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Old 21st November 2012, 02:11 AM   #1
Anders Lindman
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Is Kurzweil wrong about exponential technological progress?

Ray Kurzweil has pointed out that the progress of technology is exponential, especially digital technologies. And there are massive amounts of historical data that support his claim. And he has made many accurate future predictions based on this.

When looking at the overall process of evolution however, it's actually not only an exponential process; it's an exponential-exponential curve of progress!

For example, this is a lin-log graph showing an exponential curve: http://farm3.staticflickr.com/2096/2...e8a7ae89_o.jpg

And here is a log-log graph showing an overall straight line: http://scalometer.wikispaces.com/fil...28years%29.png

Those are two examples showing that evolution as a whole, including things like biology, social change and technology, is an exponential-exponential process of progress.

Kurzweil has himself actually pointed out that some curves are indeed exponential-exponential. Nevertheless, he maintains as far as I know that the progress of digital technologies is 'merely' exponential.

To illustrate what this means Kurzweil has often used an example of taking 30 steps. If we take 30 steps linearly; 1, 2, 3, 4, 5... we end up with 30. With 30 exponential steps; 1, 2, 4, 8, 16... we reach a billion! And taking 30 exponential-exponential steps; 1, 4, 16, 256, 65536... we get an enormously large number.

Even though the progress of digital technologies so far has been basically exponential, there may be reason to assume that the digital development will kick into a higher gear of exponential-exponential progress.

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Old 21st November 2012, 03:03 AM   #2
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Past performance is not a reliable indicator of future performance. Your technology level can go down as well as up.
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Old 21st November 2012, 03:14 AM   #3
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Originally Posted by dlorde View Post
Past performance is not a reliable indicator of future performance. Your technology level can go down as well as up.
Kurzweil's point is that individual events and inventions etc are difficult to predict yet that the overall progress follows a very reliable and predictable curve. And he has made accurate predictions decades into the future!
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Old 21st November 2012, 03:23 AM   #4
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So, let me get this straight:

Some dude makes up a bunch of lists of things he has declared important and is then drawing some type of conclusion based on the temporal spacing of those events he chose.

Why were the items included on the lists? Was is because of their temporal importance? Was it because, if he chose those points, they'd make a nice graph 'proving' his pet 'theory'.

Why are 'Computers' and 'personal computers' separate categories, but all telephones are lumped under 'Telephone, electricity and radio'? Why are any of those in the same list as 'multicellular life'? Why are eukaryotic cells included, but not prokaryotic ones? Why not RNA replicators?

If you get to pick what data is allowed, you can 'prove' anything, even false things.
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Old 21st November 2012, 03:31 AM   #5
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Originally Posted by Anders Lindman View Post
... he has made accurate predictions decades into the future!
He has made [detailed?] predictions. We won't know how accurate they are until that time has passed.

I have a lot of time for Kurzweil, and exponential development trends such as Moore's Law are attractive, but he isn't some kind of Hari Seldon, and exponential trends have a tendency to suddenly cease.
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Old 21st November 2012, 04:32 AM   #6
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For questions about the exponential progress, here is a brief explanation by Kurzweil:

"Why don’t more people see these profound changes ahead?

Hopefully after they read my new book, they will. But the primary failure is the inability of many observers to think in exponential terms. Most long-range forecasts of what is technically feasible in future time periods dramatically underestimate the power of future developments because they are based on what I call the “intuitive linear” view of history rather than the “historical exponential” view. My models show that we are doubling the paradigm-shift rate every decade. Thus the 20th century was gradually speeding up to the rate of progress at the end of the century; its achievements, therefore, were equivalent to about twenty years of progress at the rate in 2000. We’ll make another twenty years of progress in just fourteen years (by 2014), and then do the same again in only seven years. To express this another way, we won’t experience one hundred years of technological advance in the 21st century; we will witness on the order of 20,000 years of progress (again, when measured by the rate of progress in 2000), or about 1,000 times greater than what was achieved in the 20th century.

