Supposin': A Look at Progress, Part 2

My international travels have included most of the oil cartel countries of the world. When I board an airplane to leave one of those countries, I never know whether to rejoice because of the positive results of the industrial revolution, or to feel sad because of what laborless luxuries have done to spoil the privileged of those countries. I am tempted to perceive that no great inventions, models of science, industries, economics, arts, literature, music, or civics seem to flow from those countries . . . just boatloads of oil. So, most often upon exiting, I simply find myself, , excitedly looking forward to a post-petroleum-based world economy and scratching my head wondering why we have remained so long in the pitiful position of oil dependency.

All the international political folks have been wringing their hands and whining that we are in such a precarious position of oil scarcity, yet all the while, the constant drumbeat of exponential information and technology has continued. In my opinion, it has never been an issue of global scarcity, but of global accessibility to resources.

Technology has had to keep on the stretch to try to stay up with the exponential growth of knowledge and information. On average, technologies are doubling in power every eighteen months, in an effort to stay up with the exponential supply of knowledge and information. The prices for those technologies are also being slashed in half every eighteen months. Affordability continues to drive the growth. Inventions based on today’s technologies are usually outdated by the time they get to the market. That’s a marvelous thing.

Gordon Moore’s famed tech trend of trying to cram more and more components onto integrated circuits has paid off handsomely. Circuits on a computer chip have exponentially doubled every year since 1958 and the invention of the integrated circuit.

Today, exciting things are happening in the areas of sand and silicon. IBM is developing new breakthrough approaches in chip technologies by integrating electrical and optical devices on the same silicon chip. Instead of the old electrical signals, the new chips communicate with signals of light. That eliminates the historical problems of generating heat that has always limited the speed and required vast amounts of energy for cooling. Using light eliminates both problems.

Conservative estimates figure that IBM’s new chip design could increase a supercomputer’s ability a thousand fold. It should take the present 2.6 petaflops to a full exaflop that would provide some quintillion operations per second. Simply speaking, that is one hundred times faster than the human brain functions . . . and we used to marvel that the old horse-and-buggy computers could actually beat the Russian chess champion on a regular basis.

Our locally grounded and linearly acclimated brains have a tough time comprehending what is really going on in the progress of our world. Incredible miracles are taking place every day and we hardly notice. Just what are the implications of three billion new individuals coming on line presently by computers and smart phones? Three billion individuals who can learn, dream, invent, and experiment. They are now allowed by technology to open the treasure chests of information, knowledge, and contacts. Ignorance and scarcity brings poverty; abundance and access to that abundance brings opportunity for freedom.

In January, 1994, I took Anna Marie with me to Nairobi, Kenya. It was her first trip to Africa. From Nairobi we traveled to the majestic Rift Valley, to Begonia Game Park, and on to Nakuru. The large district hospital was located in Nakuru. Project C.U.R.E. was involved in donating hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of greatly needed medical goods to the hospital.

We were invited to visit the Tendress Coffee Plantation outside Nakuru. Alfred, the plantation foreman, wanted to show us the plantation school, as well as their small clinic. As we drove into the schoolyard, we saw the pupils still out playing soccer or huddled together talking. The teachers were standing outside near the entrance to the school. Alfred was kind enough to introduce us to the headmaster and the teachers.

Since it was about midmorning, Anna Marie, who has her PhD in education and communication, asked the headmaster if all the pupils were out together for recess. He explained that the people had not yet come by to give the teachers the lessons they were to use to teach the kids that day, but that they should be along very soon.

Inside the classrooms there was one chalkboard on the front wall of each room, and crude writing desks and chairs enough to handle up to forty-five students per room. In talking to the teachers, we discovered that they had never had textbooks, curriculum, or reference books at the large school. The headmaster would receive everyday what the teachers would be teaching to the classes.

We asked some of the students if they were given homework assignments. They informed us that they were responsible for their own pen or pencil and their own paper for their assignments. When we asked where they went to get their supplies, they told us that, since they had no money for such things, they would walk along the fencerows on their way to and from school and collect the windblown paper scraps on which they would figure out their math assignments.

Anna Marie began working with the school, and upon the return to her school in Evergreen, Colorado, she organized students and parents and ended up sending thousands of pounds of encyclopedias, non-cultural library books, maps, and school supplies to the plantation school. We later found out that when the encyclopedias arrived, the teachers began taking them home and reading them completely by the light of their cooking fires at night.

Now, multiply that thirst for information and knowledge over the continent of Africa that is large enough to contain all of the United States, Europe, China, the sub-continent if India, and more. That was in 1994. Today, those students aren’t waiting for the headmaster to receive the teaching material every morning. This morning the teachers aren’t even waiting for some encyclopedias to arrive along with some medical goods from Evergreen, Colorado. They now have wireless access to information that was not even available to Harvard University or the president of the United States just a few years ago!

Three billion new individuals are coming on line via computers and smart phones, who have never had access to a world community of information, knowledge, and contacts. They are not only going to be recipients of the exponential intelligence, but also they will enter onto the freeway of communication, and be able for the very first time to contribute to the discussions, the discoveries, and inventions of the future. Now that’s progress!

Next Week: Supposin’: A Look at Progress, Part 3

(Research ideas from Dr. Jackson’s new writing project on Cultural Economics)

© Dr. James W. Jackson  

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