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Published by ashok kulkarni
The future of mankind , with reference to new technologies. Law of acclerating returns, Moor's law and paradigm shift. From Kurzweil, the singularity protagonist.
The future of mankind , with reference to new technologies. Law of acclerating returns, Moor's law and paradigm shift. From Kurzweil, the singularity protagonist.

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Published by: ashok kulkarni on Nov 26, 2008
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The Law of Accelerating Returns
An analysis of the history of technology shows that technological changeis exponential, contrary to the common-sense "intuitive linear" view. So wewon't experience 100 years of progress in the 21st century -- it will be morelike 20,000 years of progress (at today's rate). The "returns," such as chipspeed and cost-effectiveness, also increase exponentially. There's evenexponential growth in the rate of exponential growth. Within a few decades,machine intelligence will surpass human intelligence, leading to The Singularity-- technological change so rapid and profound it represents a rupture in thefabric of human history. The implications include the merger of biological andnonbiological intelligence, immortal software-based humans, and ultra-highlevels of intelligence that expand outward in the universe at the speed of light.
Published on KurzweilAI.net March 7, 2001.
You will get $40 trillion just by reading this essay and understandingwhat it says. For complete details, see below. (It's true that authors will do just about anything to keep your attention, but I'm serious about thisstatement. Until I return to a further explanation, however, do read the firstsentence of this paragraph carefully.) _________________________________________________________ 
Now back to thefuture: it's widely misunderstood. Our forebearsexpected thefutureto be pretty much like their present, which hadbeen pretty much like their past. Althoughexponential trends did exista thousand years ago, they were at that very early stage where anexponential trendis so flat that it looks like no trend at all. So their lackof expectations was largely fulfilled. Today, in accordance with thecommonwisdom, everyone expects continuous technologicalprogress  and the social repercussions that follow. But thefuturewill be far moresurprising than most observers realize: few have truly internalized theimplications of the fact that the rate of change itself is accelerating.TheIntuitive Linear Viewversus theHistorical Exponential View Most long range forecasts of technical feasibility infuture time  periods dramatically underestimate the power of future technology  because they are based on what I call the "intuitivelinear" view of technologicalprogressrather than the "historical exponential view." To express this another way, it is not the case that we willexperienceahundred years of progressin the twenty-first century; rather we willwitness on theorderof twenty thousand years of progress(at
rate of progress, that is).This disparity in outlook comes up frequently in a variety of contexts, for example, the discussion of the ethical issues thatBill Joy  raised in his controversialWIREDcover story,Why The Future Doesn't  Need Us. Bill and I have been frequently paired in a variety of venues aspessimist and optimist respectively. Although I'm expected to criticizeBill's position, and indeed I do take issue with his prescription of relinquishment, I nonetheless usually end up defending Joy on the key
issue of feasibility. Recently a Noble Prize winning panelist dismissedBill's concerns, exclaiming that, "we're not going to see self-replicatingnanoengineered entities for a hundred years." I pointed out that 100years was indeed areasonable estimate of the amount of technicalprogressrequired to achieve this particular milestone
at today's rate of  progress
. But because we're doubling the rate of progressevery decade,we'll see a century of progress--
at today's rate
--in only 25 calendaryears.When people think of afutureperiod, they intuitively assume thatthe current rate of progresswill continue forfutureperiods. However, careful consideration of the pace of technologyshows that the rate of progressis not constant, but it ishuman natureto adapt to the changing pace, so the intuitive view is that the pace will continue at thecurrent rate. Even for those of us who have been around long enough toexperiencehow the pace increases overtime, our unexaminedintuition  nonetheless provides the impression thatprogresschanges at the ratethat we haveexperienced recently. From the mathematician'sperspective, a primaryreasonfor this is that an exponential curveapproximates a straight line when viewed for a brief duration. So eventhough the rate of progressin the very recent past (e.g., this past year)is far greater than it was ten years ago (let alone a hundred or athousand years ago), our memories are nonetheless dominated by ourvery recentexperience. It is typical, therefore, that even sophisticatedcommentators, when considering thefuture, extrapolate the currentpace of change over the next 10 years or 100 years to determine theirexpectations. This is why I call this way of looking at thefuturethe"intuitivelinear" view.But a serious assessment of thehistoryof technologyshows that technological change is exponential. Inexponential growth, we findthat a key measurement such ascomputational power is multiplied by aconstant factor for each unit of time(e.g., doubling every year) ratherthan just being added to incrementally.Exponential growthis a featureof anyevolutionary process, of whichtechnologyis a primary example. One can examine thedatain different ways, on differenttimescales, and for a wide varietyof technologies ranging fromelectronictobiological, and the acceleration of progressandgrowthapplies. Indeed, we find not just simpleexponential growth, but "double"exponential growth, meaning that the rate of exponential growthis itself growing exponentially.These observations do not rely merely on an assumption of thecontinuation of Moore's law(i.e., the exponential shrinking of transistor  sizes on anintegrated circuit), but is based on a rich model of diversetechnological processes. What it clearly shows is thattechnology,particularly the pace of technological change, advances (at least)exponentially, notlinearly, and has been doing so since the advent of technology, indeed since the advent of evolutiononEarth. I emphasize this point because it is the mostimportant failurethat would-be prognosticators make in consideringfuturetrends. Most
technologyforecasts ignore altogether this "historical exponential  view" of technologicalprogress. That is why people tend to overestimate what can be achieved in the short term (because we tendto leave out necessary details), but underestimate what can be achievedin the long term (because theexponential growthis ignored).TheLaw of Accelerating ReturnsWe can organize these observations into what I call thelaw of  accelerating returnsas follows:
Evolutionapplies positive feedback in that the morecapablemethods resulting from one stage of evolutionary progressare used to create the next stage. As a result,the
rate of progressof anevolutionary process increases exponentially overtime. Overtime, the "order" of the informationembedded in theevolutionary process (i.e., the measure of how well theinformationfits a purpose,which inevolutionis survival) increases.
A correlate of the above observation is that the "returns"of anevolutionary process (e.g., the speed, cost-effectiveness, or overall "power" of a process) increaseexponentially overtime.
In another positive feedback loop, as a particularevolutionary process (e.g.,computation) becomes more effective (e.g., cost effective), greater resources aredeployed toward the furtherprogressof that process.This results in a second level of exponential growth(i.e.,the rate oexponential growthitself growsexponentially).
Biological evolutionis one suchevolutionary process.
Technologicalevolutionis another suchevolutionary process. Indeed, the emergence of the firsttechnology creatingspeciesresulted in the newevolutionary process of technology. Therefore, technologicalevolutionis an outgrowth of--and a continuation of--biological evolution.
A specificparadigm(amethodor approach to solving a problem, e.g., shrinkingtransistors on anintegrated  circuitas an approach to making more powerfulcomputers) providesexponential growthuntil themethod  exhausts its potential. When this happens, aparadigm shift(i.e., a fundamental change in the approach) occurs,which enablesexponential growthto continue.If we apply these principles at the highest level of evolutiononEarth, the first step, the creation of cells, introduced theparadigmof  biology. The subsequent emergence of DNAprovided adigital methodto record the results of evolutionaryexperiments. Then, theevolutionof a specieswho combined rationalthoughtwith an opposable appendage (i.e., the thumb) caused a fundamentalparadigm shiftfrombiologyto

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