The exponential growth of information technologies is even greater: we’re doubling the power of information technologies, as measured by price-performance, bandwidth, capacity and many other types of measures, about every year. That’s a factor of a thousand in ten years, a million in twenty years, and a billion in thirty years. This goes far beyond Moore’s law (the shrinking of transistors on an integrated circuit, allowing us to double the price-performance of electronics each year). Electronics is just one example of many. As another example, it took us 14 years to sequence HIV; we recently sequenced SARS in only 31 days." -- From: http://www.kurzweilai.net/singularity-q-a
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Old 21st November 2012, 04:38 AM   #7
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Oh! I think I got it now. I remember Kurzweil writing in an article about how the exponential-exponential progress is a result of on one hand that the inventions build on one another in an exponential way and in addition to that there can be an exponential expansion in the use of resources. The combined result is exponential-exponential progress. (I hope I remembered it correctly.)

So when it comes to digital technologies, the main bottleneck at the moment when it comes to resources is power consumption! Both for running the technology and for the development of the technology.

Therefore I predict that we will in the future have a progress leap in energy technologies!!! When will that happen? I don't know yet. It may be possible to predict from historical data.
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Old 21st November 2012, 05:02 AM   #8
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Not power consumption, but power dissipation. It's easy to provide more power - the most power-hungry consumer CPUs only use about 130W, as much as two fairly modest (old-fashioned) light bulbs.

But it's only about half an inch square, and needs to stay cool to keep working. It's much harder to reliably cool that small sliver of silicon.

Basically, the problem with projecting promising trends forward is that sooner or later you always run into diminishing returns. For example, CPU clock speed was on an exponential curve up until 2003, when it abruptly flatlined - CPUs are no faster in terms of clock cycles today than they were a decade ago.
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Old 21st November 2012, 05:16 AM   #9
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Originally Posted by PixyMisa View Post
Not power consumption, but power dissipation. It's easy to provide more power - the most power-hungry consumer CPUs only use about 130W, as much as two fairly modest (old-fashioned) light bulbs.

But it's only about half an inch square, and needs to stay cool to keep working. It's much harder to reliably cool that small sliver of silicon.

Basically, the problem with projecting promising trends forward is that sooner or later you always run into diminishing returns. For example, CPU clock speed was on an exponential curve up until 2003, when it abruptly flatlined - CPUs are no faster in terms of clock cycles today than they were a decade ago.
I would say power consumption. Remember, we are talking about exponential-exponential progress. That's something monstrous! As for CPU clock speed, check Kurzweil's arguments for why the progress of information technology keeps moving exponentially.

Here is a very recent presentation by Ray Kurzweil (where he talks a bit about exponential progress): Ray Kurzweil "How to Create a Mind", Authors at Google -- http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zihTWh5i2C4
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Old 21st November 2012, 05:17 AM   #10
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Originally Posted by Anders Lindman View Post
I would say power consumption.
Then you'd be wrong.
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Old 21st November 2012, 06:09 AM   #11
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Seems to me that some assessment of the value of technological advances is required here.

Piped clean water and reliable sewage systems were life-changing advances to name but two. But once well-established there was precious little room for improvement.

Ultra fast PCs with vast memory? Not really. They mostly get used for video gaming, huge amounts of neurotic over-communication and the like
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Old 21st November 2012, 06:11 AM   #12
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Originally Posted by GlennB View Post
Seems to me that some assessment of the value of technological advances is required here.

Piped clean water and reliable sewage systems were life-changing advances to name but two. But once well-established there was precious little room for improvement.

Ultra fast PCs with vast memory? Not really. They mostly get used for video gaming, huge amounts of neurotic over-communication and the like
Only video games? Maybe you would want to try to compete against Watson in Jeopardy?

IBM's Watson supercomputer destroys all humans in Jeopardy -- http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WFR3lOm_xhE
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Old 21st November 2012, 06:16 AM   #13
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Notice that even though many technologies become stable with little improvement, the overall progress is exponential-exponential!!! How awesome is that!? For example the needle has remained basically the same since thousands of years ago, but they didn't have computers that could beat the best human players in Jeopardy back then. Actually they didn't even have Jeopardy back then, lol.

