Member 2562
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(M, 30)
Davis, US
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    Accelerating change and our experience of the future
    Project: Polytopia

    Learning about Fractals, Chaos, and Complex Systems has really changed my worldview, and especially my understanding of how the world works physically. I recently wrote an essay where I analyzed the Internet as a complex adaptive system, and one of the main points of it was that the Internet is radically transforming the world by connecting over a billion individuals to each other and an incredible body of knowledge.

    Anyway, the consequences of the internet is that not only is technology accelerating - the rate of change of culture, of global knowledge, even of history, is changing. It makes sense, if you consider for a minute, that in one year of growth of, say, 2060-2061, the technological change would be orders of magnitude greater than the change from 2008-2009. In the first decade of the millenium, we've made more technological progress than in the few dozen decades before that, or something; I'm not sure exactly. Go ask Ray Kurzweil, he'll tell you what the values are. Where we are in history is pretty incredible. We're riding the exponential curve, and today we are at the "knee" of the curve. That area where the thing just takes off. For e^(x), it happens at 0. The thing is, in an exponential curve, before a certain x value, the curve looks linear, and can be really closely approximated by a line of best fit. That's why a lot of people have the misconception that whatever we did in the last 30 years is about the same as what we're going to do in the next 30. Until now, that was true. Where we are in history is the place where global change can no longer be measured as linear. We're exponential now, people.

    Most people will agree that 2000-2009 saw greater or, at least equal (technological) change than from 1930-1960,

    an entire thirty years. But just imagine the last decade's worth of progress being done in just one or two years - we're going to experience that. Soon. And if you keep that trend up, it becomes pretty staggering to project in your mind what the world will look like in our lifetimes - in 2030, in 2050... Just a few decades from now, medical technology will be incredible. We'll think back to today as if we were still putting leeches on people... or still performing lobotomies. Of course, no one knows the future. Technological growth could turn out to be a logistic curve, with an asymptote to an upper value, if we run out of resources/pass the carrying capacity of the Earth, but somehow I doubt it. I have faith that the upcoming revolution in energy technology will solve a lot of infrastructure and environmental problems that we have now.

    Another idea I had was that as the flow of information increases, it is somewhat akin to making finer and finer partitions in a riemann sum, or taking the limit of a derivative, except the Y axis is the human experience of culture/history. For example, communication was very, very slow before the invention of the telegraph, and the "radius of communication" was quite small. The telegraph was a revolution in communication. Then came newspapers, the telephone, the television, the internet, then cell phones, social networking sites, text messaging, and social networking sites on cellphones. With each of these, not only did the rate of communication increase exponentially, but so does the size of the radius of communication.

    Just consider the progress there, too. Facebook literally updates in real-time. I've seen comments being posted as I was viewing the page, or on my live feed. The timestamp on the post also changes in real time, from "posted a few seconds ago" to "posted a month ago". [Edit: today 4/10/10 ~4:00pm, Facebook broke the event about a magnitude 6.9 earthquake WELL before any news... as time goes on, we will need to mark the hour of each event for greater precision...] Thanks to websites, we also have access to more news than ever before, so we experience the flow of history "more" per unit time. If you watch the Daily Show - which I find brilliant - you'll notice that it has sort of a "meta-news" thing going on. Whether they're being satirical or dead serious, a lot of the time they play news clips from other news stations, commenting on the system of news distribution itself, not just providing news. Facebook is a meta-analysis of your friends, your life, and the totality of you and your friends' lives. A browser history is a meta-analysis, and the folks at Microsoft Live Labs have made an impressive program called "Pivot" which has a LOT of potential by visually meta-analyzing websites and histories. And referencing my other main point, we're gonna have things in 5-10 years that'll make facebook look like the telegraph, or the 360 look like an N64, or an iPhone 3GS look like one of those ugly piece of shit cell phones that weighed over a pound they had in the early 90s. I know my calc/math metaphor isn't absolutely solid, but it's the best way I can convey the idea that I have. I suppose the equivalent of "taking the limit" on this "experience of culture" curve in real life would be if we were all continually, constantly linked with everyone else to the point we experienced every change, globally, as it happened, collectively. Sounds like some weird utopia or dystopia, depending on your viewpoint.

    What this all means, I think, is that we're in for a hell of a ride.

    Sat, Mar 20, 2010  Permanent link

    Sent to project: Polytopia
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