Re: Singularity - Clarifying Timing Claims

Robin Hanson (
Mon, 7 Sep 1998 21:00:43 -0700 (PDT)

Hal Finney writes:
>> "Progress" rates increase with the speed of the processors involved.
>> ... there are two immediate problems with this theory:
>> 1) Progress rates increased greatly over the last hundred thousand
>> years until a century ago without any change in the cycle speed of
>> the processors involved.
>No doubt there are many factors influencing the rate of progress.
>It is still possible that adding powerful computers to the mix will make
>a difference.

A difference yes. But without a relatively direct relationship between growth rates and processor speeds, its not at all obvious that the difference is enough to induce the very rapid growth scenario Vinge describes.

>One metric sometimes used is total brainpower vs total computer power.
>If we assume that the latter continues to grow as the product of Moore's
>law and economic growth rates then the total human+computer power can
>be expected to be dominated by computers in a few decades. If computers
>can be given problem-solving heuristics comparable in power to those used
>by humans, and if their total computational power becomes thousands,
>then millions, then billions of times greater than that of humanity,
>then it is plausible that problem-solving abilities will increase by a
>similar factor.

This may be a plausible way to think about growth, though I'm not sure it is what Vinge has in mind. Even granting that the important parameter is the total computer power, and assuming it will continue to grow at present rates even when it dominates the economy, you get maybe a doubling time of every two years, which I'm not sure is enough to be Vinge's fast growth scenario.

>It may be that economic growth rates won't be the most appropriate
>metric for progress. The large installed base of existing technologies
>and natural human conservatism may put us into a new kind of economy.
>New ideas will be coming out of the labs far faster than they can
>be incorporated into society as a whole. We might see a form of
>"social shear" where some people are pushing forward as fast as they
>can while others are hanging back, and still others are trying to hold
>society together.

But this is the way economic growth has been for a long time. There have always been lots more ideas than we can implement, and the rate at which changes can be absorbed has long been a limiting factor.