Why so slow?

John Tierney of the New York times shows a figure from Ray Kurzweil of a log-log plot of the time between changes in history, such as the appearance of life multicellular organisms to new technologies like televisions and computers. His graph shows power law scaling with an exponent of negative one, which I obtained by eyeballing the curve. In other words, if dT is the time between the appearance of the next great change then it scales as 1/T where T is the time. I haven’t read Kurzweil’s book so maybe I’m misinterpreting the graph. The fact that there is scaling over such a long time is interesting but I want to discuss a different point. Let’s take the latter part of the curve regarding technological innovation. Kurzweil’s argument is that the pace of change is accelerating so we’ll soon be enraptured in the Singularity (see previous post). However, the rate of appearance of new ideas seems to be only increasing linearly with T. So the number of new ideas are accumulating as T^2, which is far from exponential. Additionally, the population is increasing exponentially (at least in the last few hundred years). Hence the number of ideas per person is obeying t^2 Exp(-t). I’m not sure where we are on the curve but after an initial increase, the number of ideas per person actually decreases exponentially. I was proposing in the last post that the number of good ideas was scaling with the population but according to Kurzweil I was being super optimistic. Did I make a mistake somewhere?

One thought on “Why so slow?

  1. I read Fantastic Voyage, The Age of Spiritual Machines and The Singularity is Near, and they changed my life. I even found some of his lectures on Itunes and I find myself impatiently awaiting his next book. Recently read another incredible book that I can’t recommend highly enough, especially to all of you who also love Ray Kurzweil’s work. The book is “”My Stroke of Insight”” by Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor. I had heard Dr Taylor’s talk on the TED dot com site and I have to say, it changed my world. It’s spreading virally all over the internet and the book is now a NYTimes Bestseller, so I’m not the only one, but it is the most amazing talk, and the most impactful book I’ve read in years. (Dr T also was named to Time Magazine’s 100 Most Influential People and Oprah had her on her Soul Series last month and I hear they’re making a movie about her story so you may already have heard of her)If you haven’t heard Dr Taylor’s TEDTalk, that’s an absolute must. The book is more and deeper and better, but start with the video (it’s 18 minutes). Basically, her story is that she was a 37 yr old Harvard brain scientist who had a massive stroke in the left hemisphere of her brain. Because of her knowledge of how the brain works, and thanks to her amazingly loving and kind mother, she eventually fully recovered (and that part of the book detailing how she did it is inspirational). There’s a lot of learning and magic in the book, but the reason I so highly recommend My Stroke of Insight to this discussion, is because we have powerfully intelligent left brains that are rational, logical, sequential and grounded in detail and time, and then we have our kinesthetic right brains, where we experience intuition and peace and euphoria. Now that Kurzweil has got us taking all those vitamins and living our best “”Fantastic Voyage”” , the absolute necessity is that we read My Stroke of Insight and learn from Dr Taylor how to achieve balance between our right and left brains. Enjoy!


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