Everything will be wonderful in the future! (just like the past)
Draft of 2005.09.21 ☛ 2015.07.01 ☛ 2016.07.22
I’ll tell you why. Because not only is the chart an artificial and perhaps even conscious attempt to fit the data to a predetermined conclusion, but what it actually represents is the proximity of the familiar. We are much more aware of innovations in our current time and environment, and the farther back we look, the blurrier the distinctions get. We may think it’s a grand step forward to have these fancy cell phones that don’t tie you to a cord coming from the wall, but there was also a time when people thought it was radical to be using this new bow & arrow thingie, instead of the good ol’ atlatl. We just lump that prior event into a “flinging pointy things” category and don’t think much of it. When Kurzweil reifies biases that way, he gets garbage, like this graph, out.
There’s a worse flaw yet, actually, in the whole backward-facing extravaganza. These “paradigm shifts” that keep cropping up? So these are supposedly the equivalent of phase transitions in potential, yes? Schumpeterian gales of creative destruction and so forth? In with the wireless, out with the shirtwaist factories; in with the linguistic finesse and effectiveness of moderne fuckin’ English, and out with illiterate babble of childish… well, everybody else in the world. Paradigm shift—um, that’s when everybody gives up what they was doin’, and starts on the good stuff. Right?
There are always Late Adopters. Alas, the Late Adopters in these cases can be very late indeed. Check it out: “Eukaryotic cells”! says the chart early on (except there’s way more bacteria, still); “Class Mammalia”! (except there’s way more beetles still); “Human ancestors walk upright”! (just like a lot of dinosaurs, and all birds. Hey, everybody else! Get with the times! Falling forward off-balance is the Way to Rule the World!).
How’s that deep argument go? The one often used by those other clear-headed thinkers? “If I’m descended from a monkey, then how come there are there still monkeys?”
Maybe the folks who invoke that sparkling bit of wit, and the Singularity Now folks, they should talk. I detect intellectual lacunae they seem to share. What’s the word? Anthro… something. Anthropo— Shoot. Tip of my tongue.
What is that word? Something about middles. About the feeling that you—or your demographic group, or your race, or your species—are the vital gateway through which the past will realize the future.
It’s that feeling everything being about you. Anthropo… something. Blast.
Oh yeah! Hubris.
(This, by the way, is also about you. But in a different way.)