In 1973 the French economist George Anderla produced a statistical model to calculate how much human knowledge had been accumulated since the beginning of man, millions of years ago, to the year 1 AD. Humans hadn’t reached the heady heights of the Great British Bake Off by then but they had figured out how to grow grain, stratify society, had developed several of the still beating great religions of the world. They’d figured out that mixing copper and tin produced Bronze, which made a much better sword than that shit stone one you’ve got. It was also slap bang in the middle of the dominance of the Roman Empire which was really, really big. Once Mr Anderla had calculated that unit of human knowledge in 1 AD, which some wag later labelled a Jesus on account of the famous birth that took place that year, he then calculated how long it took to double the amount of knowledge at humanity’s disposal. Answer 1500 years.
In 1500AD (2 Jesus’s) the Romans had long since been supplanted by the unfairly labelled barbarians and the principle reigns of power rested in the hands of the wealthy Medici family. They patronised artists and scientists, none of whom seemed to mind, and some people had started digging up stuff the Greeks and Muslims already knew and the Renaissance was in full flow. Steve Gutenberg had developed the printing press a few years before. Martin Luther hung his hang ups on a church door in Wittenberg and Henry VIII was bored of his wife so the Protestant reformation began and Chris Columbus (pre Home Alone and Harry Potter) and Amerigo Vespuccio had begun the process of wiping out several indigenous people of the Amerigos.
Time for knowledge to double again? 250 years. 1750AD (4 Jesus’s). The centre of knowledge had shifted further west in Europe. The British by now had already hacked the King’s head off before they realised Puritans were boring as fuck so had stuck it back on again. By this time the alternating sides of the reformation had been setting fire to each other for so long some bright sparks had started to question whether this religion thing was all it was cracked up to be. Before too long the Americans would boot us out for a cheaper cuppa, the French would start getting their guillotineage kicks around their own revolution while some boffins in England were letting off steam through an engine that would cause all sorts of trouble in this best of all possible worlds.
Next double. Only 150 years. 1900AD (8 Jesus’s) – Balls deep into The Industrial Revolution and Capitalism. Revolutions had swept through Europe and labour power dragged living standards upward, at least in the west. Elsewhere the drums of independence from colonialism were starting to beat while Quantum theory and Relativity were about to pop up to shake the foundations of everything everyone thought they knew about anything. And, apparently, God was dead.
1950 – the next doubling – 16 Jesus’s. Past two of the worst cataclysms humanity had ever faced. The atom split. The bomb developed and dropped. Twice. By the good guys. The British Empire as good as over though we still kick against the pricks.
1960 – only ten years now – 32 Jesus’s. TV, already developed by the last milestone, had swept across the developed world. The first communication satellite was sent into space and Yuri Gagarin orbited the Earth a year later. Some were starting to see a shift from an industrial to an information revolution. The population of the world reached 3 billion.
1967 – Only 7 years and now 64 Jesus’s. Satellites spin and we land on the moon a couple of years later. The hippy revolution kicked off and unmarried women were allowed to use The Pill. Direct telephone dialling between America and Europe was introduced and I haven’t even mentioned computers yet. The base structure of the internet was developed in the late 60s, but home computers were pretty much unheard of, yet still Alvin Tofler, amongst others, recognised the effect the increasing speed of information was having in his book Future Shock in 1970, just a couple of years away from the next doubling in 1972.
This acceleration of the doubling of knowledge has become known as the Jumping Jesus Phenomenon, and there’s no reason to consider that things have slowed down since then. Gordon Moore, a co-founder of Intel suggested in 1975 that computational power would double every 6 months for the foreseeable future. A prediction called Moore’s Law which has, so far, proved correct. IBM in 2013 calculated that knowledge doubling would soon take place every 12 hours. Sweet Jesus’s. Today a financial investor can make a trade and some algorithmically led automated trading software ran by some massive corporation can respond to that investment before it has even gone through. In other words they can respond to something that, in effect, hasn’t actually happened yet. That is the speed of the world we live in.