The “Knee of the Curve”

This is another piece from Ray Kurzweil’s The Singularity is Near, about the fast pace of changes foreseen to the 21st century. Kurzweil stated a law for this phenomenon; the ever expanding human intelligence, the law of Accelerating Returns. We’re living an exponential growth in paradigm shift and evolution, but the exponent of the growth trend will also grow in an exponential pace once the artificial intelligence become responsible for the evolution of our species.

More’s law stated that the number of transistors on integrated circuits doubles approximately every two years. The Accelerating Returns start counting from the beginning of life on earth, and call it our biological intelligence. The communion with the machine part of ourselves will be, in a basic understanding, the Singularity.

I would say that Moore’s observation is inside the trend pointed by Kurzweil, but in fact, we are improving really fast and faster every couple of years. Some of the observations from Ray Kurzweil in the book the The Singularity is Near, if achieved at the predicted time  frame, are going to reach my lifetime. In 2040 I’ll be experiencing the Singularity and the change in the rules in the game of life at the age 65.

Although impressive in many respects, the brain suffers from severe limitations.

We use its massive parallelism (one hundred trillion inter neuronal connections operating simultaneously) to quickly recognize subtle patterns. But our thinking is extremely slow: the basic neural transactions are several million times slower than contemporary electronic circuits.

That makes our physiological bandwidth for processing new information extremely limited compared to the exponential growth of the human knowledge base.

Our version 1.0 biological bodies are likewise frail and subject to a myriad of failures modes, not to mention the cumbersome maintenance  rituals they require. while human intelligence is sometimes capable of soaring in its creativity and expressiveness, much human thought is derivative, petty and circumscribed.

The Singularity will allow us to transcend these limitations of our biological bodies and brains. We will gain power over our fates. Our mortality will be in our own hands. We will be able to live as long as we want (a subtly different statement from saying we will live forever). We will fully understand human thinking and will vastly extend and expand its reach. By the end of this century, the nonbiological portion of our intelligence will be trillions of trillions of times more powerful than unaided human intelligence.

We are now at the early stage of this transition. The acceleration of paradigm shift as well as the exponential growth of the capacity of information technology are both beginning to reach the “knee of the curve”, which is the the stage at which an exponential trend becomes noticeable. Shortly after this stage, the trend quickly becomes explosive. Before the middle of this century, the growth rates of our technology –which will be indistinguishable from ourselves– will be so steer as to appear essentially vertical.

From a strictly perspective, the growth rates will still be finite but so extreme that the changes they bring about will appear to disrupt the fabric of human society. That, at least, will be the perspective of unenhanced biological humanity.

Ray Kurzweil



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