BLOG 2. CHANGE! Good? Bad? Scary? MIPS, Moore’s Law, Accelerating Technology and me.

Blog 2.  Change!  Good? Bad? Scary?  MIPS,  Moore’s  Law, Accelerating Technology and Me.


    Change can be both exhilarating and unsettling.  Creative humans on planet earth are constantly striving for a better life — thus creating unsettling changes.
I was reflecting on the huge changes in computers, myself, and the world that I have experienced since I programmed my first one in 1956.
IBM hoped to sell 50 of these million dollar IBM-650’s before they saturated the market. After all, one of them could replace hundreds of “human computers”, and there were not that many of those teams.   Unimaginable then were the billions of PC’s and smart phones used around the world — each as much as a billion times faster than that early computer.


 It was cold and snowing in Boston that December of 1956 when I put on a tie and my heavy Harris tweed sport coat to apply for a job at IBM    Two years earlier I had matriculated to the venerable Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), at barely 17 — a tall pale kid — immature, shy, self-absorbed, and neurotic.  My fragile sense of self worth was almost immediately smashed by encountering some kids smarter than me.  And I had reacted with dismay and depression and a strategy of trying to get A’s without doing homework assignments. 

    The IBM-650 filled a room and cost a couple of million (in todays) dollars. But it was really really fast – a couple of hundred thousand calculations per hour (65 per second). 

Incredibly faster and more accurate than the eye-squinting slide rules we used at MIT. 


    I fell in love with it.  Me and my error free round the clock trusty 650 could replace a whole roomful of  “human computers ” with their clanking whirring electro-mechanical calculators and their awkward human interactions   In my prior summer job I spent hours computing scientific correlations that I could (and did) do on the IBM 650 in a minute. 

     [I stayed with IBM for 9 months — and then back to graduate from MIT.  But my shaky start in Physics caused me to switch to math at the University of Washington.]




Accelerating Change:  Moore’s law.  The IBM650 was the start.  But Moore’s Law indicates human creativeness will double  computer power (per dollar)  every year and a half.  This geometric increase translates to a thousand times increase in 15 years and  a million times in 30 years — or a trillion times in 60 years.

Sure enough,  by 1970, the IBM 704 I used at the University of Washington calculated at thousands of instructions per second.  But it was pathetically slow compared to today’s computers, and I failed in getting my Ph.D. in artificial Intelligence (certainly it was the computers fault and not my depressive excessive drinking).

By the mid-1980’s I had a job that included negotiating the purchase of a bank’s buying the huge IBM 3084Q that cost $20m (today’s dollars), filled  the space of a small house, used the electricity of a thousand houses – and computed at an amazing 30 million instructions per second (30 MIPS) — a million times faster than my 650, but still less that a thousandth the power of this $1000  laptop.

[Personally – my life had changed greatly for the better — recovering from my depressive alcoholism and finding love and friends and an interest in helping others.]

By now in 2012, this humble laptop I’m writing  on can compute a billion times faster than the IBM650, and cost less than a thousand dollars — giving  it one trillion (one million-million ) more computer power per dollar.   [

“Brain Power”.  In 1956, we imagined that a super computer — an Empire State Building stuffed full of computers  — might rival a human brain.  Boy were we off.    It would have generated perhaps one measly MIPS (million instructions per second).    Today’s super-computers can generate over a billion MIPS – much faster than earlier estimates of human “brain power”.  But every year we discover more complexity in the brain, and the new supercomputers still can’t compete with us humans in complex pattern recognition or being “self-aware”.

    However, many  scientists think that Moore’s law will continue — even speed up and computers will match human brains  in 10-20 years.  Certainly, by then, we will have implants that give us instant access to any information on a super-Wikipedia *– or to any person in the world – instantly – by just thinking about them.  A really changed world.
[* May 17, 2012 Nature just reported on a paralyzed woman who can  control a robotic arm with a brain implant. ]


Change for the good, the bad, and the scary.   Creative humans, wanting a better world, have made huge increases in technology and economics since the 1950’s.  Global income per person has increased six fold in sixty years — in no small part due to the trillion fold increase in computer power.  And as I argue in AcceleratingEvolution, higher tech and higher economics leads (surprisingly) to higher morality and even spirituality. 

    Let us look at then and now – the good, the bad, and the scary.

Back then – In the 1950’s.  We were just getting over the world’s most deadly war (60m died), and the US and Russia were stockpiling enough nuclear weapons to destroy all human life at the push of a button or a whim of a dictator.

    At that time white men ruled the world and a black child dare not drink from a Mississippi water fountain.  At MIT, coeds were rare (16 out of 1000) and I remember very few people of color. 

    Life was pretty good here in white America, but globally, half the world lived in the grip of extreme poverty, global life expectancy was a brief 47 years and average income was only $1800 (today’s dollars).     

