Re: Challenge of Design Complexity

Robin Hanson (
Mon, 14 Dec 1998 10:23:17 -0800

Billy Brown wrote:
>I was reading some of the previous debates on the Singularity in the list
>archives recently, when it struck me that there is a major factor that does
>not seem to have been seriously considered.
>Simply put, the more advanced a technology becomes, the more work it takes
>to improve it. As technology advances there is a general tendency for
>everything to become more complex, which means more work for the engineers.
>... Because of these factors, a Singularity is likely to have a slow takeoff.

Similar issues have been considered. For example, here is an exerpt from

           Now let me be more critical, starting with "smarter
           entities reproduce even smarter entities faster." Some
           people interpret this as imagining a single engineer
           working on the task of redesigning itself to be 1% smarter.
           They think of intelligence as a productivity multiplier,
           shortening the time it takes do many mental tasks given the
           same other resources, and they assume this "make myself
           1% smarter" task stays equally hard, as the engineer
           becomes smarter. These assumptions allow the engineer's
           intelligence to explode to infinity within a finite time. 

           If early work focuses on the easiest improvements,
           however, the task of becoming more productive can get
           harder as the easy wins are exhausted. Students get
           smarter as they learn more, and learn how to learn.
           However, we teach the most valuable concepts first, and
           the productivity value of schooling eventually falls off,
           instead of exploding to infinity. Similarly, the productivity
           improvement of factory workers typically slows with
           time, following a power law. 

           At the world level, average IQ scores have increased
           dramatically over the last century (the Flynn effect), as the
           world has learned better ways to think and to teach.
           Nevertheless, IQs have improved steadily, instead of
           accelerating. Similarly, for decades computer and
           communication aids have made engineers much "smarter,"
           without accelerating Moore's law. While engineers got
           smarter, their design tasks got harder.   

Robin Hanson   
RWJF Health Policy Scholar             FAX: 510-643-8614 
140 Warren Hall, UC Berkeley, CA 94720-7360 510-643-1884