Re: Rate of change (was Re: 'a process of non-thinking called faith')

From: Jeff Medina (
Date: Thu Feb 16 2006 - 10:41:19 MST

On 2/16/06, Philip Goetz <> wrote:
> Here's a list for 1970-present:

This list looks incredibly whittled down away from reality, Phil.
You've left out so many great developments, and yet included nonsense
like "McCarthyism" (you really can't think of equally significant
instances of blacklisting BS pre-1934 and post-1970?) and "affordable
air travel" (you really can't think of loads of great technologies
that became affordable post-1970?) and postmodernism and
psychoanalysis (both steps *backwards*, not progress) as significant
in the pre-1970 list.

Some examples that lead me to the view that your take on this is
skewed follow, mostly inline with your list, but more in the areas I
tend to know more about (list-creator bias, as elaborated on a bit
later in this paragraph). Note that I have *not* done exhaustive
research on overall technology acceleration/deceleration trends, and
don't go touting my opinion in either direction. Really, my underlying
point in responding is not that you're wrong, Phil (though I think you
probably are); it's that technological, scientific, & cultural
development has far too many data points for any list created by a
single person to be useful for showing anything other than that
person's background knowledge and biases, with some relatively
negligible randomness injected for the genuine attempt at searching
through history texts in attempts to create an unbiased list.

And, further, why all the emphasis on whether or not technology *is*
accelerating? If a person is enthusiastic about possible future
technological developments, he or she should *work on or donate to or
otherwise support* accelerating those developments whether or not the
trend-without-your-contribution is accelerating or decelerating,
instead of sitting around debating how fast the
great-technology-they're-not-helping-advance is or isn't advancing,

> Transportation: airline deregulation, Space Shuttle

SpaceShipOne; automated ground vehicle transport (cf., DARPA Grand
Challenge success); GPS and interactive, real-time map systems in cars
for the public; commercially viable electric and hybrid cars

> Theory: QED, nanotechnology, global warming

Quantum computation theory; inflationary cosmology; quantum cosmology;
Fermat's Last Theorem; the Standard Model of Physics (how'd you miss
this? did you try at ALL to do anything other than validate your
intuition? wtf?); high-temperature superconductivity; vulnerability of
the ozone layer discovered; chaos & fractals; de Gennes' polymer &
liquid crystal theory; SENS; WMAP & COBE; punctuated equilibrium;
fluid mosaic model of the cell; RNA evolution; prions; proof of the
Four Color Theorem; non-commutative geometry; polynomial time
primality testing; Bierbach conjecture; classification of finite
simple groups

Also, you attribute string theory to pre-1970, but only the original
notion was pre-1970 (1968, to be exact). The VAST majority of
development & discovery in the field is post-1970. Supersymmetry,
M-theory, D-branes, loop quantum gravity, superstring theory,
gravitons, etc., are all post-1970.

> Invented: high-temperature superconductors, smart materials, quantum wells

Scanning tunnelling microscope; genetic algorithms; field-programmable
gate arrays; object-oriented design patterns; silicon chips available
for computer memory; Apple II & IBM PC; Compact Discs; viable
human-interface silicon chip transponders (Warwick); first use of the
laser in surgery; videophones; limited sight returned to the blind
(and in general many brain-computer interface advancements); and
saying "the Internet" is BS, like saying "physics" and thinking you've
gone into enough detail -- there are many significant advances in
internet technology worth enumerating based on the
level-of-significance you've set down in your list by example; quantum
computation implementations; DNA computing tech; Bose-Einstein
condensate synthesized; Jeffreys' genetic fingerprinting.

Discoveries of interstellar carbon monoxide and molecular hydrogen in
space. Reverse transcriptase. Synthetic vitamin B-12. Non-aqueous
enzyme function. First virus produced "from scratch". Dubnium,
Seaborgium, Bohrium, Meitnerium, Hassium, Darmstadtium, Roentgenium,
Ununbium, Ununquadium, Ununhexium.

Microcomputers; RSA encryption; Boyer-Moore string search; Lempel-Ziv algorithms
Simulated annealing; C and C++; Dynamic RAM; UNIX; e-mail; first
portable electronic calculator; first computer with a parallel

Vaccines for rubella, chicken pox, pneumonia, meningitis, hepatitis B,
flu (HiB), hepatitis A, lyme disease, rotavirus.

First successful separation of occipital craniopagus twins; IVF
pregnancy; artificial heart

Ethernet; Heimlich maneuver; Scramjet; Gore-Tex; laserdisc; polymerase
chain reaction; DVDs; iPod; digital satellite radio

> Society: Iraq wars, Watergate, gay rights, end of cold war, globalization, AIDS

The animal rights movement; fall of the Berlin wall / German
re-unification; fall of the USSR; Hubble becomes operational; Milgram
experiment; Godel Escher Bach; cyborg feminism; transhumanist movement
(we remember that one, don't we?); Anarchy State and Utopia; and so
very much else, but I'm off to do something more useful now.


Jeff Medina
Community Director
Singularity Institute for Artificial Intelligence
Relationships & Community Fellow
Institute for Ethics & Emerging Technologies
School of Philosophy, Birkbeck, University of London

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