# Exponential Change

As human beings we usually think of growth, development, and progress in
**linear** terms. Modern technological development, by contrast, follows an
**exponential** growth curve. In order to better prepare for the future and
more fully realize our potential, we must learn to recognize and more fully
understand exponential growth.

## Exponential vs Linear Rates of Change

**Linear** growth is growth that happens at a constant, and easily predictable
rate—like someone aging: it just goes up by one year, every year. By
contrast, **exponential** growth is growth that happens cumulatively at a faster
and faster rate over time—like bacteria multiplying in a petri dish or
population growth; the growth rate isn’t constant, but instead accelerates.

Human beings usually have an easier time understand linear growth or progress. But when we look closely at change plotted over time, we can learn to recognize exponential growth patterns all around us. This is important because, whether or not we recognize the exponential growth patterns, we are subject to their effects and consequences.

Most technological development today follows an **exponential growth curve**.
The power of our tools and our technologies is increasing not at a steady,
constant, linear rate, but at a **rapidly accelerating** rate. For example: if
computer processing and computer power progressed linearly for the last 60
years, the same processing power that handled calculations sending astronauts to
the moon would today occupy roughly ten square feet. Instead, that processing
power today fits into a tiny microchip inside a hand-held smartphone—tens of
thousands of times smaller than our linear predictions would have anticipated.

In fact, this exponential trend of computer processors getting smaller was
observed by Gordon Moore in the 1960s, and has been coined **Moore’s Law**.
Moore’s Law has reliably predicted this exponential trend for more than half a
century. Projecting still into the future, we could predict that in twenty years
we will have the computing power of a smartphone in something the size of a
single human cell.

We don’t know how far this trend will go, but the practical impact of what Moore’s Law describes on society in the past 50 years is almost impossible to overstate. Recognizing and understanding the difference between linear and exponential progress is absolutely essential in preparing for the future.

## Questions for Discussion

- What is the difference between linear and exponential growth curves?
- How has society been impacted by Moore’s Law in the last 50 years?
- When we consider technological growth in exponential terms, what opportunities and risks do you see on the horizon?
- What are some of the potential risks from failing to understand technological growth in exponential terms? What are the potential benefits of properly understanding it?
- Does recognizing the exponential character of technological development make you more hopeful or more nervous about the future?

Advance to Primer 5