“The pace of change will never be this slow again.”
This notable observation has been used recently by world leaders, technologists, futurists, and other public speakers to point to the dramatic and rapidly accelerating rate of change in our world.
The pace of change in technology is exponential, but as humans, we tend to think about things linearly, for instance, it previously took decades and, sometimes, more than one lifetime, to witness significant global changes brought about by technology. Many inside and outside of the technology space are familiar with Moore’s Law and the Law of Accelerating Returns, concepts implying that computing power and technological progress double every two years. That is an exponential rate of progress. Technology advances and the ensuing disruption to economic systems, lifestyles, and government systems is occurring faster than ever, but even the current rate of change is as slow as it will ever be – future increases are likely to occur at even faster speeds.
Many exponential technologies, such as artificial intelligence, machine learning, data science, virtual and augmented reality, additive manufacturing, biotech, nanotech, blockchain, quantum computing, and nuclear fusion will continue developing at this pace not just because of singular discoveries or innovations, but because of (1) the collective and sustained investments of governments and industry in research and development, and more importantly, (2) convergence of technologies and the resulting impact on the effective rate of growth across technologies.
For example, quantum computing promises to massively increase machine learning capabilities, which then permits faster progress in other affected technologies. Governments can now use AI and data analytics to scour public blockchains (such as the Bitcoin network) to identify criminal activity by finding correlations of IP addresses and meta data, or spotting anomalies in transactions. Gene therapy, DNA sequencing, molecular modeling, and identifying genome variants that may be associated with cancer risk may all be accelerated by machine learning, and we can expect to experience faster rates of discovery through high performance and quantum computing advancements. These advances will bring us closer to true precision medicine, in which individual therapies can be developed to treat specific issues in an individual patient, instead of applying a generic therapeutic regimen. It may seem hard to contemplate, but imagine commercializing nuclear fusion to realize nearly unlimited clean energy generation, achieved within 15 to 20 years. Again – that is the power of exponential technological progress.
“Due to the speed at which technology changes are occurring, to keep ahead of the curve, we must project what technologies may be in the future, not just focus on the technologies that are now in existence.”
Senior Director, Emerging Technology
The bright potential future that could be realized through the exponential rate of technology advances is easy to grasp. But what about the downsides? And whose responsibility is it to safeguard against them? A small group of cyber hackers can – and have – shut down pipelines and launched denial of service attacks on hospitals. With every great leap in technology that affects our increasingly complex and interwoven global systems, a lone-wolf terrorist with access to the right tools could bring more severe and widespread destruction. When greater (and more connected) technology is in more people’s hands, what are the potential negative implications for business, especially technology companies? For governments? For society?
We developed and conducted research with the Government Business Council to understand the state of AI deployments and advances in the federal government today.
With industry and government consortiums, such as ACT-IAC, we contributed to guidance for agencies evaluating potential risks and ethical implications of AI deployments, including assessing potential secondary and tertiary implications that might be overlooked when reviewing primary impacts. In projects that can have broad impacts, all stakeholders should take responsibility to help identify and mitigate unwanted impacts, not only system developers. There should be an evolving checklist of potential impact considerations prior to releasing an AI system into production, as well as an ongoing method to test results and unwanted impacts.
GDIT is also working with government leaders to provide inputs on policy developments to help appropriately regulate emerging technologies. We are part of an industry consortium advising the government on emerging technology matters including the development of quantum computing cybersecurity responses, and the U.S. House of Representatives’ Judiciary Committee review of the intellectual property and copyright implications of non-fungible tokens (NFT).
GDIT is taking an active role with the U.S. government and the IT industry to realize a future that we, as Americans and as global citizens, would want to see – in which we proactively decide how we use emerging technology and how we can regulate it to achieve the most beneficial outcomes.
Due to the speed at which technology changes are occurring, to keep ahead of the curve, we must project what technologies may be in the future, not just focus on the technologies that are now in existence. If the pace of technological change will indeed never be the same in the future, our leaders must proactively anticipate the change that is likely to occur and be ready to understand and shape that technological change for the greater good.
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