In 1970 a hand held ‘electronic’ calculator, about the size of a cell phone, cost $50. It was ‘state of the art’ at the time. It could add, subtract, multiply, and divide and had percent and square root functions. That’s all. Adjusted for inflation, that’s about $330 in today’s dollars. The few computers around were monstrous things requiring a specially trained operator. Programs were entered via ‘punch cards’. Large companies, colleges, universities and governments were about the only entities that used them. Hardly anyone thought that computers would ever be used by ‘average’ folks. But the technology leaped forward following Moore’s Law.
Proposed in 1965 by Gordon Moore from Intel, Moore’s Law states that the amount of transistors that can be placed on a microchip doubles about every two years as the technology advances. That translates into computing ‘power’. The technology surges forward to ever-faster computers that can do more things. The phones most people carry around would be viewed as science fiction to even scientists fifty years ago.
An emerging technology is generally very expensive because of (usually) the vast amount of research and development that went into it. Also a new, unique, and consumer-desirable invention, whether intellectual or physical, has for a time a captive market. More companies then ‘get in on the action’, perhaps developing improved versions, and the race is on. Competition and improved manufacturing techniques drives the progress of technology to ever more complexity but also drives prices down, until the next major ‘breakthrough’ occurs.
As a percent of income, computer technology is ‘dirt’ cheap today compared to 1970. It is perhaps the most significant ‘force’ driving human social and physical evolution. It follows a long line of innovations that have changed the course of human history. The ability to create fire, the ability to domesticate animals and plants, the creation of the plow, the invention of rules (laws) to keep order in large groups of people – a change from individual and familial autonomy to socialist social structures (the good of the many outweighs the good of the few) of large concentrations of people, and many others represent points of major change in the direction of human evolution.
Today humanity is pushing out into many new frontiers, yet all are driven by technology, and particularly the computer. When the ‘mapping’ of the genetic codes of organisms was first proposed, it was thought that ‘sequencing’ would take decades to achieve. But computer speed advanced so quickly that genetic decoding has become almost routine. For around a hundred dollars you can send in a sample of your DNA and get a detailed history of your ancestors migration going all the way back to Africa around 80,000 years ago, accomplished by genome decoding that computers make possible. There are computer-controlled robots on Mars functioning perfectly. The computer controlled probe to Pluto took a complicated route to increase speed and yet passed by the dwarf planet with precision accuracy. Artificial Intelligence (AI) that will match human intellect and then vastly exceed it is perhaps only a decade away.
As pioneering scientists delved into the genetic blueprints of various organisms, one thing became clear. The framework for the genetic instructions for all living organisms, whether a pine tree or a frog or a human, are all based on DNA. Scientists can now ‘cut and paste’ sections of DNA from one organism into another of a different species in a process called crispr-gene editing. This allows for the creation of ‘hybrid’ organisms that result from the ‘mixing’ of the genetic instructions from more than one different type of organism. Though such technology is banned for human genetic manipulation, a Chinese scientist has tried it.
Our lives are so dependent upon computers today that without them the societies of the developed world would implode. The medical field, industry, power generation, agriculture, entertainment, banking, research, space exploration, even the weather forecast, and many others would be set back decades without computers. So computer technology probably represents the impetus behind the greatest shift in human evolution since humans developed the ability to create fire.
Email Terry Mejdrich at email@example.com.