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Exceptionally Stupid

June 30, 2011

I was thinking the other day how deceptive exponential growth is, since we humans are more or less hardwired for linear changes. It’s therefore no big surprise that I fucked up in my rambling on the cultural singularity. For some reason I managed to think that increased change would make doublings arrive closer together in time.

That is of course wrong.

If time between doubling A and B is a hundred years, then so will the time between B and C. Nevertheless, an imagined linear plot of change would have to be steeper. In reality the line is never… um… linear, but curved.

So the part about young people having experienced more doublings is wrong. Even so, they will still hit a point in time were the speed of change is too fast for their parents to cope with, but not for them.

The distance between two doublings is like the distance between marks on a yardstick; they’re evenly spaced out. What really happens is that each step is worth as much as all preceding steps added together.

This has an interesting implication. Suppose the step-size is less than the average lifespan of a human; that would mean that a person could in their lifetime see the same amount of cultural change that the entire human species has seen up until the moment of birth for that person.

Let’s not congratulate ourselves too much; if this is all true, it has been true for everyone who ever lived.


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