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« Living Longer | Main | Blind to the Possibilities »

July 03, 2005

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michael vassar

Actually, although Huber's speculations about the limits to possibility are grossly wrong, his empirical observations are essentially inevitable if one uses his research methodology. I am aware of four other people who have analyzed the rate of technological change using the same methodology and all have reached strongly convergent conclusions. Drexler's preferred metric of charting exponential trends ignores the fact that the same trend can be seen as exponential, linear, or diminishing depending on the exact definitions of the metrics used, as was convincingly argued at the 2004 WTA meeting by Phillip Goetz.
Different people have different preferred methodologies, but it is clear to me that the problem preconceptions based on "folk theory of progress" considerations are the dominant determinant of Smart's and Kurzweil's conclusions. Hanson provides a third class of technological conclusion by the way, not a sub-set of Kurzweil's, and his conclusion also has many independent backers. It is also worth noting that Kurzweil isn't careful with his logic. In the same paragraph he glibly states that the rate of technological progress doubles every decade (20 years?), and that the progress over the next 10 years there will be as much progress as over the last 20, while the logical implication of doubling rates every decade is that Every decade observes more progress than all of previous history, an utterly laughable conclusion.

michael vassar

per capita GDP % growth provides another proxy for tech progress, while Nobel prizes are an important data set. The number per year is fixed, so there's no metric, but "accelerating change" implies that they should be for increasingly important discoveries. For instance, a 4-fold increase in speed of change implies that the average year after the increase awards a discovery as important as that associated with the best 1 year in 4 before the increase. Casual observations of scientifically knowledgable people unbiased by the desire to confirm theories could be checked to test this if necessary. This test also checks the "low hanging fruit hypothesis" as the depletion of low hanging fruit would suggest that the average discovery after a 4-fold depletion would require as much cleverness as the best discovery in a four year period before that depletion.

Chris Phoenix, CRN

What I was complaining about is not that he says innovation is slowing down, but that he says it could be because we're reaching the limits of technology.

If innovation is in fact slowing down, and not just moving to another area where we'll only notice it in hindsight (software!), there are several possible reasons:
1) we've gotten too complacent and comfortable.
2) we're focusing too much on driving consumerism rather than advancing technology. Too much focus on advertising and user interface.
3) It's just a temporary gap, while we re-group to tackle complexity and the nanoscale (which are not the same thing).

Chris

Chris Phoenix, CRN

Michael, what I was complaining about was the theory that we're reaching the limits of technology.

If innovation is in fact slowing, there are several possible reasons:
1) We're too comfortable.
2) We're spending too much effort on consumerism.
3) We're just regrouping to tackle complexity and the nanoscale (which are not the same thing).

Chris

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