Anything yet: never a better time

When should you start?

The internet feels saturated with apps, platforms, devices, and more than enough content to demand our attention for the next million years. Even if you could manage to squeeze in another tiny innovation, who would notice it among our miraculous abundance?

But, but… here is the thing. In terms of the internet, nothing has happened yet! The internet is still at the beginning of its beginning. It is only becoming. If we could climb into a time machine and journey 30 years into the future, and from that point look back to today, we’d realize that most of the greatest products running the lives of citizens in 2050 were not invented until after 2016. People in the future will look at their holodecks and wearable virtual reality contact lenses and downloadable avatars and AI interfaces and say, “Oh, you didn’t really have the internet” – or whatever they’ll call it – “back then.”

And they’d be right. Because from our perspective now, the greatest online things of the first half of this century are all before us. All this miraculous inventions are waiting for that crazy, no-on-told-me-it-was-impossible visionary to start grabbing the low-hanging fruit – the equivalent of the dot-com names of 1984.

Because here is another thing the graybeards in 2050 will tell you – Can you imagine how awesome it would be to be an innovator in 2016? It was a wide-open frontier! You could pick almost any category and add some AI to it, put it in the cloud. Few devices had more than one or two sensors in them, unlike the hundreds now. Expectations and barriers were low. It was easy to be the first. And then they would sigh, “Oh, if only we realized how possible everything was back then!”

So, the truth: Right now, today, in 2016 is the best time to start up. There has never been a better day in the whole of history to invent something. There has never been a better time with more opportunities, more openings, lower barriers, higher benefit/risk ratios, better returns, greater upside than now. Right now, this minute. This is moment that folks in the future will look back at and say, “Oh, to have been alive and well back then!”

The last 30 years has created a marvelous starting point, a solid platform to build truly great things. But what’s coming will be different, beyond, and other. The things we will make will be constantly, relentlessly becoming something else. And the coolest stuff of all has not been invented yet.

Today truly is a wide-open frontier. We are all becoming. It is the best time ever in human history to begin.

You are not too late.

Kevin Kelly – The Inevitable – from chapter 1: Becoming

Further reading:

Anything yet: the hockey stick

Sustainable growth?

I was going to call this ‘the exponential function’, but I didn’t want to put you off.

This is a key force behind much of Anything Yet: if things grow steadily (say, at the rate of few percent per year) and continue to grow at that rate, it doesn’t take long for that growth to become enormous – we might say overwhelming, and we should also say all-consuming.

The classic line about this is from Dr Albert Bartlett,  Manhattan Project alumni and all-round interesting guy:

The greatest shortcoming of the human race is our inability to understand the exponential function.

I’m not sure I’d go as far as that, but he makes an important point. Here are a couple of great introductions to the idea.

The first is from Chris Martenson’Crash Course:

I might come back to The Crash Course – the Incidental Economist a review expressing some caveats I have about it here.

The second is Albert Bartlett himself with a more involved but really helpful explanation:

Anything yet

Here’s the intuition:

  1. New technologies – including ideas, techniques and ways of thinking, as well as physical tools – very often come from the creative recombination* of old technologies
  2. There are more people in the world than ever before, and more of these people – an increasingly diverse set of people – have access to more technologies than ever before
  3. These same people are networked to more people than ever before. Each person who joins the network increases the number of potential connections – and the value of the network – exponentially.
  4. So we have more ideas mixing in a wider range of minds and environments than ever before, and far more potential for good ideas to be realised and to spread…
  5. … and as of about now, only about half of the world’s population is online.
  6. It takes longer than we think – perhaps a generation – for new technologies to really embed and make a noticeable difference.
  7. Conclusion: it might feel like we’re on the far side of the digital revolution – that computers have happened, the internet has happened, the world has changed – but it’s only just beginning.

We haven’t seen anything yet.

*: I first noticed this phrase in Tim O’Reilly‘s WTF: What’s the Future? but the idea runs through Walter Isaacson‘s The Innovators and Kevin Kelly‘s What Technology Wants to name a few. See WtF: Technology and You for more references.