Monday, December 5, 2011

This Time It's Different

"This Time It's Different" is a catch-phrase often used to indicate an idea is dumb because it flies in the face of history and predicts something that's never happened before.  Ie, "Peak Oil" is dumb for the same reason it would have been dumb to fear the end of whale oil.  We didn't stop using whale oil because we ran out, we stopped because we found real oil.  And we won't stop using oil because we'll run out, we'll stop using it because we'll find the next energy source that will be better.

However, sometimes, it really is different.  It was different for the Easter Islanders when they cut down one too many trees.  It was different when that asteroid hit 65 million years ago.  It was different when nuclear weapons were invented.  Some might call these Black Swans (ala Mr Taleb).

The singularity, regardless of how one defines it, would be different too if it came about.  It is essentially the argument of the singularitarians that exponential change inevitably leads to something different, and that is what makes the singularity - when all bets are off on being able to understand what will happen tomorrow based on our experiences of yesterday.

And, it is nearly impossible for humans to grasp how the exponential curve grows, as it always looks pretty linear to us until it's too late.  Thus, we all will be looking around, seeing nothing much and thinking "ya right, 'This Time It's Different', sure", and then, it happens.  The transition between "nothing much" and "holy crap!" ought to be the subject of a thousand science fiction novels.

This blog is about what's different, or what might be different, this time.  I believe, this time it is different.  Even worse, it seems to be a saddle point between a few possibilities: technological singularity and post-scarcity, ecological collapse, and resource depletion.  One or all of these non-linear trends might very well explode any time now.  How can we possibly predict?  But we have to try.

1 comment:

  1. Great concept for a blog. Hope to see you post more, I am interested in this!