Exponential Change Theory
It is a bit trite to think that the moment we live in is really so important to the entirety of humanity and civilization. Magazine articles scream that we are at an incredible “crossroads” or that we are approaching dangerous “turning point.” But if we step back from our moment in time, we will see that we are just a dot on the curve of exponential change. If it seems that events are happening faster, then it’s because they are.
There are a number of theories that explain this. There is Moore’s Law, Kurzweil’s Accelerating Returns, and Singularity. All of them lead to a rather bleak possibility – human extinction. There is some unknown “turning point” where technological growth becomes uncontrollable and irreversible in terms of the fate of humanity. Quite simply we create our own extinction. This extinction foretold by futurist like Stephen Hawking and Elon Musk need not be the pure technology of artificial intelligence run amok (Sparks, 2020).
One of the ideas that I will posit and explore here will be the change has two modalities. There is the naturally occurring organic change and there is the artificially induced change. Thus the observation of “Either you manage change or change manages you.” But more on that later.
As we have seen more of in recent years, change may not be technological. It could also be biological. We could unleash a pandemic so virulent and fast that humanity could be sent back to the Stone Age in a matter of days. Either of these scenarios, technology or biological requires and emergency plan of epic proportions. For example, if there is an outbreak of a truly deadly virus, then we would we have the foresight to ground all air travel. Would the world leaders in the North America, Europe and Asia have the hutzpah to pull up the drawbridge and stop the air travel disease carriers? Social distancing is greater than six feet. Pandemics are continental.
There are three predominant change theories to consider.
Moore’s Law. Gordon Moore, the co-founder of Intel, predicted the doubling every year in the number of components per integrated circuits. This became the accepted norm or “law” and was the driving force of technological and social change, productivity and economic growth in the later 20th Century (Takahishi, 2005).
Kurzweil Law of Accelerating Returns. Ray Kurzweil prediction of technological evolution was quite dire. He foresaw, “technological change so rapid and profound it represents a rupture in the fabric of human history” and that a technological singularity will over by 2045. The result will be the “merger of biological and nonbiological intelligence, immortal software-based humans, and ultra-high levels of intelligence that expand outward in the universe at the speed of light” (Kurzwiel, 2001).
Vinge Theory of Technological Singularity. Many of the great thinkers of our day are projecting the end of humanity at the hands (or bits) of artificial intelligence. The term for this is “singularity.” It was coined by John von Neuman and popularized by Vernor Vinge in his 1993 essay The Coming Technological Singularity (Vinge, 1993). In his writings he envisioned it happening by 2030. Both Stephen Hawking and Elon Musk believed that AI could overtake humans and result in human extinction (Sparkes, 2020). I think that the end of humanity via technology is overblown.
I think that we should be able to manage technology unless some morons unleash it in a Wuhan Laboratory. I am more concerned that the combination of AI and robotics will cause widespread unemployment. Humanity has transitioned from working 24/7 to Sundays off for Church to a 5-day work week. Many companies in Europe are starting to move to a 4-day work week. The coronavirus has made teleworking the “new normal.” I think that what may happen is an entirely new economy built on leisure time.
Carson’s Theory of the Half Life of Technology. I will peg the starting point of the growth in human technology to Gutenberg’s Bible and the use of movable type. However, my graph is the inverse of the accelerating growth (see Figure _). I am worried that we are dealing with an exponential deceleration where the speed of bio/technological change reaches a terminus for humanity as we know it.
I use the metaphor of the half-life of radioactive decay. Radioactive decay is the time it takes to exponentially terminate the radioactivity. For example, the half-life of uranium is 4.5 billion years. Carbon is 5,730 years and Plutonium is 5 hours (Figure 1.1). It is worth noting that radiocarbon dating is how we determine the age of inanimate objects.
Am I projecting the extinction of the human race? Without a doubt. Quite frankly, we could end up a moving beyond the Borg of Star Trek, who are half human and half machine, and download our thoughts into a computer brain. The idea of the humanoid robot can be dated back to Leonardo da Vinci’s Automaton knight of 1495 (Figure 1.2). The first Gutenberg Bible is dated to 1454. And the New World is dated to 1492.
Carson’s Theory puts us in year 566 (2020-1454) on deceleration curve. We already are on the trajectory in terms of artificial limbs and organs. So, when does humanity as an evolutionary organic being end?
I don’t know because I am not that smart. The variables of gene splicing, nano technology, DNA manipulation, and artificial intelligence are all on the timeline. Ecocide (ecological), ecophagy (nanotechnology), micro-blackhole (molecular), and eschatology (theology) all have their predictions.
However, Kurzwiel says that "I set the date for the Singularity—representing a profound and disruptive transformation in human capability—as 2045” (Figure 1.3). (Wikipedia). If I take Kurzwiel seriously, and after the coronavirus pandemic I do, then we are 96 percent of the way to the tipping point. Note that I say “tipping point” and not “end point.” Because Carson’s Theory does not project the end of humanity – just its transmogrification.