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The Law of Accelerating Returns

Robert Gordon sees the absence of significant growth prior to 1750 as evidence that “the rapid progress made over the past 250 years could well turn out to be a unique episode in human history (Gordon 2012).” However, another interpretation of the same data has led people like MIT professors Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee to predict long run-growth. They interpret technological advancement as an exponential function. Exponential growth functions are not exceptional in their early stages, but in time they yield dramatic results. Google engineer and author Ray Kurweil made the bold prediction in 2001 that the exponential nature of technological change will result in 20,000 years of progress (at the 2001 rate of technological progress doubling every decade) over the course of the 21st century.
Techno-optimists look toward evolution as a precedent for the exponential growth. The development of DNA dramatically increased the rate of evolution, and it led to the relatively rapid development of complex organs like the brain(Kurweil, 9). However, unlike exponential growth in nature technological progress on the digital frontier will not be be as susceptible to scare resources.

“When businesses are based on bits instead of atoms, then each new product adds to the set of building blocks available to the next entrepreneur instead of depleting the stock of ideas the way minerals or farmlands are depleted in the physical world (Brynjolfsson, 4).”

“It took two centuries to fill the U.S. Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. with more than 29 million books and periodicals, 2.7 million recordings, 12 million photographs, 4.8 million maps, and 57 million manuscripts. Today it takes about 15 minutes for the world to churn out an equivalent amount of new digital information. It does so about 100 times every day, for a grand total of five exabytes annually. That’s an amount equal to all the words ever spoken by humans, according to Roy Williams, who heads the Center for Advanced Computing Research at the California Institute of Technology, in Pasadena. (Moran 2008).”