Mind Steps, Cultural Evolution and Accelerating Change.

Picture: Nasa (PD)

“An analysis of the history of technology shows that technological change is exponential, contrary to the common-sense ‘intuitive linear’ view. So we won’t experience 100 years of progress in the 21st century — it will be more like 20,000 years of progress (at today’s rate). The ‘returns,’ such as chip speed and cost-effectiveness, also increase exponentially. There’s even exponential growth in the rate of exponential growth. Within a few decades, machine intelligence will surpass human intelligence, leading to The Singularity — technological change so rapid and profound it represents a rupture in the fabric of human history. The implications include the merger of biological and nonbiological intelligence, immortal software-based humans, and ultra-high levels of intelligence that expand outward in the universe at the speed of light.”

Ray Kurzweil
The Law of Accelerating Returns.

The Beginning:
Gerald S Hawkins was a pioneer thinker in his field. In 1983 he wrote a book called “Mindsteps to the Cosmos” in which he explained the notion that “Mindsteps”, dramatic and irreversible changes to the paradigms of mankind, have followed our societies’ evolution from barbarism to civilised culture. Take the invention of imagery, writing, mathematics, the printing press, radio, television, the computer, and the internet: Each of these has shifted the human mind one step closer to realising ultimate reality; one step closer to understanding our place in the cosmos.

Hawkins further postulated that each of these incremental steps appears to be happening quicker and quicker. We’re accelerating towards something…but what?

Hawkins’ created a ‘mindstep equation’ to quantify this, and gave dates for future mindsteps. The date of the next mindstep (5; the series begins at 0) is given as 2021, followed by two more successively closer mindsteps until the limit of the series in 2053. His speculations ventured beyond the technological:

“The mindsteps… appear to have certain things in common – a new and unfolding human perspective, related inventions in the areas of memes and communications, and a long formulative waiting period before the next mindstep comes along. None of the mindsteps can be said to have been truly anticipated, and most were resisted at the early stages. In looking to the future we may equally be caught unawares. We may have to grapple with the presently inconceivable, with mind-stretching discoveries and concepts.”

Gerald S Hawkins
Mindsteps to the Cosmos

This theory has been  further expounded by several social scientists and futurists, particularly the aforementioned Ray Kurzweil.

In the eighties, computer scientist and futurist Hans Moravec published a book titled Mind Children, in which he took an aspect of Information Theory called Moore’s Law and used it to make predictions about the future of artificial intelligence. Moore’s law and Infomation Theory (developed by Intel Founder Gordon E. Moore and Claude E. Shannon, respectively) postulate the exponential growth in complexity and speed of communication involving computer circuitry and power over time. Moravec extended this to include technologies from long before the integrated circuit to future forms of technology.

Moravec postulated a timeline in which robots and artificial intelligence evolve into what can be considered a new species. He believes this will happen somewhere between 2030 and 2040.

A few years later Moravec predicted that mankind will experience a “mind fire” of rapidly expanding “Superintelligence”. Could this be The Enlightenment or Spiritual Awakening of mankind that some believe is already underway?

The Future:
Futurist Ray Kurzweil took this a step further. He argued for extending Moore’s Law to describe exponential growth of diverse forms of technology and progress. Whenever a technology approaches some kind of a barrier, according to Kurzweil, a new technology will be invented to allow us to cross that barrier. Kurzweil predicts that the paradigm shifts caused by the invention of new technologies will continue to become increasingly common, leading to “technological change so rapid and profound it represents a rupture in the fabric of human history, leading to a technological singularity”.

Whether we reach the prophesised “Singularity” is a matter for debate that will probably never be decided until, or if ever, said Singularity occurs. What is clear is that mankind is moving faster and faster towards an ever more complex and wondrous world of technological abundance. The effect this will have on society and on mankind cannot be predicted. We haven’t evolved as a species enough to deal with this sudden explosion of what Terence McKenna described as “novelty”.

Will we reach the singularity?

Will we reach McKenna’s “Time-wave Zero” when mankind’s ability to download information becomes so omnipotent that we reach a stage of infinite novelty?

Will this herald an age of true human enlightenment?

Will we finally become Marshal McLuhan’s Global Village, where all oral communication ceases and we communicate brain to brain?

Who knows?

It is probably best put by comics writer Alan Moore, who said in his 2003 documentary “The Mindscape of Alan Moore”:

“As I understand it, at the last count human information was doubling around every 18 months. Further to this, there is a point somewhere around 2015 when human information is doubling every thousandth of a second. That means that in each thousandth of second we will have accumulated more information than we have in the entire previous history of the world. At this point I believe that all bets are off. I cannot imagine the kind of culture that might exist after such a flashpoint of knowledge. I believe that our culture would probably move into a completely different state, would move past the boiling point, from a fluid culture to a culture of steam.”

