Re: The Spike, nanotech, and a future scenario

Hal Finney (
Sun, 5 Oct 1997 15:20:19 -0700

Eliezer S. Yudkowsky writes:
> More in the sense of potential than probability. I think that the most
> probable time is actually 2008... using my oddest calculating method yet. I
> figure that in the fifteen years between 1980 and 1995, the E.T.S. went from
> 2035 to 2020. That is, each year the projection moves up by one year. If
> this continues, the Singularity should occur in 2008. I find this argument to
> be strangely compelling, perhaps because it sounds so meta.

Actually I find that the Singularity stays about 20-30 years in the
future. I'd like to see some evidence that anyone in 1980 predicted it
to be in 2035, 55 years in their future. I don't think anyone even knew
about the Singularity back then.

20-30 years is enough time for significant changes in technology and
in society. When the movie 2001 was made, it did not seem implausible
that a space station, lunar bases, AI, and a manned mission to Jupiter
could occur in that time frame. In fact, technology has not advanced
as fast as was expected back then, at least not in those areas. AI has
been 20-30 years away since the 1950's.

Personally, I think we are going to hit a big wall in computer technology
in the next ten years. They can't keep making silicon features smaller
indefinitely, the electric fields (voltage over distance, and voltage
can't drop below the diode bias voltage which is an inherent aspect of
the chemistry) if nothing else will cause problems. Other technologies
will have to be developed to replace silicon. It may happen, but there
is nothing which looks very practical as a replacement right now.

It's our old friend, the S curve. Right now the growth in performance
looks exponential, just as the increase in sewing machine speeds (or
virtually any other industrial performance measure) looked exponential
at one time. But they hit a limit back then, and we will probably hit
a limit ourselves now.

That doesn't mean that progress will stop; all the ramifications of
the information revolution will continue to develop even if computer
performance tops out a few orders of magnitude better than we have
it today. And there are other technologies which are poised for growth,
biotech of course, and possibly materials science, microtech, etc. These
are probably going to be the hot fields of 2010.

But I am always suspicious of that 20-year prediction horizon. We can
guess what will happen technologically in the next ten years, but beyond
20 we really have no idea. "Here there be dragons," and we are inclined
to put our wonders safely in the 20-30 year period. In practice though
things often take much longer than we expect.