Progress? What Progress?

I’ve previously mentioned the idea of the Technological Singularity, which I described as the belief that:

the convergence of accelerating accomplishments in nanotechnology, medicine, genetic engineering, computer science, neurobiology, and artificial intelligence will soon result in a cascading series of mutually supportive breakthroughs that will amount to a discontinuous historical disruption, the anthropological equivalent of the “singularities” at the heart of black holes.

There are those who find this notion exactly wrong, however. One of them is Scott Locklin, a financial analyst living in Berkeley, California, who, in an article at Alternative Right entitled The Myth of Technological Progress, argues just what the title suggests: that the pace of real technological progress has slowed, not accelerated, in the past few decades, and has in some instances — such as the abandonment of our manned space program, and the cessation of supersonic passenger flights — even reversed itself.

While I do think that Mr. Locklin too blithely dismisses areas of genuine, transformative progress — for example the stupendous increases in computing power that have, I think, led to qualitative, even revolutionary, changes in the way we live — as mere tweaking of decades-old ideas, he certainly makes some provocative points. He is quite right, for example, that a great many things that we were promised, ages ago, were “just around the corner” still haven’t materialized: artificial intelligence, a cure for cancer, and useful nanotechnology, for example. We still run our cars by burning dirty, messy oil, because we still haven’t figured out how to make low-cost, energy-dense batteries. And so on.

So which is it? Are we barreling headlong toward the Singularity — or, having solved all the tractable problems, are we now stuck on the hard ones, and beginning to stagnate?

Read the article here.

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One Comment

  1. bob koepp says

    I don’t know — seems about on a par with other prophecies. Which of them “pans out” seems to depend too much on factors that weren’t reflected in the prophetic calculus. If some inadvertent technology atually compels us to reorder our thingking in ways we can’t yet imagine, then maybe the “transformation” will take place. But more likely, we’ll muddle through without ever understanding what we’re about.

    Posted August 9, 2010 at 9:21 am | Permalink