and reproduce more effectively, and therefore outperforms and out-evolves other life forms.
  • As a result, the rate of progress of an evolutionary process increases exponentially over time, and the “returns” such as speed, cost-effectiveness, or overall “power” also increase exponentially over time.
  • As a particular evolutionary process (e.g., computation) becomes more effective (e.g., cost effective), greater resources are then deployed toward furthering the progress of that process. This results in a second level of exponential growth (i.e., the rate of exponential growth itself grows exponentially).

Is Biology & Life Advancing Exponentially?

To paraphrase Kurzweil… The Law of Accelerating Returns also explains exponential advancement of life (biology) on this planet. Looking at biological evolution on Earth, the first step was the emergence of DNA, which provided a digital method to record the results of evolutionary experiments. Then, the evolution of cells, tissues, organs and a multitude of species that ultimately combined rational thought with an opposable appendage (i.e., the thumb) caused a fundamental paradigm shift from biology to technology. The first technological steps – sharp edges, fire, the wheel – took tens of thousands of years. For people living in this era, there was little noticeable technological change in even a thousand years. By 1000 A.D., progress was much faster and a paradigm shift required only a century or two. In the 19th century, we saw more technological change than in the nine centuries preceding it. Then in the first 20 years of the 20th century, we saw more advancement than in all of the 19th century. Now, paradigm shifts occur in only a few years’ time. The World Wide Web did not exist in anything like its present form just a decade ago, and didn’t exist at all two decades before that. As these exponential developments continue, we will begin to unlock unfathomably productive capabilities and begin to understand how to solve the world’s most challenging problems. There has never been a more exciting time to be alive.

http://peterdiamandis.tumblr.com

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10 Breakthrough technologies for 2015 – MIT review

January 23, 2016

genome

Not all breakthroughs are created equal. Some arrive more or less as usable things; others mainly set the stage for innovations that emerge later, and we have to estimate when that will be. But we’d bet that every one of the milestones on this list will be worth following in the coming years.

Read more:

http://www.technologyreview.com/lists/technologies/2015/

The Internet Allowed Us to Learn Anything—VR Will Let Us Experience Everything

January 23, 2016

rm10.14_virtualreality

I have something to admit—to this day, I’m in awe of Wikipedia. Humanity has created a massive repository of our knowledge available for free to anyone with an Internet connection. All of our presidents and kings, theories and discoveries, just waiting to be read about and discovered. About once a month I’ll lose an afternoon to some obscure topic.

It’s not just Wikipedia, though. The Internet has liberated information from the constraints of the physical world and essentially made the sharing of information free and unlimited for everyone. From communicating with friends on free Skype calls to taking university-level classes on Coursera and Udacity, our current access and connectivity dwarfs anything we’ve seen before.

Sometimes it’s hard to remember what an astounding leap we’ve made in our ability to share information. Reading books used to be the domain of only the privileged elite, while long-distance communication was either impossible or prohibitively expensive. Now both are cheap, convenient, and nearly instantaneous.

By democratizing the availability of information, the Internet has massively evened the playing field around the world by allowing anyone to contribute and learn from the global community.

The problem with the Internet is that while it is a fantastic tool for spreading information, sometimes information without experience can lose its impact. Massive open online courses have fantastic content, yet a very low percentage of students end up finishing them. It’s great to see my friend’s posts on Instagram and Snapchat, but nothing beats being together in person. And no matter how many times I’ve read about the Apollo 11 mission, I’ve never taken a step on the moon.

But that’s all going to change. Just as the Internet and smartphones have enabled the rapid and cheap sharing of information, virtual reality will be able to provide the same for experiences. That means that just as we can read, listen to, and watch videos of anything we want today, soon we’ll be able to experience stunning lifelike simulations in virtual reality.

And just as the democratization of information reshaped society, this is going to have a massive impact on the way we work, live, and play.

The Teleportation Device

By now, you’ve probably heard about the virtual reality resurgence led by Oculus. Virtual reality is an extremely hot field, with hundreds of millions of dollars of investment and basically every big name technology or media company getting in on the VR gold rush.

And if you’ve met VR true believers, you know the near fanatical interest they have in VR.

But why? What is it about these goofy ski goggles that has so thoroughly captured the hearts and minds of technologists across the globe?

It all boils down to one word: presence. Presence is the phenomenon that occurs when your brain is convinced, on a fundamental and subconscious level, that the VR simulation you are experiencing is real.

This doesn’t mean that you forget you’re in a simulation. But it does mean that when you ride a VR roller coaster, you feel it.

The Internet made the world smaller. VR is about to make it exhilarating.

Want to watch the Super Bowl from the fifty-yard line? Be on stage at your favorite concert? Or just visit and explore a faraway country? Well, that’s exactly what Mark Zuckerberg wants you to be able to do on the Oculus Rift.

