18 August 2005

The Exponential Growth of Knowledge

If time is the horizontal axis and knowledge is the vertical axis, the resulting curve takes on an exponential shape with a vertical asymptote placed along the time axis somewhere before the end of the present century, perhaps before mid-century. A lot of assumptions are involved, but the underlying idea is sound.

Some people call the vertical asymptote on the graph "the singularity." The singularity being the point of no return, the point in time when humans accumulate so much knowledge that the knowledge feeds upon itself in a positive feedback loop that takes the curve truly vertical.

A lot of things can stop human progress between now and then. Nuclear war, a large asteroid strike, inter-civilisational wars of a global nature, massive releases of chemical and biological contaminants, toxicants, and pathogens . . . In many countries electricity generation is so centralised as to be vulnerable to multiple large-scale attacks. The same is true for fuel supply for transportation. Without electricity and transportation, the western world would crash. Food could not get to the consumer, water could not be pumped and purified, hospitals could not store blood or medicines safely, all the high tech equipment the western world depends on would turn into expensive landfill garbage.

People talk about large scale economic disruption, but as long as there is electricity and transportation, with provision of edible food and clean water, the economy can bounce back. Without the basics, the economy is done. With a long-term economic crash, human research and progress will slow to a crawl. There would be no increase in intelligence, longevity, or miracle cures for spinal cord injuries, cancer, heart , lung and liver disease, etc.

The western world is the heart of secular liberal democracy, the rule of law, orderly government, and the scientific approach to knowledge acquisition. The Anglosphere of English speaking nations is the "Sanctum Sanctorum" of the western world, the heart of hearts. As long as the Anglosphere is kept safe and free from excessive interference from outside ideological interests, the knowledge singularity will arrive eventually.

What we need to do, as preparers of the ground, is to develop better methods of modeling knowledge, in more dynamic and interactive ways. It is important to decentralise this better modeled knowledge. It is also important to decentralise the production of electric power, at least significant backup power, and to develop alternative fuels for transportation that can be easily produced in emergency, albeit at higher costs than we are currently accustomed to.

The more difficult it is to crash western civilisation, the more likely the singularity appears on the horizon. We have to plan as if it is coming, at the same time we are planning to ensure that it does come.


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“During times of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act” _George Orwell

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