Re: Knowledge Doubling Time & Singularity?

Date: Mon Feb 18 2002 - 13:39:05 MST

Anders Sandberg writes:
> I wonder where the sources of all these numbers are? They seem to be
> like other dramatic statistics (area of rainforest cleared every year,
> children killed by sanctions against Iraq, increases/decreases in
> criminality) that are told and re-told again and again to bolster a
> popular position, but which nobody ever checks or can name their source.

I'm suspicious of all such numbers. I'm also suspicious of people
extrapolating too far. E.g., when people take a statistic out of context --
say like the growth rate of mildew in your bathroom -- and draw a wild
conclusion from it -- that mildew will cover the planet knee deep in x
years. Usually the next step after that is advocating a new government
program. (Not necessarily here, but in most other venues.)

> So, how could we measure actual progress? I have seen some numbers based
> on number of scientific journals, papers or Ph.D. theses, but that only
> works as long as the average knowledge in them remains constant and
> economic or structural changes doesn't affect them. Amount of published
> unique text might be another scale (presumably the knowledge is equal to
> 10% of it, by Sturegon's law :-), although now the amount of web has to
> be taken into account.

There does need to be a way of separating true knowledge growth from
apparent growth. I'm not sure if Ph.D. theses would be a good measure.
Even with a 90% culling, how many of them are actually expanding knowledge?

Also, what type of knowledge are we talking about here? Like Hayek, I would
distinguish between several knowledges -- putting theoretical knowledge
(e.g., QED) in a different category from, say, "temporary" knowledge (e.g.,
the price of asparagus at my local grocer today). There are probably other
types too. Which ones are growing and at what rate?

My two cents!

Daniel Ust

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