The future is already here, and it’s reasonably evenly distributed

This video from 1981 (hat tip: Jerry Brito) shows the remarkable progress of information technology in recent years.

That which which seemed amazing yesterday is taken for granted today. Hyperland (1990) from Douglas Adams is even more remarkable in how exciting it made hypertext seem.

If we think back even further, someone 300 years ago would find the way we live today – or even the way we did in 1981 – absolutely unimaginable. Talking to someone on the other side of the world through some strange contraption? Witchcraft! This is why we shouldn’t discount future technological innovations – indefinite lifespans, bioengineered superintelligence, desktop nanotech – based on their pure strangeness and unfamiliarity. We are in the midst of self-reinforcing and accelerating economic growth. Decent institutional arrangements have allowed markets and other means of technological innovation to produce new knowledge at an unprecedented rate. Knowledge begets more knowledge, as we use past innovations to more effectively produce new ones.

This sort of growth is not the norm if we consider human history as a whole, and it’s possible that an exogenous shock could force us out of our positive feedback loop. I wouldn’t bet on that happening, and think those in the near future will have levels of wealth and capabilities only the most imaginative of us can dream of today. We tend not to notice change as it’s happening, but its cumulative effect is enormous. The Singularity will come, but nobody will notice it.

2 Responses

  1. Now I see where http://www.stuff.co.nz got their inspiration for the latest upgrade. 1981 was a great year though.

  2. […] and maturity, and that is exactly what it is when we can’t avoid death. Most people, for lack of imagination, continue to see a normal lifespan as the best they can hope […]

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