limits to exponential growth (RE: Other signposts towards the Singularity)

From: Ben Houston (
Date: Mon Jul 23 2001 - 13:03:44 MDT

>The doubling time in productivity decreased from
>33 years in the 50's to 17 years in the 90's.
>Extrapolating the trend indicates infinite
>in the 2030's, i.e. a Singularity.

Probably not. Do you not think that there might be some factors that may
invalidate your extrapolation of exponential growth? Many things follow an
exponential growth curve for a while and then level off.

Technological adoption and population growth (see Thomas Malthus) are two
classic examples. Technological adoption is an interesting one in my mind
and relevant to our purpose here. It follows something that economists call
an "S-curve". A new product obviously starts off with no users and it
slowly starts to grow. If it is a technology that is of us to most people
(i.e. computers, cell phones) it will grow for quite a while but at some
point it reaches a saturation point. Once everyone has a cell phone it's
becomes a little harder to sell phones (i.e. the replacement phone market is
limited to something like 15 % of the population per year) and this can be
significantly lower than the growth was just prior to the saturation point
(50% per year in the case of cell phones).

Many people have experienced first hand the pitfalls of naively believing
exponential growth can be sustained over the long run (especially to the
point were it become a ridiculous notion) - that is how Nortel lost 19.6
billion this quarter and how many investors loss their millions in the stock
bubble market.

-ben houston

-----Original Message-----
From: []On Behalf Of
Dani Eder
Sent: Monday, July 23, 2001 2:38 PM
Subject: Other signposts towards the Singularity

Most of us on this list are familiar with Moore's Law,
which posits a fixed doubling time for number of
transistors on a chip or processing power/$. More
recently Moravec and Kurzweil have noted how the
time for computation/$ has gradually shortened from
about 3 years early in the 20th century to about 12-15
months currently.

I took a look at manufacturing productivity and found
a similar faster-than-exponential growth is occurring.
The data are from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics
measure output per labor hour for all US manufacturing

The rate of increase in productivity per year was
2.1% in the 50's, 2.5% in the 60's, 2.6% in the 70's
2.9% in the 80's, and 4.1% in the 90's. The
first half of the 90's it was 3.2%, and in the
second half of the 90's it was 4.9%.

The doubling time in productivity decreased from
33 years in the 50's to 17 years in the 90's.
Extrapolating the trend indicates infinite
in the 2030's, i.e. a Singularity.


I have an interest in the history of technology and
like to take a long view. I trace the current run
up to the Singularity as starting around 1000 AD as
Europe comes out of the Dark Ages and starts the
positive feedback loop of technology. Since then,
each invention that allows more population, and
more of that population to be doing non-menial
tasks has increased brainpower available for
further invention. Improvements in knowledge
distribution, from the printing press to the Web,
have made the available brainpower more efficient.


With or without a transhuman AI, we are headed for
a future that is radically different. Once various
industries are sufficiently automated, we will
have an economic system that requires minimal work
to operate. What will civilization be like when
everyone can pursue their interests rather than what
has to be done to keep food on the table and a
roof over your head? What will government be
like when you can have a "seed factory" or "seed
robot" that can produce copies of itself as well
as anything else you need. AI and nanotech are
not required for these "seeds", just high-grade

I don't know the answers to these questions, but I
do believe strongly that our technological
civilization is headed that way, and we'll get
there in a generation or so at most. See you there.


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