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Chuck

After reading your article about the rate of telescope improvement I have been looking for other examples of accelerating trends which are related to the general acceleration of technology but which are not really thought of when the topic of technological acceleration is brought up.

I have seen many charts of broadband use, computing power per unit cost, adoption rate of new inventions, financial growth etc. all indicating accelerating progress but it is much harder to find visual representation of other, lesser known metrics of the rate of change. Part of this is because it is hard for one person to know which trends are accelerating but I think part of the problem is that few people have thought to comment on these lesser known trend if they notice it at all.

It would be interesting if suggestions on unrecognized technological and engineering trends could be solicited from a wide range of experts outside the future studies field.

Some of the areas that I would suspect (though I am not certain) to be showing an accelerating trend would be:

-Transportation tunnels bored in distance per year.
-Number of skyscrapers globally over time.
-Cost per unit of section of tunnel or building produced per year.
-Total dollar value of products produced by robots
-Total dollar value of products (including software) designed by computers.

What I need is a research assistant who I can look up all this stuff for me. Too bad only really educated people get research assistants. GRR!

Tushar D

Great post as always, GK!

Brutus

I appreciate your pointing out misconceptions regarding exponential vs. linear trends (or for that matter geomentric or logarithmic trends). These are fundamental concepts that should be understood by those offering predictions, but as with the general public, tend to be poorly understood.

I'm troubled, though, by the notion that rapid rate of technological change is something we should wish for. Human nature and wisdom has already not kept pace with technological change, and we risk unleashing (figuratively) a Pandora's Box or Frankenstein's Monster we can't control, especially as we dabble with genetic engineering (which we understand too poorly to manage risks properly).

Similarly, although I can't foreclose the possibility, I have difficulty with prophecies of a superhuman intelligence ("suprahuman" is a better term) emerging miraculously out of technology, or the Technological Singularity you reference. In fiction, it's almost always a lightning bolt that "sparks" some form of AI. Whereas I don't believe human intelligence will be forever the pinnacle of evolution, I don't believe machines, computers, and technology in general threaten to displace us.

GK

Brutus,

Accelerating change is not actually a choice we can make. It happens whether we want it or not. Humanity is just the most recent of many vehicles.

It existed far before humans, and will exist far after. Note how single-celled creatures emerged 4 billion years ago, vertebrates 400 million years ago, large mammals 65 million years ago, upright hominids 3 million years ago, modern man 50,000 years ago, etc. This logarithmic scale may not have stopped, and could mean we are due for the next step.

Humanity has to force itself to adapt to this if it is to survive. Terrorism, etc. is more possible due to technology today than before, and humanity necessarily has to learn to control and/or filter itself in this regard.

Regarding AI, why would the Turing Test not be passed by 2030? The human brain, after all, is also a computer about 100,000 times more powerful than the typical desktop today. But today's desktop is 100,000 times more powerful than the equivalent computer 25 years ago.

I am not saying technology will displace us. But I do think people will choose to make continual artificial enhancements to both their mental and physical beings to the point where they eventually become indistinguishable from today's humans.

Check out the links in the singularity paragraph.

jeffolie

Unintended consequences are situations where an action results in an outcome that is not (or not only) what is intended. The unintended results may be foreseen or unforeseen, but they should be the logical or likely results of the action. For example, if the Treaty of Versailles had not imposed such harsh conditions on Germany, it is unlikely that World War II would have occurred (war was an 'unintended consequence').

Technology may yet bring harsh or devistating results. Be careful what you wish for with technology.

Undoubtly technology will advance. But not all results will be beneficial. To believe otherwise is folly.

GK

jeffolie,

A massive bioterror attack that kills 1 million is almost a certainty.

Brutus

I think it's possible to distinguish between the accelerating rate of evolutionary change over billions of years (over which we exercize little or no control) and the accelerating rate of technological change over a few hundred years of human history (over which we could perhaps [big maybe there] exercize some control). I raised a concern over the latter type, which jeffolie echoed, whereas GK raised the former type in his reply.

I'm not familiar enough with the Turning Test to judge whether it will be surpassed by 2030. I note, however, that we already have computer programs that can fool humans into believing that they are interacting with another human. IMO, both miss the point of what is unique about human intelligence. It certainly isn't about calculating speed and accurate memory storage and retrieval, where we're already eclipsed by computers. I also have no doubt that humans will begin to augment their capabilities with devices less austere than, say, eyeglasses and prosthetic limbs. I fully expect that in the years to come, human/computer interfaces will allow for implants and devices to enable all sorts of "bionics." Unlike many, however, I don't think that's a good thing. Nor do I think that we're under survival pressure (either evolution or warfare) that makes those adaptations an imperative. Using unrest in the world to drive unthinking embrace of technological solutions (to problems created by technology, ironically) is unwise.