    When 30 million Chinese starved in a huge famine, it only made second page news here in the US.  Neo-Malthusians were forecasting global shortages and famine.



Today — the good side of change.  Many things are much better.  Today, the cold war is ended and conflicts are usually small and local with deaths in the thousands.


   At this time,  Obama is president (unthinkable at an earlier time) and Angela Merkel (a retired east German science teacher) is head of a united Germany and (according to the current  Economist) holds the world economic future in her hands.   Women and people of color make up half the MIT students. 

   Globally, only 18% are in extreme poverty (1.5 billion freed from its grip in the last 20 years), global life expectancy has increased  21 more years to 68, and average income has quintupled to $11,000.

   Western business people now treat Chinese and other Asians with great respect since they produce most of our refrigerators and electronics and own trillions of dollars of US assets.  

   Over 300 million Chinese have risen from poverty to middle class. And population growth has slowed with increasing global incomes while we produce plenty of food and other commodities. The gloomy neo-Malthusians have been proven wrong by our creative efforts.

For me personally,  despite deaths, job losses, teenagers, bankruptcies and the usual rollercoaster ride of our human adventure, my life is very good.  I’m surrounded by friends and family and, while still dabbling in Information Technology, I mostly mentor people on living better lives through teaching meditation and positive psychology.   [Interestingly, neither technique would be available without the huge shifts in technology and economics — my meditation techniques were isolated in frozen Tibetan monasteries and modern positive psychology was walled off by the closed minds of western science.]


The down side of change.    Technology and globalization has improved the lives of billions for the better,  but there are downsides.


   The loss of jobs to technology and job relocation —  No more jobs as buggy makers or “human calculators”.  Robots replace workers everywhere  Textile jobs moved from New England to the south to China and then to Indonesia.   Steel to Asia.  Automobiles to the south and to Asia, Mexico and Europe.  

   And there are huge social disruptions.  Imagine how the Chinese peasants feel — the youngsters pulled from their traditional village to crowded dormitories in bustling cites. The patriarch whose children defy and desert him.   The seemingly wanton destruction of ecologies and tribal cultures.  Coal dust and global warming. 

The scary side of change.  Our century old government regulation and control systems are not prepared for handling housing bubbles or global movement of money at billions of transactions per second — or complex financial instruments that few understand — so it screws up sometimes as we learn how to adapt.   Americans still struggle in the wake of the financially generated recession.  Europeans hold their breath as the euro and the entire EU teeter.  Everyone fears that a slowdown will disrupt the fragile magic of the Chinese economic miracle and create a downward spiral of dissatisfaction and even rebellion against the autocratic government — and that could trigger a world-wide depression. 

Bottom line.  But, to me, all those worries are totally overpowered by 7 billion smart  phone and internet connected humans creatively working to make their world a better place at web speed. 









Comments are closed.


Living life as an adventure, not as a trial — one breath at a time.

WELCOME.   This website and blog is dedicated to exploring ways and views that can help us better remember or awaken to our essential spiritual nature — and to really appreciate and enjoy our human surfchildpinkadventure on planet earth — to thrive rather than survive each precious day. The site has several parts:

My bio or story describes some of my personal adventures and explorations on planet earth — how to live life with a sense of fun and curiosity.  The best view I have found so far starts with a deep sense that I am actually an infinite spiritual being that is having a creative human experience — an extension of Source energy. In growing up I become so embedded/ fascinated/ frightened with this physical world I totally forgot my connection with my True Self;  I became convinced I was this vulnerable separate mind and body called Carter.  This website is dedicated to discovering views and practices that help us reestablish or remember our True Selves and the true joy it can bring to every moment of our lives.

Accelerating Evolution describes one of those explorations. The integral theories of Ken Wilber freed me from the idea that to connect with spirituality I had to drop my rationality – to regress to medieval or tribal times.  Instead, I discovered that our desire for a better world and life has led not only to higher technology and economics but to higher stages of morality and spirituality. The Accelerating Evolution model I developed predicts that by the last half of this century these powerful creative forces will open us to the mature rational or integral stage and even spiritual levels of consciousness — and soon racism, sexism and even violence will become as morally repugnant as the infanticide, cannibalism and slavery of our earlier stages. [But the process getting there, like most changes,  may be bumpy!]

Russia Blogs. In the fall and winter of 2010, my wife Franny and I went to Germany and Russia to help build out a new theater in St. Petersburg. I wrote a series of blogs on that adventure.

Current Blogs will deal with my ongoing explorations and adventures. The first one will be based on an email I sent to a friend who was struggling with the spiraling doom of depressive thinking — it recommends, among other things, some of the tools of positive psychology

Carter Vincent Smith