08 December 2008

Signs of the Singularity

The current recession is a bad sign for singularity watchers. As the singularity approaches, we expect the economy to become more diverse and more robust.

The obvious signs of continued progress toward a singularity will be:
  • rapidly dropping prices for widely used expensive functionality;
  • rapidly adopted communications and entertainment products;
  • a much more tightly integrated global economy.
We don't necessarily expect rapid drops in prices of raw materials like platinum, at least not until we are very close to a singularity. Having a cheap space launch capability combined with advanced robotics might allow us to harvest a few metallic asteroids in near-earth orbits and make raw metals very cheap. But that's a ways off.

What we do expect though, is being able to substitute new materials and techniques for traditional uses. The primary area where we expect progress is in energy. We don't expect to make crude oil cheaper. We do expect to learn how to manufacture cheap hydrocarbons or to manufacture cheap solar or wind to produce electricity cheaply and substitute for crude oil. Seeing the world come out of its current recession due to rapid growth in the renewable energy industries would certainly be a sign of a coming singularity.

For new devices with a rapid growth rate, I have no idea what to look for. Ubiquitous smart phones seem plausible. The laptop per child concept continuously seems more and more outdated as smart phones, backed up by grid computing, become more capable.

Sure would be nice though, if the price we pay to be connected would drop. The amount I pay for slow internet access, landline, wireless for myself and kids, and basic cable is now over $250/month. Seems like by now this should be closer to $50/month. And I should be getting 100Mbit networking to my home.

I also look forward to a much more tightly integrated global economy. Over the next few years I continue to hope that the tighter integration occuring in Europe will improve their economic growth rates. Should that happen, Europe will provide a strong advertisement for democracy, capitalism, and cooperation.

However, it still feels like the next 25 years, if we are lucky, will be a long painful slog toward bringing Latin America and India into the 20th century. And another generation seems necessary to get Africa past its current tribalism.