RE: Singularity Blindness

From: Emlyn O'regan (
Date: Wed Oct 24 2001 - 00:13:13 MDT

> Ray Kurzweil harps on that phenomenon in his writings. It
> makes sense.
> Progress has always been on an exponential curve. But since
> at the start of
> the curve it is flat, even exponential change is barely
> noticeable. Now
> that we are fairly well into the curve we are starting to see the
> exponential nature of technological advance. My guess is
> that within the
> next couple decades we will come to expect continual paradigm
> altering
> advances. I expect we will even come to be comfortable with
> our society
> becoming repeatedly racked with paradigm changes.
> -Zero

Just a quick point to pick with this...

Exponential curves are never flat, they are always exponential. No matter
where you stand on the curve, it looks mostly flat behind, and curves up in
front. The only thing that makes some curves seem flat at the start is when
we are fitting discrete events/improvements to a continuous curve.

For example, the famous speed-of-transport curve which starts off "For a
bloody long time everybody walked around, until some lucky dude rode a horse
without getting killed". That early part of the speed of transport curve
wasn't a curve at all, it was flat until people started riding, where it
took a big discrete jump. In terms of the fitted exponential curve at that
time, the transition from walking to riding was a mammoth technological
advance; relatively larger than any advance since?

When you get into parts of the curve where the increases aren't too massive
in relation to the absolute value of the curve, coming more often perhaps,
it really feels more like an exponential curve. I think we've got this in a
number of areas, and that we have already adapted to it. Culturally, we seem
to be able to take exponential increase in things like computing speed
completely in our stride; even qualitative advances like the introduction of
the internet are absorbed very quickly and pretty painlessly.

So to Zeroes' point above, I think we are already there. Adapting to
exponential advance means coping with a static paradigm turnover rate, which
I imagine is proportional to the doubling rate of the curve in question. I
want to emphasise this point - we seem to be able to cope pretty well with a
*constant* rate of paradigm turnover. It is really important to note that
this goes on indefinately - a scenario involving only exponential
improvement is one which does not have a singularity.

However, it is proposed by some people that we actually have
hyper-exponential improvement in many areas; that the doubling time is
decreasing. That is something to which I don't think a society can truly
adapt, and which it would most likely treat as exponential improvement, with
major upheavals every so often as the paradigm turnover rate grows
(inversely with doubling times) well below what the culture is able to cope
with, and is assuming. It is conjectured that this kind of environment has
an asymptote at doubling time = 0; the famous Singularity.


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