Tuesday, June 10, 2008
Why so slow?
John Tierney of the New York times shows a figure from Ray Kurzweil of a log-log plot of the time between changes in history, such as the appearance of life multicellular organisms to new technologies like televisions and computers. His graph shows power law scaling with an exponent of negative one, which I obtained by eyeballing the curve. In other words, if dT is the time between the appearance of the next great change then it scales as 1/T where T is the time. I haven't read Kurzweil's book so maybe I'm misinterpreting the graph. The fact that there is scaling over such a long time is interesting but I want to discuss a different point. Let's take the latter part of the curve regarding technological innovation. Kurzweil's argument is that the pace of change is accelerating so we'll soon be enraptured in the Singularity (see previous post). However, the rate of appearance of new ideas seems to be only increasing linearly with T. So the number of new ideas are accumulating as T^2, which is far from exponential. Additionally, the population is increasing exponentially (at least in the last few hundred years). Hence the number of ideas per person is obeying t^2 Exp(-t). I'm not sure where we are on the curve but after an initial increase, the number of ideas per person actually decreases exponentially. I was proposing in the last post that the number of good ideas was scaling with the population but according to Kurzweil I was being super optimistic. Did I make a mistake somewhere?