This book is so jam packed with valuable information, I am taking notes. Genuine education.
Kurzweil opens this chapter explaining The Law of Accelerating Returns, “which describes the acceleration of the pace of and the exponential growth of the products of an evolutionary process”.
[[[[[ As I start to hone in on what I want to write about tonight, I easily notice how reading Kurzweil opens up new channels of scientific curiosity and understanding. He thinks, and writes very logically, yet comes up with these incredible notions. I marvel at history’s revolutionary scientists who conjured up virgin ideas, had no one to depend on but themselves, but nevertheless relentlessly explored exactly what they didn’t know. But there’s a logic to Kurzweil, he’s not thinking up the unknown. He’s predicting things based off of facts**. He’s preaching what man has always accepted, but that which often goes unthought of: we humans will always (try to) improve ourselves, and we will use technology to do it. From fire to computer chips, technology is our endless ladder. ]]]]]
The Law of Accelerating Returns is a simple idea, though with over two pages dedicated to summarizing its principles.
I’ll just summarize my notes. This book is so dense, damn.
Evolution applies positive feedback
If anyone doubts this concept, please read at least the first two chapters of this book, or maybe just my last chapter post. Evolution snowballs, it accumulates. Add technology on top of that, and the snowball just rolls faster, goes further. This law essentially defines Moore’s Law which I spoke about in my last chapter post. Exponential growth is everywhere. Especially in evolution, and especially in technology. Evolution. Technology. Just a year ago, I never imagined how these words fit together.
Every so often, I just GOTTA quote this guy. I literally (figuratively) feel like I’m getting slapped in the face with truth. Literally (figuratively).
By the time of the Singularity; there won’t be a distinction between humans and technology. This is not because humans will have become what we think of as machines today, but rather machines will have progressed to be like humans and beyond. Technology will be the metaphorical opposable thumb that enables our next step in evolution. Progress (further increases in order) will then be based on thinking processes that occur at the speed of light rather than in very slow electrochemical reactions… Over time, the “order” of the information embedded in the evolutionary process (the measure of how well the information fits a purpose, which in evolution is survival) increases.
Evolution works through indirection
What created technology? Humans. What created humans? Evolution. What created evolution? I couldn’t begin to explain (future post topic?). What I mean to point out is that there is a chain of events. One could not have happened without the event prior. Remember those six epochs?
An evolutionary process is NOT a closed system
I don’t think I can summarize this one half as nicely as Kurzweil:
“Evolution draws upon the chaos in the larger system in which it takes place for its options for diversity. Because evolution also builds on its own increasing order, in an evolutionary process order increases exponentially.”
The “returns” of an evolutionary process increase exponentially
The rate of exponential growth is exponential
Yes. Exponential this, exponential that.
The process of evolution, such as allowed rate of mutation, has itself evolved over time
Endless positive-feedback loops. I actually started laughing reading through these principles, it was almost jokish. Exponential is. Exponential is exponential. Exponentially. GAHHHH!
The principle described above applies to biological & technological evolutionary processes.
A specific paradigm generates exponential growth until its potential is exhausted
This then causes a paradigm shift, enabling exponential growth to continue
Technological paradigms represent the creation, explosion, and demise of outdatING inventions (outdatED would imply our current technology will escape the inevitable fate brought on by new technology). Remember when computers that filled up whole buildings were incredible? Remember how cool a camera phone was? We all recognize technology falls in and out of the spotlight, but we never think about the curve on a graph that it makes. I knew this concept, but I did not think about it. I SHOULD TELL DOOGS.
You don’t need to understand what the text says, but look at the single s-curve at the top left. The life of a technological paradigm exists on an s curve. First the invention is invented. Then it takes some time to get the ball rolling (lowering production costs, increasing access, more investors, yadayada), which is represented by the left plateau of an s curve. THEN EXPONENTIAL GROWTH duh. They’re called fads for a reason you know 😉 And then there is a plateauing effect as the technology reaches it’s maximum usefulness, or coolness. This describes The Life Cycle of a Paradigm.
FUN FACT: The time to adopt new paradigms is going down by half each decade. Think about it.
NOW I WOULD LIKE TO BRIEFLY MENTION FRACTALS.
It is at this point I wonder whether anyone is going to continue reading through this. My vote, YOU SHOULD. Now I know the word fractals is scary, trust me I’ve been there, until I read this chapter actually. My first memory of this word: I remember being on vacation with my family somewhere, and we were stopped outside, somewhere, and we were looking at some sort of awesome tree. At least my dad pointed out that it was awesome. Anyway, the tree’s pattern of growth and structure was beautiful, and the pattern was visually systematic, I could see that much. But my dad kept saying “…fractals!….incredible!”, and thus I was unknowingly introduced to fractals.
Fractals answer questions like “how is it possible for the genome, which contains comparatively little information, to produce a system such as a human, which is vastly more complex than the genetic information that describes it?”
Kurzweil describes two types of fractal designs, Deterministic and Probabilistic.
Deterministic fractals describe when a single design element, an initiator, produces new elements called generators, which then in turn become initiators what are also replaced with elements of a generator. “Each new generation of fractal expansion adds apparent complexity but requires no additional design information.” Deterministic fractals will always look the same as they initiate and generate.
This is unlike Probabilistic fractals, which are not as cut and dry as the previously mentioned. These represent the natural effects of random chance and uncertainty. Probablistic fractal designs generally have a more organic experience. For example, they may be used in programming to design a natural landscape, etc. This is because the probability of the application of each generator (created by the initiators) is less than 1. Just think about biological evolution. Why bacteria? Why DNA? Why nerves, why bones, why why why? Sometimes, things are chosen from a larger possible pool for no good reason. “A key aspect of a probabilistic fractal is that it enables the generation of a great deal of apparent complexity, including extensive varying detail, from a relatively small amount of design information.”
