The Kurzweilian logic of exponential growth in the interconnected era

October 1, 2015

A recent infographic frames the past 30 years into 4 broad eras, starting with the computing era, moving to the networked and connected eras, and landing today in the interconnected era. What are the rules of this era? Are any patterns emerging? What skills will be needed? What infrastructure is required?

I suggest turning to futurist and innovator Ray Kurzweil for guidance about how this plays out, who will win, and how to prepare.

Kurzweil’s view of technology acceleration

In addition to being a pioneer of digital pianos used by Stevie Wonder and working at his current job as director of engineering at, Ray Kurzweil has set the world abuzz with his prediction of a singularity, a moment at which technology in effect passes the Turing test and simulates consciousness. This is exciting to think about, but as Daniel Mendelsohn has pointed out in The New York Review of Books — link | The robots are winning — the idea of intelligent robots has been with us since times of ancient Greeks.

Movies like Her and Ex Machina develop a high-level narrative of what the singularity might mean. Kurzweil explains, in a way that is highly instructive, how the acceleration of technology will lead to singularity. Kurzweil’s explanation provides guidance about how to navigate the current era of interconnectedness.

The core of Kurzweil’s argument is a thesis called the law of accelerating returns — link | “The law of accelerating returns.” The idea is over a long period of time, a variety of progress is made on basic components. This period is represented by the flat part of an exponential curve. At some point, it becomes possible to combine components into higher level, more powerful constructs.

At that point, progress or change accelerates, and these components can be combined into even higher level, more powerful components. Kurzweil uses this thinking to show that projects like the Human Genome Project, which seemed to be behind schedule, were actually on target and ended up finishing earlier than expected.

The rules of the interconnected era

The connected era defined in the infographic referenced earlier resulted in the construction of a variety of business and information platforms such as Google, Linked In, and Amazon. Slower to emerge were computing platforms such as Amazon Web Services, Microsoft Azure, and Google Compute Engine. Of course, informed by several cycles of technology and business development and powered by the new infrastructure, the mobile platforms such as iOS and Android rapidly grew to dominate the domain of mobile devices.

The Internet of Things infrastructure has also developed rapidly for the same reasons. All the while, the availability of high speed networks expanded and  cost of networking dropped. Now, we have higher order components such as Apple Pay that extend this infrastructure seamlessly throughout the vast ecosystem of platforms.

Research by Boston University professor Marshall Van Alstyne, PhD points out the power of the sort of platforms that were built in the connected and interconnected eras — link | Slide Share

The interconnected era is a playground for people who can imagine new products and ways to do business and draw attention to them. The costs of creating components and infrastructure to support a business have continued to drop. Businesses like Airbnb, Uber, and Snapchat didn’t have to write massive checks to scale their operations — they could adjust their infrastructure costs as their customer base grew and take advantage of mobile devices, all while maintaining rapid development cycles.

The winners in the interconnected world will rapidly create the components that combine all of the power of the platforms to serve the needs of a new business. The most powerful laboratory for creating such components is one that can connect to all available platforms in an environment that is tailor-made for interplatform connectivity and the development of new services.

In the interconnected world, does it make sense to be only an Amazon Web Services shop, an only Google Compute Engine Shop, or an only Azure shop? No. All of the most valuable eggs are not in one basket. The winners in the interconnected world are not concerned with homogeneity and cost reduction but with velocity and power. It is vital to have a multi-cloud option so reap the business benefits of the best components that any cloud has to offer.

The ad tech and financial tech companies have used globe-spanning and internet optimizing data center providers like Equinix to allow themselves to be close to customers, to cloud services, and to each other. As other industries become more real time and rely increasingly on cloud-based infrastructure delivering services to a global audience, they will have to find hubs that offer this type of interconnection.

The Kurzweillian victors will be companies that win the race toward finding the highest level componentry to support a differentiated business model. Being first is the crucial factor for success; with first-mover advantage, you can leverage data engineering, network effects, and marketing. In other words, in the interconnected era, the most innovative companies will support a compelling vision for a product or service by using higher order components built on the power of existing platforms. Developing a wide understanding and vision of what’s possible and then crystallizing that vision into technology will be the key skill for companies in this era.

related reading:
Light Reading | Four digital economy eras — infographic
The New York Review of Books | “The robots are winning”