Saturday, December 30, 2006

The Singularity is Near, But Scarcity is Closer

You have probably heard of Zeno, a fellow who is credited with identifing several mathemathical paradoxes, including the dichotomy paradox. This one states that is order to go from point A to point B you have to go through the middle, and since there's always a middle to go through you never get to point B.

I've been reading a bit of Ray Kurzweil and really enjoying his work. Ray is a very visionary guy and when reading his work I was wondering about the middle points we will need to go through. In this article, I pick out a few middle points that will take some doing to get over.

  • Peak Copper - We are going to need a large amount of this metal to bridge the physical gaps in the network infrastructure so we can all talk to each other, and it looks like we won't have enough to outfit newly developing countries in the manner that developed ones did. That would be ok if they used something else (like wireless) but they aren't. Gold doesn't look so abundant either, another necessary component for a lot of communication gear.
  • People are Dumb - By Ray's own definition, the human race is capped off at about 10 to the 26 power of calculations per second. Now if we are going to interface with all these machines that will be exponentially faster, we are going to be a real bottleneck, particularly since we will only have a very small fraction of that calcualting power targeted towards this topic. The rest will be blown on silly stuff like playing doom on the OLPC, watching NASCAR, and changing poopy diapers. I seriously wonder whether enough people care about promoting the capabilities of the human race to get there. And finally, the big one:
  • Computing is About Power - Power, in the sense that we primarily use the power of computers to leverage our power over other human beings, and to get what we want on a personal level. We use them to send spam, target missiles, view the latest playboy centerfold. It's a control thing, a chimpanzee thing which has been with us forever. And I just don't see people embracing a machine that's 10,000 times smarter than themselves to do anything that will remotely affect their life without having the opportunity to subvert it whenever they want. We are a little too scarce on controlling our emotions for that one to happen.

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