SO IF YOU READ THIS you now may understand fractals a little better! From reading a blog! It wasn’t so hard, eh? Thanks for reading! I’ll be posting up again real soon.
** Riddle me this: How is fact? Who is fact?
Recently, I have discovered the world of Ray Kurzweil. For those of you who know who I’m talking about, you may understand my amazement in his ideas. For those of you who don’t know much about him, I’d suggest looking into his research, companies, and predictions into the future. I’ve definitely heard varying opinions of this guy, but I don’t think anyone can doubt he is incredibly genius. His most famous and most recent book is titled The Singularity is Near.
I have just finished the first two chapters of this chunky book, and my jaw continues to hit the ground harder than the time before. Sometimes when you study a particular piece of literature, or when you read about an exceptionally intelligent human being, you find yourself dumbstruck when you can’t produce a word of opposition. A huge part of science is having doubt, educated doubt. But sometimes it’s hard to find the doubt, like with Kurzweil.
What I mean to say, is that this guy is tremendously credible.
SO WHAT IS THE SINGULARITY?
In a word or two, it is when humans transcend biology. Not to be dramatic or anything…
NOT TO SAY KURZWEIL DOESN’T HAVE HIS QUIRKS. Part of the reason I’m reading The Singularity is Near is to develop a personal, informed opinion of this futurist. I can’t say I always dedicate enough time to fully understanding an author’s background, but this time it’s really worth it. Because if what this guy is saying is all true, in my lifetime we are going to see some unthinkably amazing events change the course of human history permanently. This is the stuff of sci-fi dreams. Jaws, on the ground.
So I’m going to do you all a favor, those of you who would consider it a favor. I am going to dedicate a post to every chapter of this book. It’s astounding information, and I cannot shut up about it. I just warned my roommates I will be continuing to blab about this book, probably at ever exponentiating rates of excitement. Our reality is exponential. Don’t you wanna know why?? EH??
THE SIX EPOCHS
Kurzweil opens by explaining the significance of exponential growth. Right now many growth predictions have been made using linear models, so people following those models have a harder time understanding how we will adapt over time. An exponential curve starts out with relatively linear growth, so growth data (of most any kind) look like a linear model. Kurzweil proposes we are reaching the “knee of the curve”, where exponential growth becomes subjectively visible. I buy it, I remember less than 10 years ago getting my first cell phone. It was a flip phone, those were reeeeal cool at one time. Here’s an idea, brainstorm what kind of technological advances your parents have witnessed in their lifespan. Now compare it to this current generation. That is one way to observe exponential advancements in your every day life. Also the transcription of the human genome. Some scientists thought it would take at least a century. Took 15 years.
So lemme talk about these epochs. They essentially describe the process of evolution, and the stages of increasing order. Each epoch leads to the one that follows. It’s the history of biological AND technological evolution.
1. Physics and Chemistry: information in atomic structures
2. Biology: information in DNA
3. Brains: information in neural patterns
4. Technology: information in hardware and software designs
5. Merger of Technology and Human Intelligence: the methods of biology (including human intelligence) are integrated into the (exponentially expanding) human technology base
6. The Universe Wakes Up: Patterns of matter and energy in the universe become saturated with intelligent process and knowledge
THIS IS A RIDICULOUSLY ASTOUNDING THEORY.
I could spend a long time writing about each of these epochs, but instead I will try to briefly discuss 5 and 6. The Singularity (which Kurzweil actually does capitalize in his book) will happen in the fifth epoch.
“It will result from the merger of the vast knowledge embedded in our own brains with the vastly greater capacity, speed, and knowledge-sharing ability of our technology. The fifth epoch will enable our human-machine civilization to transcend the human brain’s limitations of a mere hundred trillion extremely slow connections.”
You just go ahead and argue with that shit, psh. Where would you start? It appears infallible. Our access to, portable storage and retrieval of information from around the globe is already pretty incredible if you think about it. What, do you think things are just gonna stop becoming more easily accessible, at faster speeds, faster rates? EXPONENTIAL GROWTH MAN. Technological growth is not going to stop with the coolest iPhone ever, you know that.
At this point, you may be questioning the validity of all this exponential growth found in every single aspect of technological evolution. Don’t worry, if you read the book, WHICH YOU JUST SHOULD, Kurzweil provides COUNTLESS tangible examples of specific growth. He also refers to Moore’s law, which itself is defined as an empirical law meaning that it always ends up being true. Moore’s law, in terms of computer technology, states that “the number of units that can be packed into an integrated circuit of a given size doubles every eighteen months/ two years or so.There is an increase in computation speed, memory size, and per unit cost.
Very important law.
So that’s epoch five, here’s epoch six.
I’m just going to quote Kurzweil directly for the full effect of his words.
“I will discuss this topic in chapter 6, under the heading ‘…on the Intelligent Destiny of the Cosmos.’ In the aftermath of the Singularity, intelligence, derived from its biological origins in human brains and its technological origins in human ingenuity, will begin to saturate the matter and energy in its midst. It will achieve this by reorganizing matter and energy to provide an optimal level of computation…to spread out from its origin on earth.
We currently understand the speed of light as a bounding factor on the transfer of information. Circumventing this limit has to be regarded as highly speculative, but there are hints that this constraint may be able to be superseded. If there are even subtle deviations, we will ultimately harness this superluminal ability. Whether our civilization infuses the rest of the universe with its creativity and intelligence quickly or slowly depends on its immutability. In any even the “dumb” matter and mechanisms of the universe will be transformed into exquisitely sublime forms of intelligence, which will constitute the sixth epoch in the evolution of patterns of information.
This is the ultimate destiny of the Singularity and of the universe.”
This is the stuff of sci-fi dreams.