February 04, 2008

Singularity lite: Focus on virtual versus physical

I had a previous article examining the next step or two in technological acceleration. Looking at the long term history of economic and technological progress, the next step should be consistent 16-25% annual growth.

Each "step up in consistently higher technological growth rate" is according to Robin Hanson a series of about seven doublings at a higher rate of growth. Across the full series then an economy would increase by 128 times from the beginning to the end of one average series of doublings.

A comment from Walheed at onsingularity: So far, technologies shrink certain markets, but open even bigger ones. And it seems that this trend is going to continue for the foreseeable future. However, long term, there is a possibility that we might see technological progress continue marching ahead but economical growth (measured in dollars exchanged per year) might not follow.

I accept and recognize that old markets and industries get shrunk or displaced as I briefly mentioned in the original article. However, I also see technological hypergrowth that is so strong that it does not need redefinitions of growth to capture or see it. There might be some decoupling of progress from currency transactions, but if something akin to technological or economic growth is at 30-50% per year then there will be startling transformation at the physical level as well. Converting the matter of the solar system into a dyson shell of computronium would be a matter of when not if. 120 years to go through 7 rounds of doubling from 1903. If we kick up into another gear of faster growth, then 21-50 years for the next set of 7 rounds of doubling. (over times more after each set.) There was qualitative and definition changes from 1903 to now as well. Telecommunications was the telegraph and now it is the internet, mobile phones, fax, and a lot of other businesses.

For what Walheed to envision to be the case the new growth would need to be nearly completely virtual. Where there is increasing value placed on the civilization into non-physical realms. This would ultimately merge into Nick Bostrom's idea of simulated universes by advanced civilizations I have difficulty seeing how for research and fun and other reasons that becomes the dominant use of resources or the economic focus of an advanced civilization.

William Randolph Hearst was one of the richest men in 1903. He had 28 newspapers read by 20 million people (did not reach that level until 1925). He also had big property. Hearst Castle, but did not own that land until 1919 (construction from 1919-1947). A more modest modern approximation would still be a multi-millionaire. Someone with a bunch of popular blogs or websites to reach 5 million (lower than the 1920 figure to the 1903 level. Instapundit gets 250,000 per day, 7 million per month. I would guess $5-10/cpm. $35,000-70,000 per month. However, the staff to achieve that went way down. Nice big modern homes (30,000+sf) still very expensive. It would be easier and cheaper (but still expensive) to make a modern approximation of royalty from an earlier period. Certain things become cheaper and easier to make with better technology, but there is still economic value generated and the physical world retains a large share of the value.

Qral's comments:
I wonder how long "super-growth" might last before it runs into Earth's thermal limits and has to majorly go off-planet? But for how long will one system be enough? In just 31 doublings after industry off-worlds we will match the Sun's energy output. That means Matrioshka Brain levels will appear within ~ 660 years. And then?

Here I take the middle view between Qral and Walheed. I think there will be some decoupling (perhaps increasing multiple) of virtual versus physical. In 1900, global energy consumption equaled 0.7 TW(=10**12 Watt.) Now DSP is up over 100 times and we use about 15TW. So there was an increase of 6 times the efficiency in energy usage to GDP. Plus I think there was some decoupling of GDP from resources. Things like information technology and other less resource intense industries. In the future to maintain hypergrowth we might need more virtual industries.

More GDP from less resources can go beyond just going to the limits of energy efficiency.

100,000 times more for Kardashev 1 all the energy on the planet. 3 of the big stages which if they are coming faster each time would happen very quickly. Definitely need to go offworld, but with fusion and nanotech not a problem.

Then the solar system, 10**26 power. 1 billion times. 4-5 major doubling cycles. (a major doubling cycle has seven doublings.) So if things are accelerating it happens even faster.

It seems we will either have to decouple economic growth from energy growth a lot more or use super tech to tap more power than solar.

With the advanced technology at the disposal of our projected hypergrowth civilization, I believe that we can achieve interplanetary and interstellar growth and also the development of the oceans and deserts and maximize utilization of all earth resources.

I have reviewed many superior launch and propulsion systems which I believe can be developed with near term technology improvements

Fusion, fission and laser photonic propulsion will open up space.

Mirrored laser arrays would allow light sails to be efficiently accelerated to near the speed of light.

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