People may know of Ray Kurtzweil. I first saw him at a conference in Melbourne where he was introduced as the greatest thing since sliced bread (an introduction he’d clearly had a hand in writing or authorising) and kept talking about how great he was. Anyway, he has some very impressive achievements to his name so good on him.
He’s popularised the ‘law of acellerating returns’ pointing out that for things governed by exponential growth – like Moores Law and the many similar phenomena of exponential growth in technology – a job that looks half done will be nearly finished. If something doubles every x months, decoding 50 percent of the human genome means you’re only x months away from finishing something that may have taken many years.
It’s always seemed to me that this powerful fact is nevertheless not powerful enough to help us make good predictions as to when more complex phenomena based on these technologies will emerge (like if and when we’ll be able to fly around in jet packs or even if and when robots will be able to run on two legs faster than humans) because there are so many emergent phenomena along the road and it’s very hard to anticipate when they’ll emerge. But I’ve never heard him address that in one of his talks. Perhaps he does in his books. (And the successful givers of popular talks seem to know not to address exceptions and caveats. They’re not very entertaining. I think they’re kind of of the essence in these matters, but who am I?)
Anyway I couldn’t help noticing two clangers in this talk – which was quite interesting, but still unsatisfying to me for the reason explained in the preceding para. One is his suggestion that Thomas Hobbes wrote 200 years ago (it’s a wonder he didn’t have a livelier correspondence with Thomas Jefferson) and the other is his quoting of the “Chinese” proverb that you can’t step into the same river twice. (By that well known Chinese sage Heraclitus).
Anyway, since we’ve taken delivery of the latest in Troppo’s fleet of vehicles, now is the time to ask Troppodillians what similar stories of Great Men (and women) with feet of clay they have. The winner will take Bronwyn the new Troppo helicopter to Fairbairn Airbase where they’ll be flown to the Middle East where, once it’s been cleared on the President’s breakfast kill list, they’ll be able to take out the terrorist of their choice from the comfort and safety of Chopper, Troppo’s new drone.