The Six Epochs

“First we build the tools, than they build us.”

–Marshall McLuhan

Evolution works through indirection: each stage or epoch uses the information-processing methods of the previous epoch to create the next.

Epoch One: Physics and Chemistry

A few hundred thousand years after the Big Bang, atoms began to form, as electrons became trapped in orbits around nuclei consisting of protons and neutrons. The electrical structures of atoms made them sticky. Chemistry was born a few million years later as atoms came together to create relatively stable structures called molecules. Of all the elemets, carbon proved to be the most versatile; it’s able to form bonds in four directions, giving rise to complicated, information-rish, three dimenstional structures.

The rules of our universe and the balance of the physical constants that govern the interaction of basic forces are so delicately and exactly  appropriate for the codification and evolution of information that one wonders how such an extraordinary unlikely situation came about. Where some see a divine hand –namely the anthropic principle, which holds that only in a universe that allowed evolution would be here to as such questions.

… it’s clear that the that the physical laws of our universe are precisely what they need to be to allow for the evolution of increasing levels of order and complexity.

Epoch Two: Biology and DNA

In the second epoch, starting several billion years ago, carbon-based compounds became more and more intricate until complex aggregation of molecules formed self-replicating mechanisms, and life originated.Ultimately, biological systems evolved a precise digital mechanism (DNA) to store information describing a larger society of molecules. This molecule and its supporting machinery of codons and ribossomes enabled a record to kept of the evolutionary experiment of this second epoch.

Epoch Three: Brains

Each epoch continues the evolution of information through a paradigm shift to a further level of ‘indirection’. For example, in the third epoch, DNA-guided evolution produced organisms that could detect information with their own sensory orgnans and process and store that inforamtion in their pend brains and nervous systems. These were made possible by second-epoch mechanisms, which enabled and defined  third-epoch information-processing mechanisms. The third epoch started with the ability of early animals to recognize  patterns, which still account for the vast majority of the activity i nour brains.

Ultimately, our own species evolved the ability to create abstractt mental models of the world we experience and to contemplate the rational implications of these models. We have the ability to redesign the world in our own minds and to put these ideas into action.

Epoch Four: Technology

Combining the endowment of rational and abstract thougth with our opposable thumb, our species ushered in the fourth epoch and the next level of indirection: the evolition of human-created technology.

This started with simple mechanisms and developed into elaborate automata (automated mechanical machines). Ultimately, with sophisticated computational and communication devices, teccnology was itself capable of sensing, storing, and evatuating elaborate patterns of informatoin. To compare the rate of progress of the biological evolution, consider that the most advanced mammals have added about one cubic inch of brain matter every hundred thousand years, whereas we are roughly doubling the computational capacity of computers every year. Of course, neither  brain size nor computer capacity is the sole determinat of intelligence, but they do represent enabling factors.

This version of the preceding figure uses the same data but with a linear scale for time before present instead of a logarithmic one. This shows the acceleration more dramatically, but details are not visible. From a linear perspective, most key events have just happened.

The above figures reflect Ray Kurzweil’s view of key developments in biological and technological history.

The attributes that are growing exponentially in these charts are order and complexity. A billion years ago, not much happened over the course of even one million years. But a quarter-million years ago epochal events such as the evolution of our species occured in time frames of just one hunderd thousand years. In technology, if we go back fifty thousand years, not much happened over a one thousand year period. But in recent past, we see new paradigms, such as the WWW, progress from inception to mass adoption within only a decade.

Epoch Five: The Merger of Human Technology with Human Intelligence

Looking ahead several decades, the Singularity will begin with the fifth epoch. It will result from the merger of the vast knowledge embedded in our own brains with the vastly greater capacity , speed and knowledge-sharing ability of our technology. The fifth epoch will enable our human-machine civilization to transcend the human brain’s limitations of a mere hunderd trillion extremely slow connections.

Epoch Six: The Universe Wakes Up

In the after math of the Singularity, intelligence, derived from its biological origins in human ingenuity, will begin to saturate the matter and energy in its midst. It will achieve this by reorganizing matter and energy to provide an optimal level of computation to spread out from its origins on Earth. Whether our civilization infuses the rest of the universe with its creativity and intelligence quickly or slowly depends on its immutability. In any event the ‘dumb’ matter and mechanisms of the universe will be transformed into exquisitely sublime forms of intelligence, which will constitute the sixth epoch in the evolution patterns of information.

This is the ultimate destiny of the Singularity and of the universe.

Text extracted from The Singularity is Near, by Ray Kurzweil.

When you think about evolution, how far you consider past events?

Remember that everything is connected from the beginning.

Imagine how hard was for your grandparents to face the changes you were living?

Now look at your kids, imagine the world they live in.

Changes are happening faster and faster every day, in a matter of a year an entire trend can be reverted into something a lot different. Remember the telephone from its inception to massification, how long it took? Then celular phones took the market in less than a decade, and the next generation of smart phones now are threatening even the PC market, as well as telephony itself.

Transportation, health care, business, education and parenting, all need to be reconsider through the lens of the 21st century mind set.

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