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Old 21st November 2012, 06:19 AM   #14
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Originally Posted by PixyMisa View Post
Then you'd be wrong.
Well, I have sent a question to Kurzweil about this. We will see what he says. (Although I'm not sure I used an email address that still works. )
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Old 21st November 2012, 10:29 AM   #15
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Given that there is no good way to measure utility, I don't think exponential increases in computer processing power translate to exponential increases in utility. It's more like the approximately logarithmic relationship between sound intensity and perceived loudness.
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Old 21st November 2012, 10:35 AM   #16
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Don't you have to be able to afford funding research to keep pace?
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Old 21st November 2012, 10:55 AM   #17
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The idea that technology must improve exponentially ignores that there are going to be limits to any line of development, and there may be a fairly hard ceiling you reach as you approach the boundaries of the possible.
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Old 21st November 2012, 11:07 AM   #18
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Originally Posted by Anders Lindman View Post
Notice that even though many technologies become stable with little improvement, the overall progress is exponential-exponential!!! How awesome is that!? For example the needle has remained basically the same since thousands of years ago, but they didn't have computers that could beat the best human players in Jeopardy back then. Actually they didn't even have Jeopardy back then, lol.
Although it is an aside, you have harped on Watson a couple of times, and you are flat wrong. You seem in awe of the facade without any understanding the reality of Watson's performance. Impressive, yes, but it was not what you make it out to be.
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Old 21st November 2012, 11:10 AM   #19
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Originally Posted by BenBurch View Post
The idea that technology must improve exponentially ignores that there are going to be limits to any line of development, and there may be a fairly hard ceiling you reach as you approach the boundaries of the possible.

Amen.

It was useful when the "comfortable cruising speed of a motor car" rose from 10 mph to 20 mph.

Ditto 20 to 40, and even 40 to 80.

Raising that speed from 80 to 160 might be feasible but is no real use to anyone.
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Old 21st November 2012, 11:23 AM   #20
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Originally Posted by PixyMisa View Post
Not power consumption, but power dissipation. It's easy to provide more power - the most power-hungry consumer CPUs only use about 130W, as much as two fairly modest (old-fashioned) light bulbs.

But it's only about half an inch square, and needs to stay cool to keep working. It's much harder to reliably cool that small sliver of silicon.

Basically, the problem with projecting promising trends forward is that sooner or later you always run into diminishing returns. For example, CPU clock speed was on an exponential curve up until 2003, when it abruptly flatlined - CPUs are no faster in terms of clock cycles today than they were a decade ago.
But performance is still increasing.

The new Titan supercomputer is ten times faster than Jaguar, and Jaguar's only two years old.
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Old 21st November 2012, 11:24 AM   #21
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Originally Posted by GlennB View Post
Amen.

It was useful when the "comfortable cruising speed of a motor car" rose from 10 mph to 20 mph.

Ditto 20 to 40, and even 40 to 80.

Raising that speed from 80 to 160 might be feasible but is no real use to anyone.
Not with current technology. But cars that drive themselves might be able to go that fast.
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Old 21st November 2012, 02:46 PM   #22
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If we look at only Moore's law, which states that the number of transistors in microchips doubles every two years, then my theory looks incorrect, because the curve has been very much exponential since the early 70s: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Tr...Law_-_2011.svg

But check this out, yo: http://www.singularity.com/images/charts/MooresLaw.jpg

That's a graph that includes the paradigms before Moore's law and it shows an exponential-exponential curve, just as I suspected!
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Old 21st November 2012, 03:25 PM   #23
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Originally Posted by PixyMisa View Post
Not power consumption, but power dissipation. It's easy to provide more power - the most power-hungry consumer CPUs only use about 130W, as much as two fairly modest (old-fashioned) light bulbs.

But it's only about half an inch square, and needs to stay cool to keep working. It's much harder to reliably cool that small sliver of silicon.
Hmm... Maybe you are correct after all. The second graph in my previous post shows the number of calculations per $1000. That's an exponential-exponential curve! And that's very little to do with power consumption.

So the cost per calculation improves in an exponential-exponential curve. What will happen is that a new paradigm will emerge that replaces the current integrated circuit paradigm. Perhaps optical microchips:

"To keep energy consumption under control, future chips may need to move data using light instead of electricity — and the technical expertise to build them may reside in the United States." -- http://web.mit.edu/newsoffice/2012/m...hips-0215.html
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Old 21st November 2012, 03:36 PM   #24
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Originally Posted by Fudbucker View Post
Not with current technology. But cars that drive themselves might be able to go that fast.
On a motorway in a straight line, perhaps. On everyday roads certainly not.

