Alref Nordmann writes in IEEE Spectrum of how technological progress is, contrary to the promises of singularitarians like Ray Kurzweil, actually slowing down:
Technological optimists maintain that the impact of innovation on our lives is increasing, but the evidence goes the other way. The author’s grand mother lived from the 1880s through the 1960s and witnessed the adoption of electricity, phonographs, telephones, radio, television, airplanes, antibiotics, vacuum tubes, transistors, and the automobile. In 1924 she became one of the first in her neighborhood to own a car. The author contends that the inventions unveiled in his own lifetime have made a far smaller difference.
Even if we were to accept, for the sake of argument, that technological innovation has truly accelerated, the line leading to the singularity would still be nothing but the simple-minded extrapolation of an existing pattern. Moore’s Law has been remarkably successful at describing and predicting the development of semiconductors, in part because it has molded that development, ever since the semiconductor manufacturing industry adopted it as its road map and began spending vast sums on R&D to meet its requirements.
there is nothing wrong with the singular simplicity of the singularitarian myth—unless you have something against sloppy reasoning, wishful thinking, and an invitation to irresponsibility.
This is the same point made by Paul Krugman recently. Nordmann points out that most of the major life-changing technological changes of the past 100 years had all already happened by about the 1960s, with the IT revolution of the last fifty years being pretty much the only major source of technological change to impact him over his lifetime.
This arguments suggests that the lifestyle of citizens industrialised countries will remain fairly stable for a lengthy period of time. It raises the serious point that the best we can hope for vis a vis technological change over the next few decades will just be incremental improvements to existing technologies, and greater adoption of technologies by people in poorer countries.
This would be no bad thing of course, but the suggestion that Ray Kurzweil’s revolutions in nanotechnology, genetics, biotechnology, and artifical intelligence may not arrive as early as Kurzweil predicts is pretty disappointing.
It could be that, to paraphrase William Gibson, the future is in fact here, it’s just not evenly distributed.
: By “major source of technological change” I mean things like antibiotics, mass personal transport, and heavier-than-air flight. There certainly have been improvements in all these areas in the last 50 years, and much wider adoption, but these have not had as great an initial impact.
[from IEEE Spectrum, via Slashdot][image from Matthew Clark Photography & Design on flickr]