In Ray Kurzweil’s 2005 TED talk “The accelerating power of technology”, he makes a strong case that both natural evolution and man-made technology are advancing at an exponential rate, and that this will have a dramatic impact our society in the near future. In this paper I consider how this change will impact my future career, and how I can approach both my career and my education to be prepared for it.

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Kurzweil argues that what he calls the paradigm shift rate – the rate at which new technologies force us to change the way we think about and work in the world – is doubling every year. Although Moore’s Law is one of the best known examples of this, it extends both to technology before transistors (all the way back to the origins of life on earth) and into the future. And in addition to physical aspects of technology such as transistors, it also includes all other aspects of technology, such as genetics, biotechnology, and nanotechnology.

However we can’t accurately predict anything about what individual technologies will be developed or exactly when they’ll happen. In fact, in Kurzweil’s talk he makes predictions (in 2005) about technology in 2010 that did not come true. But we can predict how quickly broad technology capabilities will increase, and that they will continue improving faster.

As these continuous and increasing changes affect the world around me, they’ll also impact my career, including both my current educational choices and later career choices. Here are some things I need to do to prepare for this.

Look ahead to what’s coming. Even now, products sometimes fail because by the time they’re delivered technology has already moved on. In my career, when I work on new projects, I need to be aware of where technology is headed, and make sure what I’m planning will still be relevant by the time it’s done. On the other hand, since the advance of technology is so predictable, I can also use this to my advantage to plan for the use of capabilities that may not be quite ready yet when I start, knowing that by the time the project is completed, the technological capabilities will exist to take advantage of.

Continual education, constant learning. It’s already impossible to learn everything I need to know in advance. And with technology constantly speeding up, it will become more and more important that I learn new things. So I need to continually learn and stay up to date on technology and maintain ongoing education throughout my career.

Choose how to approach specialization. No one can be an expert in everything, and as technology exponentially expands, so too will the fields and sub-fields that require more in-depth education and experience. I need to consider specializing in one field so I can gain expertise that will set me apart, and be open to hyper specialization as my chosen field grows in complexity.

Above all, I need to expect and prepare for change. We can’t predict what new technologies and applications will be developed, how they’ll be used, or what new problems they’ll create. And since it’s unpredictable, we can expect constant change. So I need to be prepared to adapt my plans, career, and education as technology and the world change around me.