Seven or so years ago, a famous VC penned a manifesto of sorts. Writing at a time the world was still skeptical of the dominance to which his industry has now ascended (to think, such a time existed, and so few years ago!), Marc Andreessen had a message for the doubters, the naysayers, and the Wall St. analysts who were (credibly!) claiming that his investments amounted to not much more than a bubble:
Seven years later, no one can dispute Andreessen’s prescience. The man was right: If you had purchased a basket of his favorite stocks back then – he name-checked Apple, Amazon, and Facebook directly – you’d be up at least 10X, if not more. Software, it seems, has indeed eaten the world, and those smart (and rich) enough to put money into technology, as Andreessen has been, have done very, very well for themselves.
The Industrial Revolution is the most transformative event in human history. It is the true Singularity — and you’re living through it.
In recent years a bunch of technologists have pushed a once fringe idea into the mainstream. That idea is the Singularity.
For most in Silicon Valley and beyond, the Singularity has come to mean one thing: a future event in which humankind merges with artificial superintelligence, sparking a new era for us as a species that is definitively different from anything that has come before.
Francois Chollet argues in his recent essay that an intelligence explosion is very unlikely. So the fast progress we see today is a chimaera, more linear than we think and more likely to slow down, because:
Doing science in a given field gets exponentially harder over time — the founders of the field reap most the low-hanging fruit, and achieving comparable impact later requires exponentially more effort.
And that even the open-source networked approach to research that has driven so much recent progress has limits because:
No one in tech is talking about Homo Deus. We most certainly should be.
Upon finishing Yuval Harari’s Homo Deus, I found an unwelcome kink in my otherwise comfortably adjusted frame of reference. It brought with it the slight nausea of a hangover, a lingering whiff of jet exhaust from a hard night, possibly involving rough psychedelics.
I’m usually content with my (admittedly incomplete) understanding of the role humanity plays in the universe, and in particular, with the role that technology plays as that narrative builds. And lately that technology story is getting pretty damn interesting — I’d argue that our society’s creation of and reaction to digital technologies is pretty much the most important narrative in the world at present.
But as you consider that phrase “digital technologies,” are you conjuring images of computers and iPhones? Of “the cloud” and Google? Facebook, Snapchat, Twitter, Netflix, Slack, Uber? I’ve always felt that this group of artifacts — the “things” that we claim as digital — the companies and the devices, the pained metaphors (cloud?!) and the juvenile apps — these are only the most prominent geographic features of a vaster and more tectonic landscape, one we’ve only begun to explore.