Models and Theories in Human-Computer Interaction/Accelerating returns and Singularity

Accelerating ReturnsEdit

Ray Kurzweil may appear like a crazy man, taking close to 150 pills a day, undergoing blood transfusions, and more in an attempt to be immortal, but he is also an accomplished engineer (director of engineering at google, national medal of technology 1999). This belief that he can be immortal, while also being a world class engineer gives hints to why he would believe that technology will accelerate so fast that within the next century humans can achieve near immortality.

This idea of accelerating returns is a relatively basic one. Technology has been advancing at an exponential rate not a linear one. Kurzweil believes that this was not apparent early on because the early stages of exponential growth often mimic a linear scale. Much of his evidence for the exponential growth in technology comes from the size of computerized parts, the amount of storage available, and the processing power of such devices. In each of these cases, the growth has been exponential without really any lag. besides actual hardware, Kurzweil points to transmission speeds over the internet as another area that signals that exponential growth will continue. What makes Kurzweil particularly excited is the possibility of merging the technology with the human body, reaching a point of Singularity.


Through some basic math Kurzweil shows that if the acceleration follows the same path it has for the last 50 years, that the processing power of computers will exceed that of the human brain. The main application of this is combining the accelerating tech with increased knowledge of the brain (better imaging, higher resolution images). There is potential for a merging of the two, turning humans into something of a hybrid, or downloading someones brain. While this concept has been seen in plenty of science fiction stories, the trends presented by Kurzweil do make it an exciting possibility. While daunting, Kurzweil compares the idea to that of mapping the human genome, thought to be too difficult in the decades prior to the undertaking.

One criticism of this idea is that Kurzweil does not show the constraints of matter itself. While technology has advanced tremendously and machines have gotten smaller and smaller. The idea of the mechanized parts made out of specialized alloys is physically impossible at such a small level, at least right now. Entirely new elements would need to be created having properties unlike anything that we are aware of in existence today. While not impossible, it is not addressed by Kurzweil