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The Kernel Hacker's Bookshelf: Ultimate Physical Limits of Computation

The Kernel Hacker's Bookshelf: Ultimate Physical Limits of Computation

Posted Jun 19, 2008 10:12 UTC (Thu) by Hanno (guest, #41730)
In reply to: The Kernel Hacker's Bookshelf: Ultimate Physical Limits of Computation by dskoll
Parent article: The Kernel Hacker's Bookshelf: Ultimate Physical Limits of Computation

The singularity is not near. To be blunt, the singularity phenomenon is the quasi-religious expectation that a brighter tomorrow through technology is "certain" and universal deliverance of mankind is just around the corner.

The pretty good (though equally repetitive) book "Future-Hype" by Bob Seidensticker makes a good counter-argument:

Humans always made the mistake to extrapolate the future based on present development. When a rush of development in one technology leads to a jump in innovation, people would expect "exponential growth" in that area.

But that growth is not "exponential", it is only a significant jump compared to history, and it ends. Only because a jump in a different technology niche follows and futurists stop thinking about the previous jump anymore - that new tech is by now commenplace - doesn't mean that technology as such is developing at exponential rate and leading to a singularity.

Look at previous jumps in innovation: Steam, atomic power, plastics - each time when we were in their golden ages, people expected a superbright future based on these innovations.

> We live in the Golden Age of computing.

Indeed. And in history, each of those golden ages ended.


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Kurzweil

Posted Jun 19, 2008 11:03 UTC (Thu) by corbet (editor, #1) [Link]

You missed the book suggestion - it is a worthwhile read - at least much of the first half of it is. One of the things he asserts is that the exponential growth we are seeing now is not "present development"; it is, instead, a trend which has been going on for a good two billion years. Contemporary electronics is just the current substrate upon which the growth of complexity is being carried out.

The notion of the singularity, incidentally, is not necessarily as utopian as you suggest here.

I'm not saying that arguments like Kurzweil's are necessarily correct - no doubt there's plenty of ways to poke holes in them. But it's best to understand them first.

Kurzweil

Posted Jun 19, 2008 11:17 UTC (Thu) by Hanno (guest, #41730) [Link]

You missed the book suggestion

I read it and found it interesting and tiring.

the exponential growth we are seeing now

...would only be "exponential" if it continued. Previously in history, humanity experienced a short period of exponential growth in steam, plastics, atomic power. Where is that exponential innovation now?

Painting this as a trend for two billion years is the result of cherrypicking datapoints.

Kurzweil

Posted Jun 21, 2008 0:25 UTC (Sat) by wahern (subscriber, #37304) [Link]

I haven't read the book, but it seems to me that the point is that certain advancements in
computation are universal, and previous industries can be considered as serial advancements in
(or facilitators of) general computational capabilities. So it doesn't matter that
advancements in steam engines were finite; rather that subsequent advancements made possible
by steam engines, no matter the material industry, had the effect of in kind furthering
[exponential] growth in computational capabilities in general.

Theoretical computational advancement can continually progress as long as materials science,
no matter how disjoint, continually provides sufficient capabilities for the realization of
the next rung on the theoretical ladder.

The overall argument is not particularly persuasive, I agree, but not obviously fallacious.

The Kernel Hacker's Bookshelf: Ultimate Physical Limits of Computation

Posted Jun 19, 2008 13:12 UTC (Thu) by dskoll (subscriber, #1630) [Link]

Yes, Kurzweil's book does have the tone of religious fervour.  I'm not saying I agree with
everything he says, just that the book was interesting.

I'd read it more as a science-fiction extrapolation that non-fiction.

The Kernel Hacker's Bookshelf: Ultimate Physical Limits of Computation

Posted Jun 19, 2008 13:35 UTC (Thu) by nix (subscriber, #2304) [Link]

I find Vinge's original concept of the technological singularity to be much more interesting
than Kurzweil's accelerating-progress thing, which suffers from severe selection bias: had he
written that book in 1920, it would have been obvious that an avionics singularity was
approaching by, say, 1990. It didn't happen, because progress in single technological fields
follows S-shaped curves, not exponential ones.


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