I recently became aware of an article on the Singularity in the IEEE periodical Spectrum. It resembles to some extent my previous post on the topic, but misses some fine details. The key attribute of the explosions in growth is hierarchy, which is powered by specialists collaborating. The Industrial Revolution was a case of collaboration in a factory. What Hanson mistakes as an “agriculture” revolution was actually the beginning of civilization, which is collaboration in a town or city. Previous to that was collaboration between different regions of higher thought to create a complex world model. The next earlier step was collaboration between the internal and external senses to produce learning. The next earlier step was the collaboration of cells to produce a multi-cellular organism. And the first step was the collaboration of molecules to produce a single cell organism. There are the nasty little exceptions like mitochondria and chlorophyll, which are technically subsumed in the cell of a larger organism. However, those can be reasonably lumped in the cells collaborating category.
This makes six generations instead of five as mathematically estimated by Hanson. It might be argued that there is very little value in the human’s ability to model their environment that doesn’t merely lead to civilization. This would lead to five steps, and considering that there need to be changes previous to the actual addition of a new level of hierarchy, the 100k-200k years is probably not too long a preparatory step considering the previous step was hundreds of millions of years earlier. As a result, I can accept that there have been five hierarchical events.
The growth graph from Delong suggests that we are on the cusp of another growth explosion. I think it is already happening. It is being driven by modern communications which enable the worldwide scientific community to collaborate. As an example, even though designing electronics is getting harder, the rate of advance is speeding up. Electronic agents perform more complex tasks for us every year. They do searches for us, manage our computer hardware, gather items for shipping in warehouses and many other things. Clearly, hordes of electronic specialists will be a big part of the next level of hierarchy, just as will the communication system we use to communicate with them. Beyond that, it will be rather difficult for an individual human to comprehend the next hierarchy, even if it is staring them in the face.