Welcome to virtual reality in 2016. You can do all of this today, and it’s only going to get better. Lifelike, immersive, and available to anyone with a VR headset. Using 360-degree video and light field technology, we can now capture real-life events and distribute them to anyone, anywhere.

Soon you’ll be able to explore every city, watch every sports game, and explore the universe in VR. Content plus presence is an extremely potent combination.

But everything is more fun with a friend. Luckily, you’ll never have to be alone in VR.

The Magic Mirror

Part of the great sadness of the modern world is being able to text, call, and video chat with friends and family from all over the planet but never truly feel like you’re with them. Sometimes this ghost of a connection can paradoxically be worse than nothing, being just realistic enough to make you miss your loved ones without feeling the true warmth of their presence.

We now know that the very magic of virtual reality comes from presence. Multi-user virtual reality can enable a specific kind of phenomenon—social presence.

Just as presence in virtual reality occurs when your brain believes on a fundamental level that the scene you are experiencing is real, social presence can convince your brain to believe that the other people in the VR experience are really there with you.

That means that all of those experiences we’re excited about in VR, we’ll be able to experience with anyone we choose as if we’re all really there. An average Tuesday night in the VR future could include dropping into a professional conference with a coworker of yours, watching a football game with your father on the other side of the country, then hopping into a VR concert with your best friend from high school—all without leaving the house.

Now, nothing is going to replace spending quality time with the people around you, but technology at its best expands the opportunities for human creativity and communication to flourish—and VR is a massive step forward for this.

The Next Revolution

The rise of the Internet was one of the most profound developments of the past century. The Internet famously allowed the futurist Ray Kurzweil to conclude that “A kid in Africa has access to more information than the president of the United States did 15 years ago.” Well, pretty soon, that kid is going to have more opportunity for experiences too.

Pretty soon, we’ll be learning in virtual-reality classrooms, shopping at virtual-reality stores, and even working in virtual-reality offices.

We can only begin to speculate on the long-term consequences of this. How are cities affected when the VR office becomes the standard? How will the entertainment industry respond to live-streamed VR sports and concerts? Can we finally create a digital university that surpasses the quality of our oldest and grandest learning institutions?

Sometimes this all seems hard to fathom. Could we really see these massive changes coming in just a few short years?

When I consider the nearness of these changes, I keep returning to the Internet, to Wikipedia—one of the greatest creations of the Internet and the democratization of information.

After that, it doesn’t seem so unlikely after all.

http://singularityhub.com/2015/12/29/the-internet-allowed-us-to-learn-anything-vr-will-let-us-experience-it/?utm_content=buffer3b7c7&utm_medium=social&utm_source=facebook.com&utm_campaign=buffer

How to rewire the brain with artificial axons to replace damaged pathways

January 23, 2016

micro-TENN-concept

Penn State scientists have grown improved artificial transplantable artificial axons (brain pathways) in the lab. The new “micro-tissue engineered neural networks” (micro-TENNS) replace broken axon pathways when implanted in the brains of rats.

(Neurons are connected by long fibrous projections known as axons. When these connections are damaged, they have very limited capacity to regenerate — unlike many other cells in the body — thus permanently disrupting the body’s signal transmission and communication structure.)

The new lab-grown axons could one day replace damaged axons in the brains of patients with severe head injuries, strokes, or neurodegenerative diseases and could be safely delivered with minimal disruption to brain tissue, according to new research from Penn Medicine’s department of Neurosurgical Research. Their (literally) pathfinding work is published in an open-access paper in the Journal of Neural Engineering.

Senior author D. Kacy Cullen, PhD, an assistant professor of Neurosurgery and his team, previously reported in a 2015 publication in Tissue Engineering that micro-TENNS could be delivered into the brains of rats. The research team has now developed a new, less-invasive delivery method to minimize the body’s reaction and improve the survival and integration of the neural networks.

Micro-TENN axon fabrication process (credit: J P Harris et al./Journal of Neural Engineering)

The team replaced needles with a molded cylinder of agarose (a sugar) filled with an extracellular matrix (ECM) supporting structure through which axons — and associated neurons — could grow in the cerebral cortex and the thalamus. The new axons maintained their architecture for several weeks and successfully integrated into existing brain structures, softening immediately following insertion to better match the mechanical properties of the native brain tissue.

Cullen and team plan to perfect their processes and further integrate neuroscience and engineering to come up with unique ways to aid patients suffering from brain injury or common neurodegenerative diseases. “Additional research is required to directly test micro-TENN neuron survival and integration for each of these insertion methods,” Cullen said.

