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Information, Technology, and Innovation: Resources for Growth in a Connected World by John M. Jordan

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CHAPTER 1

Introduction

If you watch exponential change for long enough, the effects grow beyond comprehension. In the late 1990s the technology analyst George Gilder was fond of telling the story of “the second half of the chessboard.” Here is one version:

The emperor of China was so excited about the invention of chess that he offered the inventor anything he wanted in the kingdom. The inventor thought for a moment and said, “One grain of rice, Your Majesty.” “One grain of rice?” the puzzled emperor asked. “Yes, one grain of rice on the first square, two grains of rice on the second square, four grains of rice on the third square, and so on through the 64 squares on the chessboard.” The emperor readily granted that seemingly modest request. Of course, there are two possible outcomes to this story. One is that the emperor goes bankrupt because 2 to the 64th power grains of rice equals 18 million trillion grains of rice, which would cover the entire surface of the earth with rice fields two times over.1

The story highlights one of the critical facts of contemporary life: Improvements in digital technologies are possible at scales never experienced in previous domains. As a 2005 advertisement from Intel pointed out, if air travel since 1978 had improved at the pace of Moore's law of microprocessor price/performance (one of Gilder's doubling technologies), a flight from New York to Paris would cost about a penny and take less than one second. Cognitively, physically, and collectively, ...

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