such as Brian Arthur of the Santa Fe Institute, have observed
that accelerating and diversifying social interaction is a prime
way to create economic value in modern society. In the late 19th
century, the railroads transformed and greatly accelerated
U.S. society, reducing transcontinental travel from six months to
six days. By the 1900's, a few railroad companies had become the
largest, most valuable firms in the U.S., U.K., and Japan. In the
1910's, the assembly line compressed Model T production time
from several days to 90 minutes, greatly accelerating industrial
production and social interaction. By 1937, the auto company General
Motors was the largest industrial corporation. Today, next to energy
and manufacturing, telecommunication and computer
companies have become the central drivers of change.
What great economic
and social opportunities (e.g., ubiquitous sensing, wired and wireless
communication, simulation, social software, groupware, the conversational user interface, persuasive computing, digital identity) are emerging
due to accelerating change? What types of acceleration are we confident
must continue, and which are much less certain, more influenced
by near-term business strategy and market choice? What great politico-legal
and social forces are set in motion by accelerating technological
innovation? Such questions are among the most important of the coming
decades. Technology innovation, diffusion, assessment, and
policy (IDAP) processes present many subtleties and opportunities
for free choice, yet technology can also impact us in grand
and unstoppable waves of change. In such cases we can either recognize
and adapt to the new realities or be caught unaware and unprepared.
The early 20th
century's Industrial Society soon became the late 20th century's
Information Society, which is now becoming the early 21st
century's Technologically Globalized Society. American executives
and technical workers will either become managers, employers, and
partners of the world's rapidly developing technological workforce,
or will become marginalized. As the long-range futurists at Shell's
Scenario Planning Group would say, this type of globalization is
an internet-driven TINA trend: 'There Is No Alternative.'
Are political, educational, and social systems ready to recognize
that the world has yet again changed?
If the developmental
record of 20th century computing continues for only thirty years,
we must rapidly and permanently move to a very different world.
Are we prepared to enter that world? We can already tell it will
be a place where the simulation of many types of human interaction
will be socially and economically preferred to activity in slow
and expensive "real space." If you don't believe this,
look at the U.S. Amish, who have become enamored of today's cellphone,
a still-primitive communications technology. How can we protect
the human spirit during this transition?
We will see
a world where tomorrow's internet will educate and interact with
virtually all planetary denizens through a powerful, ubiquitous
"conversational user interface." How will this improve the
economic and social prospects for the youth of the world? We will
see a planet where ubiquitous sensing and communications technology
has not only heightened world security, but also in many places
created a "transparent society." How can we ensure this
guarantees civil rights and a confederation of far stronger and
more accountable democracies?
This is only
a brief sketch of what an increasing number of technological forecasters
now realize must soon come. What else have we missed? How will we
manage, and how might we mismanage, the modern forces of accelerating
change? What are the most promising technologies to accelerate?
Which should we avoid or presently minimize? How can we ensure that
the actions we take today lead to a more, not less, humanizing future?
are more technical and proximate questions. How do we best define,
benchmark and measure accelerating change? Which products, services
and systems are affected most dramatically today? In five years?
Which developments are highly probable, perhaps even effectively
inevitable? Which others are a matter of personal or institutional
choice? What can we control, and what controls us?
and research on compelling questions like the above is the mission
of the Acceleration Studies Foundation, a Los Angeles-based
nonprofit corporation that is building a community of interest to
explore accelerating domains of science and technology, and their
implications for the near future of business and society.
We believe that
the rush of modern events will soon teach us that foresight with
regard to our accelerating future is now the prime political, economic,
social, and personal priority. We propose that a much more careful,
coordinated, and deliberate focus on issues of accelerating change
is needed for the coming years.
us in Palo Alto this September as we investigate some of the most
fascinating and important issues of the modern era.