The point is that the 'advance' is not useful, (it's also very wasteful of fuel) but if we take a superficial view of 'advance' then we'll be fooled by just looking at the number 160 vs. 80.
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Old 21st November 2012, 04:11 PM   #25
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Going by the rate of progress in chemistry his opinions don't appear to have much relationship with reality.
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Old 21st November 2012, 04:12 PM   #26
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Originally Posted by Anders Lindman View Post
...Perhaps optical microchips:

"To keep energy consumption under control, future chips may need to move data using light instead of electricity — and the technical expertise to build them may reside in the United States." -- http://web.mit.edu/newsoffice/2012/m...hips-0215.html
That's the way I think it's going to go. There's been some good research recently on displacement current and orbital angular momentum. See for example Taming Light at the nanoscale by N Engheta and the physicsworld article Chip puts a twist on light.

However I must say that while computing and related technology has been advancing spectacularly, and whilst biotech has been doing really well too, in other fields progress has been pretty poor. We don't have fusion power, we still use fossil fuel, space travel is moribund, and so on. In many fields, progress is virtually stalled.
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Old 21st November 2012, 04:21 PM   #27
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Originally Posted by Farsight View Post
That's the way I think it's going to go. There's been some good research recently on displacement current and orbital angular momentum. See for example Taming Light at the nanoscale by N Engheta and the physicsworld article Chip puts a twist on light.

However I must say that while computing and related technology has been advancing spectacularly, and whilst biotech has been doing really well too, in other fields progress has been pretty poor. We don't have fusion power, we still use fossil fuel, space travel is moribund, and so on. In many fields, progress is virtually stalled.
What Kurzweil says is that more and more of the different types of technology is becoming information technology. Today we can email a music album via email. In the future we will be able to email physical products! (3D printing)

Energy is a tricky issue though since information technology hardly will be able to PRODUCE energy, lol. But I believe we will have basically free energy in the future anyway in the form of zero point energy etc.
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Old 21st November 2012, 06:23 PM   #28
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As a metric for human progress, which is linked to technological progress but different from it, I find Ian Morris' "Social Development Index" quite compelling:

Here's the pdf: http://www.ianmorris.org/docs/social-development.pdf
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Old 21st November 2012, 07:14 PM   #29
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Originally Posted by Roboramma View Post
As a metric for human progress, which is linked to technological progress but different from it, I find Ian Morris' "Social Development Index" quite compelling:

Here's the pdf: http://www.ianmorris.org/docs/social-development.pdf
That was a long document. I took a brief look and it was interesting how many of the graphs looked like having exponential (or maybe even exponential-exponential) curves.
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Old 21st November 2012, 09:27 PM   #30
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From my understanding, Moore's Law (which is what Kurznutz bases his existence upon) is perhaps only valid for the next few decades. That's of course if I'm understanding correctly.

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Old 21st November 2012, 09:29 PM   #31
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Quote:
That was a long document. I took a brief look and it was interesting how many of the graphs looked like having exponential (or maybe even exponential-exponential) curves.
Yes, and I think it addresses many of the issues others have brought up about how the data is chosen when determining if there is a trend of exponential progress
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Old 21st November 2012, 09:47 PM   #32
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Originally Posted by L.Y.S. View Post
From my understanding, Moore's Law (which is what Kurznutz bases his existence upon) is perhaps only valid for the next few decades. That's of course if I'm understanding correctly.
Moore's law is only one paradigm of many preceding ones: http://www.singularity.com/images/charts/MooresLaw.jpg

And Kurzweil has shown exponential progress for all kinds of things, including disk space and solar panels!
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Old 21st November 2012, 09:54 PM   #33
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Originally Posted by Roboramma View Post
Yes, and I think it addresses many of the issues others have brought up about how the data is chosen when determining if there is a trend of exponential progress
When looking at evolution as a whole, including social and technological progress, then it's clear that the progress is at least exponential. For example 100,000 years ago humanity was hunter gatherers, 10,000 ago agriculture was developed, the industrial revolution started centuries ago, and the information age started decades ago!

See for example: http://www.singularity.com/images/ch...ularityLog.jpg

It's a log-log plot! That means enormous difference between the beginning and the end of the graph. Try to come up with something similar that shows merely linear progress (for the overall progress, not for the progress of the needle or the boiling pot for example).
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Old 21st November 2012, 10:40 PM   #34
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Originally Posted by Anders Lindman View Post
Moore's law is only one paradigm of many preceding ones: http://www.singularity.com/images/charts/MooresLaw.jpg

And Kurzweil has shown exponential progress for all kinds of things, including disk space and solar panels!
What are these other progressive paradigms? I'm sincerely curious.

