The Law of Accelerating Returns
Posted by Chris Tithof
Historians do not always consider a century a hundred years. For example, modern European history can be cleanly broken down into the 14th century (the Renaissance) and the 15th century (exploration), but then it gets interesting: the Industrial Revolution becomes a century unto itself. The First World War becomes a century, as does World War II, and then the Cold War. This idea can be applied in a similar manner to humans' technological history. Technological revolutions themselves can be looked at as "centuries," eras of delineable human importance. People have seen the First and Second Industrial Revolutions come and go in the 19th and 20th centuries. Now, in the Third Industrial Revolution and on the way to the Fourth, people are seeing immense change happen.
If imagined as a line, in mathematics the rate of change is the "steepness" of a line. The steeper the line is, the higher the rate of change is. For the thousands of years before the Industrial Revolutions, humans experienced a relatively slow and constant rate of change. Weapons developed slowly, medicine developed slowly, and culture developed slowly. The First Industrial Revolution steepened the rate at which society changed, but at present time humanity finds itself at an even more meaningful point of existence: an inflection point. This is when, imagined again as a line, the curvature itself changes direction. Rather than increasing at a steady rate, humanity is about to ramp upward, changing at an ever-increasing speed.
This incredibly rapid, always-increasing change is called exponential growth. It is evolution.
The Law of Accelerating Returns tells us that we will experience a century's worth of progress in just 25 years. This may seem counterintuitive, but it is not; rather, it takes into account the fact that the rate of technological change increases all the time. The rate at which humanity advances this year will increase by next year, and so will the rate at which technology advances. Technology will evolve to replace what humans spend most of their time doing. Grunt work that humans would cast aside if given the chance will instead be taken on by artificial intelligence. The Law of Accelerating Returns will escort humanity upwards into infinity from our contemporary linear perspective.
We are on the verge of an all-important paradigm shift: the merging of biological and non-biological intelligence. The way society relates to itself will be fundamentally changed; technological change, which originated from exponential human growth, will become exponential itself; people will use technology even to bolster mental processes. Humans will have much more time to pursue their true desires rather than wasting days away on menial tasks that a technological system could control. On an increasingly noticeable scale, humanity and technology will fuse into a more singular intelligence.
The sooner humanity accepts its next step, the sooner we will cast aside menial drudgery and instead focus on our higher values and aspirations. Automation will afford us freedom from spending time on tasks that are predictably rules-based, and instead we will be able to pursue interests based on talent and unique skill. The technology is here; we only need to better harness it. As we advance into our evolutionary future, we can utilize a shared sense of destiny and lift humanity into a more optimistic collective consciousness.
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