Models and Theories in Human-Computer Interaction/The Law of Accelerating Returns - Resistance Is Futile?


In his essay The Law of Accelerating Returns, Ray Kurzweil discusses advancement of technology as it moves towards a point that he calls the Singularity which he describes as "technological change so rapid and so profound that it represents a rupture in the fabric of human history." [1] At this point, he says that biological and non-biological processing can be combined. In essence, humans would become similar to the Borg, a race of cybernetic organisms from Star Trek.

Exponential Growth in TechnologyEdit

Kurzweil mentions that this eventual merging of humans and technology is due to a double exponential growth in technology, which means that the rate of growth in technology is exponential, but that rate of change is itself exponential. Using this double exponential growth, he says that we would not see 100 years of growth in the 21st Century, but would instead see growth similar to 20,000 years of linear growth. He shows the double exponential growth by comparing growth rates in technology by plotting the speed per $1000 for 49 machines from the 1890s through the early 21st Century and showed that the rate of growth was a curve, thus it was growing exponentially itself. The best features from each generation of technology feed into the next, accelerating this growth.

Immortality through TechnologyEdit

As technology advances and we hit Kurzweil's Singularity, it may be possible to merge humans and technology to the point that a copy of one's brain (and possibly one's being) could be "downloaded" into a computer and the person could in essence "live" forever. Of course, this does get into the underlying question of what makes a person who they are and if that essence can actually be recreated using technology. It might be possible to store a person's memories, but it would be more difficult to store a person's soul or the thing that makes them who they are because scientists can't really say what that is.

If a person's soul could be downloaded to a computer, that person could be immortal. Kurzweil mentions that the copy of the person's brain file could be upgraded and migrated through different iterations of hardware, similar to how we move files from computer to computer when we upgrade. Multiple copies could also be stored in case of hardware failure and that would increase the chance of immortality.

My Final ThoughtsEdit

Kurzweil makes several interesting points, but intermingles them with points that are bordering on science fiction. I agree that technology is advancing at an exponential rate, and this will lead to tremendous advancement in technology through the rest of this century. I can't even begin to imagine the technology that will be in use at the end of this century, but I am doubtful that a human brain will have been downloaded into a computer. It might be technically possible (the computer will be powerful enough), but I don't think we'll ever be able to find everything that goes into making a person who they are so we couldn't recreate it in a computer. I think we will see more technology incorporated into daily life and even into our bodies and that will help us to live longer more fulfilling lives. That could still lead to Kurzweil's Singularity, just not the way he's describing it.