Science and Leadership for the Future: Shifts

Ross Dawson recently gave a keynote address on Science and Leadership for the Future to a small group of major media and corporate clients of New Scientist magazine.

Given the context, he was able to delve a little deeper into the issues than he would for most audiences. The video of his presentation was sliced into a number of brief segments. Below is the video of the section where he takes an insightful look at some of the underlying shifts which are shaping our world. Please click here to view the complete presentation.

Full Transcription: Science and Leadership for the Future – Shifts

Ross Dawson:

So we start by looking at the shifts which are shaping our world – there are some really fundamental shifts. Clearly, in these charts we have an exponential scale on the left. And we’ve long heard about Moore’s Law and the growth of processing power. In fact, the scale of growth is at 51% compound per year for the last twenty years in the cost of processing power. So the capacity is in fact doubling in around eighteen months. We continue to see that we have the underlying technology today to take us another ten years along that track of the pace of change, which effectively means we can get, over a ten-year period, sixty-fold increase in capabilities.

If we look at the cost of data storage, again over the same period, we see a 64% compound growth in capabilities. Again, this is an exponential growth in the factor of many thousands over this period.

The case of bandwidth is not quite as spectacular – 36% compound growth – but still meaning that we can far more quickly and easily access the world of information wherever we are, including from our mobile devices.

Where the real power of science and technology often comes is bringing different domains together. So if we bring together biology and information, the field of Bioinformatics, we’re able to cut the cost of sequencing the human genome. If you look at this particular chart, it shows that Moore’s Law is the straight line – that is basically parallel to what we’ve seen in the growth of processing power. Yet in 2008, as we started to move to some new possibilities for sequencing genes, seeing this extraordinary fall which makes it far faster than these last few chances that we’ve seen, dropping the cost of sequencing a human genome from $10M six years ago to just over $1,000 now.

So this capability is not just being able to give us access to information, but overlaying that with our genome, where we can start to gain insights into who we are. And again, we can use that decreasing cost of processing power and decreasing cost of storage to analyze that genetic data in ways that we can find insights into our health, which can increase our health many fold in years to come.

One of the other trends which we see is the US patents granted. That continues to increase over time. This just shows the top twelve categories over the last year of US patents granted, together accounting for over a third of the US patents granted, which are now over 230,000 per year. Almost all of these are communications, image processing, and computing. Two of the categories are in drugs. So you see that there are more and more of these explosions of legally protectable inventions. But these are more and more focused on the information technologies, which again can be applied not just to the flows of information but to many new domains, including those which interface with humans.

And a final perspective in looking to some of these shifts is the growth of archive, which is basically a place where any academic can publish their papers for all to see. And this often proceeds to a peer review journal.

So the rise of open science, the pace of innovation and science, is one which is accelerating to an extraordinary degree. It used to be that you had to submit your paper once you had a finding, get that peer-reviewed, have that appear through the next place available in that journal before other scientists could actually see that, learn from that, and build on that. Now in the world of connected science, as soon as insights come out through studies, through experiments, and so on, these are instantly available for others to copy, to replicate, and to build on them. So in the world of connected science, what this is getting to, is an extraordinary acceleration in the pace of science and technological change.

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