8 Comments on "Mind Steps, Cultural Evolution and Accelerating Change."

  1. BuzzCoastin | Dec 20, 2012 at 8:05 pm |

    > Will we finally become Marshal McLuhan’s Global Village,
    where all oral communication ceases and we communicate brain to brain?

    we’re pretty much there now
    especially those under 30

    it seems unlikely to me
    given the ages of the Earth & humans
    that this is the first time humanity or any species
    have made it to this “advance” level
    but it does seem likely that this advance state
    is like a Tibetan Sand Mandala
    we build our castles made of sand
    and Nature blows them away from millennia to millennia

  2. Tchoutoye | Dec 21, 2012 at 1:20 am |

    Singularity is a pseudo-religion, of which Kurzweil is the high priest.

  3. The Singularity = “The Age of Miracles” with the fine print being “for those who can afford them”, i.e. people with Romney-scale wealth and above, among whom are included the Silicon Valley high-tech wealth investing in the Singularity publicity machine which include the Transhumanism and Singularity movements. What are the priorities of Silicon Valley money as reflected in campaign contributions and lobbying? Tax avoidance, government contracts, access to cheap imported H1B professional labor, not delivering the miracles of the future for the benefit of all.

    As for what all the wonders of scientific research that will make THE FUTURE!!!, this might tell you about how interested these people really are in them: http://chronicle.com/article/The-Multibillion-Dollar-Threat/136363/?cid=at&utm_source=at&utm_medium=en The article discusses one of the things our wealthy friends don’t want to chip in to pay for.

    I wonder increasingly if Kurzweil believes the Party Line he pushes. His movement talks of life extension and intelligence increase. People forget that he’s also a businessman running a company, he signs the checks for company pension plans and health plans. What happens to a pension plan whose members suddenly start living a couple of decades longer? Will his business health care plans cover for instance, “medically unnecessary” neural implants which might cost $250K per implant with $1M in medical care (neurosurgery, time in ICU, therapy to assist patients in learning to operate the devices, etc.) The devices will get cheaper with learning curve and volume. Medical costs are delivered on a one-to-one basis and don’t scale.

    He’s now also the Director of Engineering at Google. (smaller AI players are getting squeezed out of the market, when one needs dedicated data centers and hardware engineering teams to do serious AI, options are to get big, get bought, or get out – he didn’t want out and probably couldn’t raise the bucks to go big) Will Google health and pension plans cover THE FUTURE!!! ? Corporate health care benefit limits tend to be in the $1,000,000 lifetime payout range and are figured on the basis that very few people will need that much health care. What happens to the cost of a health care plan if a single neural enhancement procedure is over $1M and it’s covered for everybody?

    The question people involved in these movements never ask is “who’s paying?”. The question of “who gets what” is a political question. Odd that this movement never talks about politics. But why think about politics when THE FUTURE!!! will be delivered to our doorstep thanks to the wonders of technological capitalism, as long as WE HAVE FAITH. The cause of developing bioenhancement tech for the wealthy does not need a movement or advocacy, it just needs people willing to sign big checks or lobby for taxpayer-funded academic research. I think the rationale for investing in these movements is to politically neutralize nerds and geeks who might do things like join Anonymous or do labor organizing at tech companies or organize politically around a Transhumanism agenda (as Transhumanists are doing in Russia) which might cost the wealthy a lot of tax dollars.

    I’m sure Kurzweil believes that he will personally receive the benefits of these technologies when they happen. I doubt he believes that the people who follow these movements who are not personally wealthy will.

    I have faith that the wonders of technology that the wealthy investors in venture-capital funded startups are willing to pay for will actually happen. Any resemblance between the collection of wonders served up daily by any of the larger Singularity sites and this will be fairly coincidental.

    I have a lot more respect for Kurzweil than I have for most Futurists, he’s a technologist with a demonstrated record of accomplishments. He isn’t just a cheerleader for tech, he makes the stuff. There are certain realities about technology that constitute a shared belief system that everybody who does hardware and software share. (e.g. we can build this thing when the vendors deliver the chips they promised and not before…) And certain realities about the business of technology.

    I do technology, though on a much smaller scale. Been involved in a number of technology businesses and have spent years writing about it for publication as well.

    My doubts that Kurzweil can possibly believe what he’s saying about the idea that we will all share the wonders of the technology of THE FUTURE!!! come straight out of this shared worldview.

    I’m not a Transhumanist/Singulartarian because questions like the ones I’m asking are the domain of contrarians and freethinkers, not the True Believers who make up this movement’s following and its cheerleaders for the REAL political agenda of technology capitalism (NO NEW TAXES!!!). Human herds are for sheeple.

    • bobbiethejean | Dec 21, 2012 at 10:20 am |

      Well said. You should really, really put this in an article here on Disinfo.

  4. bobbiethejean | Dec 21, 2012 at 10:23 am |

    I want to believe, I really do, but this sounds so much like what I used to hear in church back when I was stupid enough to think there was a magical man in the sky who gave a shit about my cosmically unimportant personal intimacies.

  5. What a fascinating concept. I’ve heard it before, but never in this manner. Moore certainly seems to believe it.

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