Ming the Mechanic:
Kurzweil on accelerating change

The NewsLog of Flemming Funch
 Kurzweil on accelerating change2003-05-12 18:08
7 comments
by Flemming Funch

Via FuturePositive, Ray Kurzweil being interviewed on the accelerating rate of change.
The Law of Accelerating Returns is the acceleration of technology, and the evolutionary growth of the products of an evolutionary process. And this really goes back to the roots of biological evolution.

Evolution works through indirection. You create something and then work through that to create the next stage. And for that reason, the next stage is more powerful, and happens more quickly. And that has been accelerating ever since the dawn of evolution on this planet.

The first stage of evolution took billions of years. DNA was being created and that was very significant because it was like a little computer, and an information processing method to store the results of experiments, and to build up a knowledge base from which it could then launch experiments and codify the results.

The subsequent stages of evolution happened much more quickly. The Cambrian Explosion only took a few tens of millions of years to establish the body plan to evolve animals. And we see that evolution, like certain technologies, has become mature and stopped evolving. Evolution has concentrated on other issues, specifically higher cortical functions. And that happened much more quickly than the Cambrian Explosion. Humanoids evolved over many millions of years, and Homo sapiens over only hundreds of thousands of years. And there again, evolution used the products of its evolutionary processes, which was Homo sapiens, to create the next stage, which was human-directed technology, which really is a continuation of the cutting-edge of the evolutionary process on earth, for creating more intelligent systems.

In the first stage of human-directed technology, it took tens of thousands of years, which is what you would expect for the next stage via the wheel, or stone tools, and that kept accelerating, because when we had stone tools, we could use them to build the next stage. So a thousand years ago a paradigm shift only took a century, like the printing press. And now a paradigm shift, like the World Wide Web, is measured in only a few years’ time. The first computers were built with screwdrivers and were designed with pencil and paper, and today we use computers to create computers. A CAD designer will sit down and specify a few high-level parameters, and 12 different layers of automated designs will be done automatically. The most significant acceleration is in the paradigm shift rate itself, which I think of as the rate of technical progress. And all of these are actually not exponential, but double exponentials because not only does the process accelerate because of our evolution’s ability to use each stage of evolution to build the next stage, but also, as the process, as an area gets higher price performance, more resources get drawn into that capability.[..]

The whole 20th century, because we’ve been speeding up to this point, is equivalent to 20 years of progress at today’s rate of progress, and we’ll make another 20 years of progress at today’s rate of progress equal to the whole 20th century in the next 14 years, and then we’ll do it again in seven years. And because of the explosive power of exponential growth, the 21st century will be equivalent to 20,000 years of progress at today’s rate of progress, which is a thousand times greater than the 20th century, which was no slouch to change.
Kurzweil is one of the proponents of The Singularity - the idea that a number of accelerating technological trends are going to converge in a way that will totally transform our existence. In our lifetimes. Nanotechnology, Artificial Intelligence, Genetic Engineering, and more. Personally, I agree that there's something like that going on, and that life as we know it will totally change, but I don't see it quite as materialistically. I think WE are evolving and transforming WITH and THROUGH technology. Which is a very risky thing to do so quickly. But I don't quite go along with the idea that one of our main concerns will be that robots will become smarter than us.


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7 comments

12 May 2003 @ 20:29 by William Blaze @65.104.16.39 : Feedback?
Sounds an awful lot like a positive feedback loop to me. And that tends to lead to things blowing up... I think there will be some sort of adjustment/correction/explosion coming. Really question is what time scale is it going to occur in, could be tomorrow, could be thousands of years down the line.  


13 May 2003 @ 01:24 by ming : Positive feedback
You're right, a positive feedback loop. And, yeah, that frequently leads to bad things happening. Hm, I wonder if there's a balancing factor we're not noticing. Or it will lead to a drastic paradigm shift where that which previously was accelerating suddenly becomes meaningless.

Like, if we didn't have any air, we might find a way of making some, maybe a self-regenerating method, and we'd watch the numbers very carefully, and find that they're multiplying, and maybe we'd at some point see the amount of air multiplying exponentially. And suddenly at some point we have air enough. All the space filled with air. And we'd no longer care, no longer need to measure it very carefully. We'd just walk around breathing.

The equivalent, in terms of technology, would be if we have some kind of pervasive holodeck-like reality, where we essentially can get whatever we want whenever we want it, and as much as we want. Then we'd have to change our values and start pursuing something very different than more-and-more and better-and-better technology. Maybe that's really the singularity. The point where technology as a separate subject no longer is meaningful.  



13 May 2003 @ 09:29 by Jon Husband @216.113.202.62 : Double Feedback Loops
Yeah, positive feedback loops can be scary. I think that in a lot of "organizational learning" and 'systems thinking" neighbour-hoods, double-feedback loops are seen as contributing to learning and growth (spiral dynamics ??) and eventually new, more psotive levels of consciousness.

I think a lot of the western world is kinda addicted to staying on a one-track feedback loop, and ignoring/denying/actively seeking to detach from a second feedback loop. It's only growth, and the spread of American capitalist values - which doesn't leave any room for more than one loop.

And yes, I'm afraid that there will be some big problems - systems with diversity as a principle and main characteristic generally flourish, whereas homogeneity (of values, religions, lifestyles, etc.) leads to.....  



20 Jun 2003 @ 08:54 by cat @64.94.14.68 : mass extinctions
Kurzweil talks about how great things are going to be like suffering is a thing of the past. Just because things keep happening faster and faster doesn't mean they are always better. For every creation there is a destruction. Things have to be kept in balance. There is both positive and negative feedback in play.  


18 Aug 2016 @ 06:21 by National drink of Pakistan @182.186.141.16 : Malik
The actual tragedy within Pakistan is constantly on the worsen because relief materials and help fall far lacking what is needed. More help is frantically needed since the potential for an incredible number of fatalities starts to loom.  


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