Google Chief Engineer Explains Tech’s Exponential Growth

June 9, 2015 - Written By Justin Diaz

Google’s Chief Engineer Ray Kurzweil is known widely within the tech industry as having some pretty imaginative visions of where we’ll be technologically in the next, two, four, eight, and even 15 years. He’s had extensive impact on the technological world for some time and is Google’s resident dreamer of relatively “out there” advancements and projects. He is also a firm believer that technology will rule the future and that technology grows exponentially while humanity travels a more linear path. According to a statement to the Financial Times, Kurzweil mentions that “the reality of information technology is it progresses exponentially.” What does this mean to the average person? That might be a concept a little hard to grasp for some, so Kurzweil likes to break it down using an Asian folktale as a means to explain it.

The ancient story tells the tale of an inventor who creates the game of chess for the Emperor of China. The Emperor was said to love the game so much he offered the inventor a reward. The inventor proceeds to ask for a single grain of rice for a single square, doubling the amount of grains of rice for the second square, as well as the third square and each square after on the game board. The Emperor grants this request early on thinking it rather humble and kind, but in one version of this story the Emperor goes bankrupt as all 63 doubled squares turn into 18 million trillion grains of rice, effectively giving the inventor’s wealth exponential growth.

Kurzweil also describes this concept of exponential growth in the form of taking steps. He states that with exponential growth you have one when you take one step , then two at the next step, then four, then eight, and eventually by step 30 you have over a billion. Taking this into consideration Kurzweil believes that by the year 2029 the intelligence of humanity will be outpaced by the intelligence of computers, and states that this continued exponential growth will appear to some to explode into infinity which he refers to as the Singularity, an era in which our intelligence will become much more of a non-biological standard, being trillions of times more powerful then current intelligence.