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Mind Steps, Cultural Evolution and Accelerating Change

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“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”.

Conclusion:

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.”

( via disinfo.com )