Re: Anti-singularity spam.

From: Bob Seidensticker (
Date: Fri Apr 28 2006 - 01:51:25 MDT

Sorry for coming into this discussion late in the game. I'm the author of
the book Future Hype that got this started. I've read your posts with
interest. I'd like to add a few comments.
First, one small issue. While I appreciate Robin's forwarding my original
email, of course, I don't think it was actually spam. Robin, you and I
exchanged emails about five years ago on a Lojban vocabulary training
program that I'd written. Still, it's understandable that you've forgotten.
As for the comments that have gone back and forth, I have gotten a bit of
this in other circles. That is, some people say, "This is *completely* off
base!" while others say "But it does present some valid concerns."
A couple of postings suggest that my comments (sound bites?) are too
extreme. Touche! There are some places (more on the web site than in the
book) where I succumb to marketing needs/desires and use too much marketing
hyperbole. That's a bit embarassing in front of, not a consumer audience,
but a technically-aware one.
I'm clearly going to be at odds with anyone who takes an extreme
the-Singularity-is-near position. Given that inherent challenge, let me
elaborate on where I'm coming from.
On the topic of "the Internet and PC are not that big a deal." Sure, the
Internet and PC unprecedented -- but that's true for every other major
technology that's come before. We've never had the kind of communications
ability that the Internet gives us. But we never before had the kind of
transportation ability that the jet airplane gave us (1950s), or, before
that, the railroad (1850s). The skyscraper and other big civil engineering
projects had their heyday in the early 1900s. The transition from
information as cargo to information as data came with the telegraph --
*that* was a big deal. And keep in mind that it wasn't the Internet that
brought information to the masses, it was the fast steam printing presses of
the early 1800s. (Micah Glasser's 4/13 post had an excellent list of prior
art that puts the Internet and PC in perspective.)
Exponential curves were mentioned. On this topic, let's talk about Moore's
Law. Truly amazing. And yet, the increases at the low level have a hard
time percolating up to the user level. A PC that's twice as fast as the one
you have now won't make you twice as productive (unless you have an unusual
application that's compute-bound). A PC that's a *hundred* times faster
won't even make you twice as productive. And yet look at something as
mundane as a dump truck. You double the primary specification, its
capacity, and you double the productivity of the operator. Construction
equipment, farming equipment, factory machines -- they all work this way.
If only the PC did the same ...
One other pitfall we need to avoid is when we compare today's technology
marvels vs. those of some previous period. With all the hype we see in the
press and from tech companies, it's easy to put into the "Today's
Technology" bin not only things like PCs and the Internet, which are indeed
causing much change today, but also all the stuff on the cover of Popular
Science -- that is, things that are still in the lab. These would be
technologies like nanotech, biotech, electronic paper, the hydrogen economy,
and so on. It's not a fair comparison if we pad today's technology with
stuff that *might* make it. (I don't need to tell you of the long list of
promised technology that didn't materialize as promised -- videophone,
fusion power, moon bases, AI, home robots, personal flying vehicles, and so
on. Sorry to have to break it to you, but all those cool technologies in
the lab are *not* inevitable.)
I don't think this is going to have you and me holding hands and singing
Kumbaya, but hopefully you have a bit more information of what I'm saying.

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