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Want to predict the future? Start with this: Almost anything will be possible

BLI thought leaders have spent a lot of time lately preaching the importance of anticipation — of spotting future trends before they happen and taking advantage of them before anyone else does.

Here’s the problem: While trying to figure out which things are going to change, too many of us fail to recognize that technology sits right at the top of that list. Our view of the future is stunted because we can’t comprehend technology that’s far more advanced than what we have today.

You can blame this on Moore’s Law.

Developed in 1965 by Intel co-founder Gordon Moore, Moore’s Law broadly states that the processing power of computers doubles every two years or so. That law has held true to this day, and many experts expect it will continue to hold true for decades to come.

Moore’s Law has given us exponential growth in technological advancement. Near-miraculous things are being achieved today in every field, thanks to Moore’s Law.

The best illustration I’ve seen of the impact that Moore’s Law is having on our world comes from a book titled The Future of the Professions, by Richard and Daniel Susskind. (And by way, since you CPAs are part of a profession, you absolutely must read this book.) Imagine folding an ordinary sheet of paper in half, thus doubling its width. Now imagine folding it in half again … and again … and again. “After four folds,” the Susskinds write, “it will be as thick as a credit card. If it could be folded 11 times, it would be as tall as a can of Diet Coke. After 10 more folds, it would be taller than Big Ben. After a further 10 folds, it would reach outer space. After 12 more folds, it would reach the moon. And, if you could fold this single piece of paper 100 times, it would create a wad over 8 billion light years in thickness.”

That, my friends, is exponential growth. That’s what Moore’s Law means for technological growth today.

As we try to identify future trends, our first mistake is assuming the technology that will drive those future trends won’t change beyond what we already know. In fact, the technology will be the first thing to change, and it will evolve beyond anything we can currently imagine.

Richard and Daniel Susskind say there are two keys to keep in mind as we try to predict the future of technology.

“First of all, even if there are no advances in technology in the next decade as fundamental as the PC, the Web, and social media, if we follow existing and emerging technologies to their probable and much greater exploitation, this alone takes us into a very different world. The mistake here is to presume that because we cannot foresee any revolutionary changes, then we should not extrapolate from what we already have. If we work within our current frame of reference and in the context of technologies that seem steadily to be taking hold, then we are more likely to have a sense of where we are going than if we choose to ignore the future altogether. We may well miss the next revolution, but at least we will keep pace with the evolution of current technologies.

“Secondly, we think that it is important to seek to identify overall direction and general trends in technology. … The least likely future for technology is that our systems will stay as they are today. And yet those who dismiss attempts to predict the future often fall into the trap of assuming there will be no change. An unwillingness to try to determine overall interaction is akin to driving a car at night with no headlights. Making qualified predictions of the kind we have in mind is like having the headlights on. We accept, of course, that there is much that we still cannot see. More than this, we expect that many of the Internet-based systems that will change our lives over, say, the next 20 years have not yet been invented.”

In other words, as you try to imagine what future trends will impact your organization, accept the fact that when it comes to technology, almost anything will be possible. Moore’s Law will see to it.

Starting there opens up a world of possibility … and opportunity.

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