A massive bioterror attack that kills 1 million is not even a mere dent in the 6 Billion population =.016% . 25 million people have died from AIDS-related illnesses.

GK

Brutus,

I don't think the former and latter are necessarily separate.

Suppose for a moment that nature is driven by creating greater intelligences. Evolution created increasingly intelligent creatures at shorter and shorter intervals. Once the need to go to even greater intelligence could no longer be accomodated within the biological brain architectures, the brain created outer hardware that can achieve even greater/denser computational power.

This is how AI and biological intelligence can merge.

Whether the human augmentations are a good thing or not remains to be seen (I think they will be a net positive). But what I am certain of is that this augmentation is unavoidable. There is as much chance of halting this as halting eyeglasses, tooth fillings, and breast implants.

Chuck

I agree with the tech optimism argument - in all but a few extreme examples, reducing the flow of information, decreasing the use of intelligence and putting limits on what technologies a society can pursue have always lead to far worse consequences than those which were meant to be avoided.

GK said "But what I am certain of is that this augmentation is unavoidable. There is as much chance of halting this as halting eyeglasses, tooth fillings, and breast implants."

This is especially true when you consider that "augmentation" will not look like Borg and will not initially break the skin barrier. Artificial intelligence, conventional computer science, neurology and collaborative social networking are beginning to influence each other and can be seen as one field of inquiry. While the practical outcomes of this merger will be powerful, they will not be nearly as shocking as seeing a Borg walking towards you with a scalpel and there will be no reasonable argument to limit these early augmentative applications.

Jeff

Sometimes we hit a wall. Time to fly across the Atlantic for example at a reasonible cost. Very little difference going from the 707 to 787 other than comfort over the last 50 years.

GK

Jeff,

The cost of flying across the Atlantic, in terms of hours of wages consumed to purchase a ticket, has dropped greatly.

In 1970, it cost $400 for a round trip, even if average people made just $10,000 a year then.

Today, it still costs $400, while average people make $60,000 a year.

Tom Scott

I stumbled on you blog this morning and wondered why I had not found it sooner.

But I am struggling to learn who you are? As in from where does all of this thinking come from?

Can't find anything on the blog. I know you are not Kuzweil. But....

Thanks, a private reply would be fine.

Anapaest

GK,

Long time lurker, first time poster here.

I have read all of your posts for the last few years and I have to say you are very accurate and insightful. I much prefer your grounded opinion on the way things are headed than that of Kurzweil, I read TSIN and the first half was excellent and then he went way too deep and over optimistic on a lot of the topics.

So, I agree with you on most things, not only agree but completely align, however there are many things that have me very worried. I see the world of today as a bubble that is about explode. Modern society is very slowly beginning to tear its self apart and while technological change is VERY obvious and quite easy easy to predict, it is not easy to predict the way a society will change. Exponential growth is only relevant if we continue on researching things in the current climate of the society. The way a society behaves is a catalyst for technological advancement.

I see a society that reminds me distinctly of a society in the middle ages, corruption of the catholic church was rife and wrongly this period of time is known as the 'dark ages'. Today, instead of religious corruption we have corporate corruption. Technology is our God and we as people worship its next advancement and power to overcome. It gives us hope when things are looking bleak and if we have nothing more than blind faith it will see us through.

This is sadly not the case, blind faith is extremely blind and it will lead you to dark places that you cannot see out of. In the dark ages people put faith in relegion and today people put faith into technology, it doesnt matter what you put faith 'into'. It could be a God, a tree, the faith you will never get rained on, it is what faith represents that matters. We as humans have the ability to put faith and beleif into anything we want. So it is not a surprise to see people put blind faith into technology when things are looking bad, we know God is not going to help us any more. We don't believe he will, its simple. We look for a new God and find technology, it will answer our prayers and save us from are darkest hours.

The problem is, we are on the turning point. We could either be witnising the dawn of a new era for human kind or the collapse of society as we know it. Again much like the dark ages coming to an end with the renaissance, we are on the knifes edge.

Corporations of today are much more powerful than the churches were, I worry that we will indeed plunge into a dark ages situation. I worry that the greed of man will destroy us and that blind faith will continue to feed this cycle of destruction.

I however am an optimist, a realistic optimist. I think we are at a cross roads in evolution and which way we go will change everything. Good or bad.

The question I pose to you is, can we continue along this road long enough to get past the knee of the curve?

GK

Anapaest,

Welcome! And do comment again.

I think we will survive and (mostly) thrive, but the distribution of winners and losers will keep churning, and the most flexible people will be the ones who avoid the biggest blows.

Remember that progress comprises of taking 10 steps forward and 8 steps backwards.

Two of my recent articles, The Carnival of Creative Destruction, and The Misandry Bubble, both address some of these points.

Kev

New reader here. Enjoying the articles, GK. You have proven to be quite accurate with your Earth-sized exoplanets by 2011 prediction, i see.

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