Ray Kurzweil has been interviewed on NPR recently talking about his ideas about the "singularity" coming in the merger of biology and technology. He's been saying the same thing for years: https://www.kurzweilai.net/articles/art0134.html?printable=1.
I disagree with Kurzweil on a number of points. We don't part company on the idea that his singularity is coming; it surely is. It just won't be here as quickly as he thinks it will.
Kurzweil thinks that we have seen exponential growth in technology. He says:
The first technological steps-sharp edges, fire, the wheel--took tens of thousands of years. For people living in this era, there was little noticeable technological change in even a thousand years. By 1000 A.D., progress was much faster and a paradigm shift required only a century or two. In the nineteenth century, we saw more technological change than in the nine centuries preceding it. Then in the first twenty years of the twentieth century, we saw more advancement than in all of the nineteenth century.
I don't think so.
Current computers are simply refinements of technology that's actually quite old, and even the electronics that drives them is not particularly new. Growth in this area has been much slower than what Kurzweil paints, and although we may be dazzled by promises of quantum computers, in fact the entire technology is based on very crude underpinnings that hasn't really changed in many, many decades. The first electromagnetic switch was the precursor of all of this, and it has taken us a long, long time to get from there to here. Modern computers are simply rounder and more frictionless wheels, or oxygenated fire: tech refinement, not innovation.
Now, paradigm shifts occur in only a few years time. The World Wide Web did not exist in anything like its present form just a few years ago; it didn't exist at all a decade ago.
I see the Web as nothing more than tire tread: the base is still switching electrons, and tire tread just surrounds a wheel. Nothing really new; just building on the real innovation that was taming electricity.
Of course I may be as guilty of undervaluing advancements as Kurzweil is overly enthusiastic about the amount of innovation. So let's say Kurzweil is at least partially right, that there will be more rapid change. I don't utterly disagree with that, but his singularity is still a long ways off, and will be kept delayed by the same things that have always delayed progress: religion, greed, and fear.
If you look at where the Greeks and Romans were technologically just before Christianity, it's at least mildly surprising that we didn't advance more in the intervening time. It's those darn Dark Ages, isn't it? War, religious suppression of science, illiteracy, greed: they all played their parts in retarding progress, and they still do today. We have the religious trying to push "Intelligent Design" into our schools, governments restricting biological research because of threats to religious beliefs, corporate greed suppressing innovation with restrictive patents and so on. I don't say that these things will stop us, but they do slow us down and sometimes even drive us backward briefly.
I think Ray Kurzweil needs to believe. I can understand that: people reading this at the time it is written may very well be among the last few generations of humans plagued by disease, aging, and the limitations of our biology. There's a great tragedy here for those of us who are close enough to see what is probably coming but are unlikely to live long enough to benefit from it. I think it is that tragedy that makes Ray need to believe that his singularity is rocketing toward us.
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