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    The human species is rapidly and indisputably moving towards the technological singularity. The cadence of the flow of information and innovation in...

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    The history of the concept of Accelerating Change
    Project: Polytopia

    Here is an interesting introduction to the history of the concept of accelerating change, found in Acceleration Watch website.

    On the idea of progress in antiquity:

    To consider the origins of the idea of accelerating change, we should briefly go back to a much earlier one, that of progress itself. As Historian J.D. Bury reminds us (The Idea of Progress, 1920), the idea of progress in any human domain other than spiritual (e.g., social, intellectual, technical), versus stasis, moral decline, or cyclic fluctuation, has been a quite recent emergence in human history. We see no evidence for it at the start of human civilization in Mesopotamia with the Sumerians, circa 3,500 B.C.. Surprisingly, it was missed entirely by Greek civilization during its "Golden Age" of imperial democracy and scientific flowering, 500-300 B.C. Even the rise of the Roman empire was not explicitly (e.g., in the written record) associated with progress! Consider the historical context. Great empires had a long history of rising and falling. Most intelligent folk simply could not believe in the idea of continual progress when the pay for the Roman soldier was a fixed number of denari for the last three centuries of Roman rule (e.g., 100-400 A.D). The idea became further untenable in the West as Rome itself collapsed, as city sizes shrunk, and as Europe entered long political and ideological eras of escalating warfare and repression.


    And a bit later...

    The idea finally infected the public consciousness during the European Enlightenment (mid 17th and 18th centuries), beginning with such thinkers as Renes Descartes (Discourse on Method, 1637), Blaise Pascal (Pensees, 1660), and Jean-Jacques Rousseau. A century later, American philosopher-statesmen such as Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and Benjamin Franklin would greatly strengthen and extend Enlightenment ideals and ideas in the political domain. Technological progress in particular was promoted by such scholars as Anne-R-J Turgot, Reflections on Formation and Distribution of Wealth, 1766, who noted the "inevitable" march of technological progress that had occurred even during Medieval Europe. Peripheral observations on the inexorable quickening of technology also appeared in Adam Smith's writings (1723-1790). In An Enquiry Concerning Political Justice, 1793, the transcendentalist philosopher William Godwin predicted that advancing knowledge and information dissemination must lead to the ascendancy of mind over matter, including a shrinking of the importance of the state relative to the individual, an eventual “total extirpation of the infirmities of our nature,” and extension of human life “beyond any limits which we are able to assign.” Curiously, he also predicted the decline of biological procreation as part of this transition, a phenomenon that has been observed in all first world countries in recent decades.


    The first appearance of the Law of acceleration

    All of this set the stage for a historian by the name of Henry Adams, who in the 1890's began documenting the rapid development of science and technology at the turn of the century. It was Adams, observing the profound new forces of the dynamo, the internal combustion engine, and the railroad, who was apparently the first in the written record to explore the idea of the inevitable acceleration of progress leading to a coming global "phase change" (commendably, he even used this physical analogy) in environmental dynamics. A century later, the mathematician and science fiction author Vernor Vinge would aptly term this phase transition a "technological singularity."

    Adams was the great-grandson of U.S. President John Adams (the second President of the U.S.) and grandson of John Quincy Adams (sixth President of the U.S.), so he had daunting shoes to fill. He rose to this challenge by becoming one of the most thoughtful historians of technology that we have yet had. Adams', The Education of Henry Adams, 1918, is considered one the greatest autobiographies in U.S. history.

    Adams technological singularity insights first appear in rough form in "A Law of Acceleration", an essay written in 1904 in which he first surmises the existence of "A law of acceleration, definite and constant as any law of mechanics, [which] cannot be supposed to relax its energy to suit the convenience of man."


    Read the rest of it here

    Sun, Jan 6, 2008  Permanent link
    Categories: Singularity, Accelerating change
    Sent to project: Polytopia
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