As for Kurznut, I doubt the guy’s mental sanity. He’s still on a soppy quest to bring daddy back. What is the guy like 60? God damn it over it and move on Kurznut, daddy ain’t comin’ back.
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Old 21st November 2012, 10:53 PM   #35
SezMe
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Originally Posted by Anders Lindman View Post
The problem with that chart is that it treats biological evolution and technical evolution as if they are driven by the same underlying forces. They aren't. That negates the potential for reaching any valid conclusions.
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Old 22nd November 2012, 01:27 AM   #36
Anders Lindman
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Originally Posted by L.Y.S. View Post
What are these other progressive paradigms? I'm sincerely curious.

As for Kurznut, I doubt the guy’s mental sanity. He’s still on a soppy quest to bring daddy back. What is the guy like 60? God damn it over it and move on Kurznut, daddy ain’t comin’ back.
"This “law of accelerating returns” applies to all of technology, indeed to any true evolutionary process, and can be measured with remarkable precision in information based technologies. There are a great many examples of the exponential growth implied by the law of accelerating returns in technologies as varied as DNA sequencing, communication speeds, electronics of all kinds, and even in the rapidly shrinking size of technology." -- http://webcache.googleusercontent.co...&hl=en&ct=clnk
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Old 22nd November 2012, 01:31 AM   #37
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Originally Posted by SezMe View Post
The problem with that chart is that it treats biological evolution and technical evolution as if they are driven by the same underlying forces. They aren't. That negates the potential for reaching any valid conclusions.
"The Law of Accelerating Returns

We can organize these observations into what I call the law of accelerating returns as follows:
  • Evolution applies positive feedback in that the more capable methods resulting from one stage of evolutionary progress are used to create the next stage. As a result, the
  • rate of progress of an evolutionary process increases exponentially over time. Over time, the “order” of the information embedded in the evolutionary process (i.e., the measure of how well the information fits a purpose, which in evolution is survival) increases.
  • A correlate of the above observation is that the “returns” of an evolutionary process (e.g., the speed, cost-effectiveness, or overall “power” of a process) increase exponentially over time.
  • In another positive feedback loop, as a particular evolutionary process (e.g., computation) becomes more effective (e.g., cost effective), greater resources are deployed toward the further progress of that process. This results in a second level of exponential growth (i.e., the rate of exponential growth itself grows exponentially).
  • Biological evolution is one such evolutionary process.
  • Technological evolution is another such evolutionary process. Indeed, the emergence of the first technology creating species resulted in the new evolutionary process of technology. Therefore, technological evolution is an outgrowth of–and a continuation of–biological evolution.
  • A specific paradigm (a method or approach to solving a problem, e.g., shrinking transistors on an integrated circuit as an approach to making more powerful computers) provides exponential growth until the method exhausts its potential. When this happens, a paradigm shift (i.e., a fundamental change in the approach) occurs, which enables exponential growth to continue.
" -- http://webcache.googleusercontent.co...&hl=en&ct=clnk
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Old 22nd November 2012, 02:34 PM   #38
Soapy Sam
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Is it just me, or is the forum kinda slow today?
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Old 22nd November 2012, 02:43 PM   #39
SezMe
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Originally Posted by Anders Lindman View Post
  • Technological evolution is another such evolutionary process. Indeed, the emergence of the first technology creating species resulted in the new evolutionary process of technology. Therefore, technological evolution is an outgrowth of–and a continuation of–biological evolution.
While there's much to question in your list, this assertion is one of the most glaringly wrong.

Technological change is a conscientiously goal-driven process. If a company introduces a new chip with twice the clock rate of the old one, that is a result of an explicit decision to do so and highly directed research and development program.

In contrast, natural (biological) evolution is NOT goal driven. Mutations occur that might or might not survive in the long run. There is no intent in the process.

There are other aspects of the two that are significantly different but the difference noted in this post - taken by itself -is enough to discredit any of the charts and conclusions you have presented.
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Old 22nd November 2012, 02:50 PM   #40
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Meanwhile I can't wait till my 32-channel satellite TV system "progresses" to 64 channels for the same cost. Then I'll watch junk TV for 26 hours a day .....
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