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December 30, 2013

In technology, 2013 was a more amazing year than you think

(Continued)

The space race is on again. In 2013, India launched a spacecraft that is headed to Mars and China landed a six-wheel rover on the moon. China also announced that it is planning to land a man on the moon by 2025. Add to this the success that private companies SpaceX, Virgin Galactic and Moon Express have had and you realize that we are at the cusp of a new era in space travel.

NASA once again has competition from governments abroad so there will be a new sense of urgency. Now it has the advantage of being able to collaborate with entrepreneurs and take advantage of the technology advances that they have created.

I am eagerly waiting for reservations to open up for the Starship Enterprise.

Now let me give you the bad news: we still have a few more years of disappointment before we marvel at all these advances. The base of an exponential curve is flat. When it turns upwards, dramatic developments happen, but for the longest time nothing seems to change. This is where we are with robotics, sensors, artificial intelligence, synthetic biology, 3D printing and medicine — all of which are exponential technologies.

We were disappointed, too, when cellphones first came out. They were big, expensive and clumsy. For many years, these were just for the rich — a symbol of wealth and power. Today, there are close to one billion cellphones in use in both India and China. Almost everyone has one.

In 1977, the president of Digital Equipment Corp., Ken Olsen, famously said "there is no reason for any individual to have a computer in his home." The first personal computers were just for geeks and nerds. Then they were for the rich. About two decades ago, we began to question their usefulness and productivity. Now they are transforming industries, and we can buy a tablet for $37.99 plus shipping.

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