Hi, I'm Tim Tyler - and today I'll be talking about the ongoing
Technology Explosion is a simple name for a
familiar phenomenon - namely that technological evolution is accelerating
in an explosive manner.
Technology is exploding in the same way that the atomic
nucleii in a nuclear bomb explode: by exhibiting an
unconstrained exponential growth process.
The Technology Explosion is analogous to I. J. Good's
Intelligence Explosion. Good noted that at some point, the
intelligence of organisms would increase exponentially.
he Technology Explosion is not a phenomenon confined to
human history. For billions of years evolution produced what might be
described as natural technologies - innovations in the form
of adaptations - such as photosynthesis, cellulose, DNA - and so on.
These have then synergetically combined with one another. This has
catalysed the formation of new natural technologies -
producing ever more rapid evolutionary progress.
Unfortunately, the concept of "natural technologies" is a bit
of an oxymoron. Richard Dawkins once coined the term "
designoid" to refer to parts of nature that look as
though they have been designed (although they arise without a designer).
There's a need for a similar term - "technoid" - to refer to
the subset of adaptations that look as though they are
technological (although they arise without an inventor).
The concept of a Technology Explosion which extends back into
deep time implies a powerful directionality to evolution. If you look
at footage of an explosion, it looks very different if it is
run backwards in time. This directionality represents evolutionary
However, historically the concept of evolutionary progress has not
been universally accepted. People have examined individual lineages,
and concluded that organisms get bigger about as much as they get
smaller, that their genomes grew about as much as they shrank -
and that directional trends are often nowhere to be seen.
However, this seems like a myopic perspective to me. Even a cursory examination
of the history of life shows that it is characterised by a progressive
accumulation of "survival technology".
In particular, the biosphere is accumulating "natural technology"
that helps it more rapidly identify sources of potential energy -
and degrade them in the process of constructing the next generation.
The accumulation is progressive and cumulative. Evolution
creates innovation, keeping what works - and discarding what doesn't.
This process of remembering the good and forgetting the
bad results in a ratching mechanism which provides evolution with a
powerful progressive, directional character.
Evolution is an optimisation process - similar to a genetic algorithm.
know what the fitness function is -
and so can see what is being optimised. Optimisation processes
are - by their very nature - powerfully directional processes.
There is a way in which such a process could fail to
be directional - if it had too large a mutation rate. That
might happen if our planet was extremely radioactive, or
if it was frequently bombed by large meteorite strikes. However, in
practice, neither of these things applies.
What about the idea that the direction evolution takes depends on
local selection pressures, and the direction of these fluctuate
depending on the environment? In the real world, the environment in
which life has found itself has been pretty fixed. Organisms have been
trying to degrade sources of order to create more copies of their
genomes for billions of years. The problem which evolution is
addressing has not changed significantly since life's origin.
I have addressed this whole issue in more detail elsewhere - in an essay
entitled "Life's Direction" - so I will close here by stating that the
supposed lack of direction of evolution is simply baseless nonsense.
The acceleration of technological evolution has evidently reached a
rapid pace in modern times - and it looks set to accelerate further in
It appears from our knowledge of physical law and the apparent benign
state of the local environment, that the Technology Explosion
has only just started, and that much of the explosion still lies in
the future. The explosion will eventually run into physical
limits - but those appear to be a long way off today - in many cases
so far off that we are not even sure where the limits are.