Preparing for the inconceivable

This, gentle reader, is how you are likely to feel at the end of today’s entry.

I was browsing the latest issue of The Economist, where they commented on the plans for a new high-speed railroad in the UK. They did not much like it, thinking it was bad economy. But what struck me was reading that a certain stretch of railroad was supposed to be finished in 2043, and I thought: “Humans will use railroads in 2043??” and then, “Will there even be humans as we know them in 2043?”

I personally assume that there will indeed be humans similar to us in 2043, unless some global disaster befalls us (like genetically engineered viruses, man-made black holes, or the unexpected wayward asteroid). Looking up, it seems that Ray Kurzweil agrees, the Singularity is not until 2045. Close call though. I am pretty sure it was 2040 a while ago, and even earlier some years ago. I guess programming artificial intelligence is harder than expected, especially when Kurzweil is no longer doing it himself. (He is the guy behind the product that eventually became Dragon NaturallySpeaking, the speech recognition software that is better than a professional human at transcribing speech. Some training required.)

The Singularity, strictly speaking, is when artificial intelligence (or artificially augmented human intelligence) starts a runaway process of self-improvement at an exponential rate. Whether this ever happens is still hotly debated. But there is something else that is not: The knowledge explosion.

You may have heard of Moore’s Law, about the progress of information technology. It has taken on its own life — in its older form it said that the density of integrated circuits doubled every two years, now it is widely cited as “the performance of computer hardware doubles every 18 months”, which is roughly what we have experienced for the last couple decades. But others have expanded this law into the past (the rate of technological progress has increased for thousands of years, although in fits and starts) and even into biological evolution, which also seems to have happened faster and faster: Life remained single-celled for some 3 billion years if not more before it started getting more complex.

Anyway, the sum of all this: The accelerating acceleration of change is accelerating. Change is not just happening faster and faster, the pace at which it happens faster and faster is itself getting faster. The knowledge we have allows us to create new tools that let us gather more knowledge faster, and this new knowledge lets us gather more knowledge faster again. We are quietly approaching the point (if we aren’t there already) where the sum of gathered data at the beginning of the year is less than what is discovered at the end of the year. Of course, most of these data are just more details about things we already know in outline, but it is still a pretty mind-boggling thought.

At some point in the lifetime of today’s middle-aged people, this process is expected to reach the level where knowledge doubles each DAY. Ah, thank you Google: “Currently, Kurtzweil estimates that knowledge doubles every 5 years. By the year 2040 it will be doubling every day.” If life expectation continues to increase by 5 hours a day as it has done lately, a good number of my classmates should be around to see it. I would not mind being there too, but of course it is no certainty.

Now, give this a brief thought. What you do today, the way your life is heading into the future – how relevant will that be in 2040 – plus minus a couple years – when human knowledge doubles Every Day? Mind you, that is the human knowledge of 2040 that doubles every day, which is in itself thousands of times the knowledge we have today. Because it has doubled every week, month and year for some time. In fact, if it miraculously only doubled every year for these 29 years, it would still be 2^29= 536 870 912 times more than now.

In reality, this speed is expected to be surpassed in a few years. And this wealth of information, hundreds of millions of times more than today (more realistically billions of times more) is what will double every day, or perhaps it is down to every hour or two in 2043, at the time when this railroad is supposed to be finished.

Will we still take trains from London to Leeds when we know a billion times more than we do today? And will learn a billion times more than we know today over the duration of the train trip?

6 thoughts on “Preparing for the inconceivable

  1. I know human knowledge is gaining at the incredible rate you quoted, and I’m sure that the acceleration of the acceleration is accelerating, as you said, but . . . the AVERAGE human, not just the average human IQ, is getting quite a bit dumber. Just walk down the street somewhere. I’m not talking about their ability to do computer applications like games, etc., but literacy, knowledge of science, math, history, civics . . . the dumbing down of civilization makes me sad. By then, with the knowledge growing as you said, we will have to be in very definite classes: the knowers and the know-nots. I can envision the overall knowledge of a small “master” class increasing so exponentially, but . . . the rest of society will still be ignorant and refuse to even make use of the opportunities to better themselves. At least this will be the way things are if the way things are going today continues. It is sad.

    • It has been said, loosely, that modern society is organized in such a way that no one (individual) needs to be wise. In other words, the wisdom is transferred from the individual into the system. Correspondingly, the individual understands less and less of the system. That’s why, I would suppose, they either hold tea parties or occupy wall street. It is unbearable to admit that one does not have the wisdom to even begin to understand how society works. So instead, various degrees of conspiracy theories.

      I expect this to increase. The difference between the cog and the machine will grow to the point where people actually, literally worship the State (or some such) as a deity, because it is so overwhelmingly not only powerful, but also wise. The intelligence in the system towers over the stupidity of the individual.

      But not only the states, nations and federations will be unimaginably far above the normal person. So also will some businesses; Apple is already very nearly so, and Google, Facebook, perhaps Microsoft, Amazon? I expect the ranks to swell.

  2. AND, most importantly, problem solving. Problem solving ABILITY isn’t declining too much, but the WILLINGNESS to solve problems is most certainly declining among the vast majority of the human race.

  3. Wisdom, knowledge, intelligence, understanding . . . there is something wrong with people that doesn’t seem to allow most of us to have ONE of these things, much less any combination. I freely admit that I understand less and less of the system. Or, rather, I learn more and more about the system and understand less and less about why it must be the way it is. I’m just about ready to become a pseudo-Amish with my own rules about shunning “outsiders” (almost everyone), or start a militia and secede simply to avoid this stupid charade of “elections” and “every vote counts”, and “informed participation in the political process”. I do appreciate the things that my nation has accomplished, often through the blood sacrifice of some of its best and brightest. But politics today, the way that laws are made and/or enforced, the fact that our society can be said to be only as strong as its weakest link (and however you want to define that, we’re in deep poo in that regard) . . . We are all weak links. Even those of use with a reasonably normal amount of understanding are kept in the dark and fed shit via sound bites, political “spin” and various campaign tactics. Lies, lies, lies. And the people who think that their media-created “knowledge” of events make them educated and qualified participants in the political process are quite possibly the biggest dupes of all. I have tried, and I have finally come to the conclusion that trying to be informed and responsible AND have political opinions about major issues in the world is just about the stupidest thing one can do, unless one has access to ALL information AND both the time and the discernment to sift through it.

    I am tired and half nauseous, and I’ve hit that time of night when I’m just generally pissy and disgusted with the world. I’m ranting and raving, I’m sure, and I’ll feel better tomorrow. I guess what I mean is that most people don’t even care that they don’t know why they have opinions, and that their opinions aren’t their own but have been foisted upon them. I don’t care what their opinions are, IF they are THEIR opinions. I respect the fact that people have opinions IF they aren’t just mindlessly repeating crap.

    And to tie it all back in with the previous “knowers” and “know-nots” or whatever I called them . . . the “know-nots” are loud and obnoxious about what they think they “know”, and they don’t even aspire to be true “knowers”.

    • I hope you feel better the next morning, even though what you say is generally true. People live in shadow worlds, imaginary versions of Earth which are often mutually exclusive. They don’t even have the same climate anymore! It’s like it is more important to conform to culture than to reality.

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