Technology Explosion

Technology Explosion

Transcript of the above talk

Hi, I'm Tim Tyler - and today I'll be talking about the ongoing Technology Explosion.

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 progress.

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. We even 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 future

The acceleration of technological evolution has evidently reached a rapid pace in modern times - and it looks set to accelerate further in the future.

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.



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