“We hope this regenerative medicine strategy will someday enable us to grow individualized neural networks that are tailored for each patient’s specific need,” he said, “ultimately, to replace lost neural circuits and improve brain function.”

http://www.kurzweilai.net/how-to-rewire-the-brain-with-artificial-axons-to-replace-damaged-pathways

Researchers coax human stem cells to form complex tissues

January 23, 2016

researchersc

A new technique for programming human stem cells to produce different types of tissue on demand may ultimately allow personalized organs to be grown for transplant patients.

The technique, which also has near-term implications for growing organ-like tissues on a chip, was developed by researchers at MIT and is unveiled in a study published today in the journal Nature Communications.

Growing organs on demand, using derived from patients themselves, could eliminate the lengthy wait that people in need of a transplant are often forced to endure before one becomes available.

It could also reduce the risk of a patient’s immune system rejecting the transplant, since the tissue would be grown from the patient’s own cells, according to Ron Weiss, professor of biological engineering at MIT, who led the research.

“Imagine that there is a patient with liver complications,” Weiss says. “We could take skin cells from that person and then [convert] them into stem cells, and then genetically program them to make the liver tissue, and transplant that into the patient.”

A rudimentary organ

The researchers developed the new technique while investigating whether they could use stem cells to produce pancreatic beta cells for treating patients with diabetes.

In order to do this, the researchers needed to devise a means to convert stem cells into on demand.

As a first step in this process, they took human induced pluripotent stem (IPS) cells—stem cells generated from adult fibroblast, or —and converted them into “endoderm,” one of the three primary cell types in a developing organism. Endoderm, mesoderm, and ectoderm make up the three so-called germ layers that contribute to nearly all of the different cell types in the body. “They are the first real step of [cell] differentiation,” Weiss says.

The researchers developed a method to use a type of small molecule called dox to induce the IPS cells to express a protein known as GATA6. This protein can convert IPS cells into endoderm.

Rather than immediately attempting to convert these endoderm cells into though, the paper’s lead author, Patrick Guye, a former postdoc in Weiss’ lab and currently laboratory head with Sanofi-Aventis in Frankfurt, Germany, then decided to allow the cells to continue growing, to monitor their progress.

After two weeks, the researchers found that the endoderm, and some mesoderm also present in the cell culture, had matured further, to form a liver “bud,” or small, rudimentary liver.

“We observed the development of many cells types found in the fetal liver, including the development of blood vessel-like networks, various mesenchymal precursors, and the formation of early red and within our liver-like tissue,” Guye says. “This is especially exciting, as the process looks very similar if not identical to what is happening in the early liver bud in vivo, that is, in our own development.”

What’s more, the researchers discovered that only those IPS cells that had been exposed to more of the genetic programming, and had therefore gone on to produce more GATA6, became . Alongside these were IPS cells that did not make much GATA6, which went on to form ectoderm instead, and then further matured to become early telencephalon, or forebrain.

By controlling how much GATA6 the cells expressed, the researchers were able to determine how much liver bud and how much forebrain tissue was generated, Weiss says.

This suggests that the technique could be used to produce not just individual tissue types, but different combinations of tissue, he says.

“The fact that we are able to produce endoderm, mesoderm, and ectoderm gives us great hope that we can take each of these germ layers and hopefully grow any kind of tissue we want,” he says.

Liver-on-a-chip

While it is likely to be some time before the technique can be used to generate transplant organs, it could be used almost immediately to grow different human tissue on which to test new drugs, Weiss says.

Using human stem cell-derived organ tissue to test new treatments could be far more reliable than testing on animals, since different species may react differently to a drug, he says.

The technique could also allow clinicians to carry out patient-specific drug testing. “If you are not sure whether you will have complications from taking a particular drug, then before you take it you could try it out on your own liver-on-a-chip,” Weiss says.

Similarly, the organ-on-a-chip could be used to monitor the interaction between different drugs that people may be taking.

“As people age, some are taking 10, 15, or 20 drugs together, and it’s impossible for the pharmaceutical companies to test all of these combinations for every individual. But we would be able to test that out,” he says. “That is something that can be done now.”

In addition to these therapeutic applications, the technique could allow researchers to gain a better understanding of the development of different types of tissue, such as the liver and neurons.

The paper reveals some intrinsic mechanisms underlying the interactions of stem cells during liver development, and provides a useful model that sheds light on the complex process of embryogenesis, says Bing Song, a professor of engineering at Cardiff University in the UK, who was not involved in the research.

“In my field, which is combining genetically modified stem cells and physical stimulation (electrical and magnetic) to cure spinal cord injuries and degenerative disease, the paper has given me some very useful ideas,” he says.

The researchers now hope to investigate whether they can use the technique to grow other organs on demand, such as a pancreas.

http://medicalxpress.com/news/2016-01-coax-human-stem-cells-complex.html