The Singularity Is Near (2005) shows how evolution is drawing ever closer to a dramatic new phase, in that by 2029, computers will be smarter than humans, and not just in terms of logic and math. This event will not only profoundly change how we live but also pose serious questions about humanity’s future.
Think about how many major technological changes your grandparents may have witnessed during their lifetimes. Now, think about the changes you’ve seen over just the last 15 years.
Stunning how far technology has advanced in such a short period of time, right?
It’s evident that, as time passes, things are changing more rapidly. History tells us that the rate of change has been growing exponentially.
Roughly 3.8 billion years ago, single-celled life on earth evolved slowly. It took some 2 billion years for multicellular organisms to emerge.
Yet gradually, the process of evolution gained momentum. For example, there were only 200 million years between the first mammals and the evolution of Homo sapiens.
If you were to draw a graph showing major evolutionary development on earth, you’d see that evolution does indeed move faster with the passing of time. The same can be said for the rate of technological evolution.
Technological development is also accelerating. Some 50,000 years ago, discoveries such as making fire were few and far between, occuring every 1,000 years or so. Compare this rate with today, where it’s a challenge to list the gadgets and revelations of just last year.
Importantly, the returns of this accelerating process of evolution are also accelerating.
For instance, computer speed in cost per unit doubled every three years between 1910 and 1950, then every two years between 1950 and 1966; today, it’s doubling each year.
This exponential development in technology is known as the “Law of Accelerating Returns.”
We know that the greatest triumphs in each stage of development help to form the next. For example, biological evolution resulted in Homo sapiens; humans then invented technology, and the best technologies are used to develop even better technologies.
It follows then that eventually, supersmart computers will be able to design superior technologies themselves and in doing so, further speed up technological evolution.