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The Law of Accelerating Returns

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An analysis of the history of technology shows that technological change is exponential, contrary to the common-sense “intuitive linear” view. So we won’t experience 100 years of progress in the 21st century — it will be more like 20,000 years of progress (at today’s rate). The “returns,” such as chip speed and cost-effectiveness, also increase exponentially. There’s even exponential growth in the rate of exponential growth. Within a few decades, machine intelligence will surpass human intelligence, leading to The Singularity — technological change so rapid and profound it represents a rupture in the fabric of human history. The implications include the merger of biological and nonbiological intelligence, immortal software-based humans, and ultra-high levels of intelligence that expand outward in the universe at the speed of light.

You will get $40 trillion just by reading this essay and understanding what it says. For complete details, see below. (It’s true that authors will do just about anything to keep your attention, but I’m serious about this statement. Until I return to a further explanation, however, do read the first sentence of this paragraph carefully.)

Now back to the future: it’s widely misunderstood. Our forebears expected the future to be pretty much like their present, which had been pretty much like their past. Although exponential trends did exist a thousand years ago, they were at that very early stage where an exponential trend is so flat that it looks like no trend at all. So their lack of expectations was largely fulfilled. Today, in accordance with the common wisdom, everyone expects continuous technological progress and the social repercussions that follow. But the future will be far more surprising than most observers realize: few have truly internalized the implications of the fact that the rate of change itself is accelerating.

Keywords

  • Human Brain
  • Exponential Growth
  • Human Intelligence
  • Cambrian Explosion
  • Neuron Cluster

These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

The complete article was first published on KurzweilAI.net on March 7, 2001. http://www.kurzweilai.net

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© 2004 Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg

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Kurzweil, R. (2004). The Law of Accelerating Returns. In: Teuscher, C. (eds) Alan Turing: Life and Legacy of a Great Thinker. Springer, Berlin, Heidelberg. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-662-05642-4_16

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-662-05642-4_16

  • Publisher Name: Springer, Berlin, Heidelberg

  • Print ISBN: 978-3-642-05744-1

  • Online ISBN: 978-3-662-05642-4

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