Definition of the Day – Venture Capitalist: Someone who leases power to command invention and intellect.
Watched Freakonomics last night. Almost painfully weak. Apparently societies are too complicated for successful government intervention, but human behaviour all comes down to ‘incentives.’ What begins as an interesting foray into the utility of data mining turns into an embarrassingly weak bid to confirm a discredited ideology. Incentives are merely a fraction of the human picture.
Regarding some of your comments on my last post: the age of technological stasis–or even gradualism–is behind us, I’m afraid. Certain technologies (with profound social repercussions) will encounter technical, resource contingent barriers, certainly, but not at the same time. Meanwhile, our ability to circumvent predicted ceilings in surprising ways will continue to surprise us. So, while we may have reached the limits of traditional semiconductor based information processing, a whole bevy of options have suddenly popped into existence. Silicon stacking. Graphene. Nanowiring. Bioprocessing. Moore’s Law may be dead as a metric, but it will likely hold as a principle.
Then there’s the issue of applications, many, if not most, of which don’t become apparent until after a field of research has reached economic maturity.
This is related to the issue of universality: the fact that so many of our innovations lack ‘microwavishness,’ which is to say, they refuse to find a functional niche and just stay there, like a good microwave.
Then there’s innumerable consequences that will follow upon our reverse engineering of biology: our social relationships are so dependent upon our shared and hitherto largely immutable physiology, that rendering this one particular domain transparent to human instrumentalization literally constitutes a pandora’s box of possibility.
Then there’s nanotech. Yeesh.
One way, for instance, to understand the collapse of the Soviet Union, is in terms of the efflorescence of occupations. The trend in market economies is one of spontaneous, inexorable vocational complication. My wife, when she used to be a job counsellor for foreign professionals, often complained about the way the list of professional occupations just kept growing and growing and growing. Could you imagine a central planner thumbing through those lists trying to force feed all those occupations into their economy? The more technically complicated a society becomes, the more technically complicated a society becomes. Innovation becomes ever more distributed, difficult to predict and to control.
And to think that over half the human race is just climbing aboard the higher education, research train.
Everything is a ‘knock-on effect’ as it is, but as innovations proliferate and the knock-on effects branch and branch and branch, the continuity of the status quo becomes ever more unstable, to the point where predictability collapses altogether–this a rough and ready way to understand the ‘singularity.’
Buckle up. And fret for your children.