Law of Accelerating Returns
Kurzweil, in his 1999 book ‘The Age of Spiritual Machines’ proposed ‘the law of accelerating returns’ to which the rate of exchange in a variety of evolutionary systems (which includes but is not limited to growth technologies) increases exponentially.
In 2001, he provided more focus to the issue in the essay entitled ‘The Law of Accelerating Returns’. He argued after Moraveck that extending Moore’s law for purposes of describing exponential growth of different forms of technological progress. According to him, whenever technology approaches some form of barrier, a new one is invented in order to allow us to cross that barrier.
He goes ahead to cite past examples that substantiate his assertions. Kurzweil predicts that such paradigm shifts have and will continue to be increasingly common and lead to technological change that is profound and rapid which will represent the rupture in the fabric of human history. He believes that this law implies by the 21st century (around 2045), a technological singularity will occur.
Observations of law of accelerating returns can be highlighted as follows:
- Positive feedback is applied by evolution in the more capable techniques that result from one evolutionary progress stage to another.
- The rate of progress of evolutionary progress increases over time exponentially. Over a certain duration, the ‘order’ of information that is embedded in evolutionary process increases
- ‘Returns’ of evolutionary process for instance computation becomes cost effective, greater resources get deployed towards further progress of the process. This results to a 2nd level of exponential growth
The public perception of Moore’s law has been greatly altered. It is common yet mistakenly believed that Moore’s law makes predictions on all forms of technology. In actual sense, the law is only concerned with semiconductor circuits. There are many futurists who to date, use Moore’s law to describe ideas like those ones that are put forth by Kurzweil, Moraveck and others.
Kurzweil argues that since the start of evolution, there are complex forms of life that have been evolving at an exponentially faster rate with short and shorter intervals noted between the emergency of radically new forms of life for instance human beings have the ability to engineer new traits that replace relatively blind evolutionary mechanisms of selection for purposes of efficiency.
By extension, he also argues that the rate of technical progress made amongst humans has been increasing exponentially as well as people discover more effective ways of learning such as written language, numbers, scientific method, tallying devices, mechanical calculators, computers and instruments of observation etc as well as new effective ways of doing things. Each of these advances makes it possible for people to account for information.
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