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March 26, 2005

Technological Singularity

Here's an interesting website that discusses the acceleration of technological innovation. Basically, they posit that computers will continue to keep getting faster, networks will continue to become more efficient. Basically, the systems are soft of self organizing, and computers are taking over. Eventually, the theory goes, computers will become more advanced than people, and intelligent human/computer design will replace evolution. "In the long run the sheer physical inability of humans to keep up with these rapidly evolving progeny of our minds will ensure that the ratio of people to machines approaches zero, and that a direct descendant of our culture, but not our genes, inherits the universe."

A lot of the points made on this website are valid, and somewhat alarming as well. They point out the computers are already used to design computer chips (integrated circuits). There are self-replicating robots, robotic drones patrolling the Atlantic Ocean, rovers on Mars, and drone planes firing Sidewinder missiles at cars in Yemen.

So, I think that there are a lot of incredible advances in technology, and I don't doubt that one day, we'll be sitting around trying to reverse-engineer the computers to figure out how the work, like in "The Feeling of Power" by Issac Asimov.

But, what I think a lot of these futuristic big-wig thinkers miss is that the software really hasn't advanced much in the last 50 years. By this I mean, computers are limited today by the software. There are programs to help you balance your checkbook and play games, but the more complicated problems, like accurate voice recognition, have eluded us so far.

Also, when I walk into an office, I frequently have a palm pilot, a cell phone, a laptop, and a digital camera. But, transferring data between these devices is frequently impossible. Even keeping my wireless LAN functioning at my house is nearly insurmountable.

So, in short, as the technology becomes more complicated, it becomes less useful. I think that this is something that is routinely overlooked. The futurists keep assuming that as computers get faster, the world will just self organize and the problems will go away. But I have reason to believe this is Pollyannic thinking.

Plus, what if a virus comes along and wipes out a third of the population? Or if there's a global revolution? The last world war ended only 60 years ago.

So, I think that their analysis is intriguing, and I don't doubt that, in the long run, eventually, our descendents will bow down to some robot that descended from our modern day Roomba, but I seriously doubt it would occur within the next hundred years.

Posted by Peenie Wallie on March 26, 2005 at 9:52 PM