The Singularity, Infomania, and Programmed Reality (cont.)
By Jim Elvidge
Evidence that the exponential trends are flattening…
There is actually evidence that the trends that predict the
Singularity are slowing down. The Appendix describes in detail how
some of the predictions of accelerating evolutionary events seem to be
flattening out. In fact, it seems that the next paradigm-shifting
event may occur about 17 years after the last (WWW), give or take.
But the most recent one occurred about 13 years after the previous
one (PC). So, by that rationale, the pace of exponential
technological evolution is slowing down. Computer scientist and
Virtual Reality pioneer Jaron Lanier thinks he knows why. In his
paper One-Half of a Manifesto (Wired, 2000), he argues that our
inability to develop advances in software will, at least for now,
prevent the Singularity from happening according to the Moore's Law
pace. One great quote from his demi-manifesto: "Just as some
newborn race of superintelligent robots are about to consume all
humanity, our dear old species will likely be saved by a Windows crash.
The poor robots will linger pathetically, begging us to reboot them,
even though they'll know it would do no good."
I have been in the software industry for over 25 years and I
must admit, I am also disheartened by the slow pace of software
advances. It seems to be that it takes almost as long to open a
Word document, boot up, or render a 3D object on today's blazingly fast
PCs as it did 20 years ago on a machine running at less than 1% of
today's clock rate. Kurzweil claims that we have simply forgotten:
"Jaron has forgotten just how unresponsive, unwieldy, and limited they
So, I wondered, who is right? Are there objective tests
out there? I found an interesting article in PC World that
compared the boot-up time from a 1981 PC to that of a 2001 PC. 
Interestingly, the 2001 was over 3 times slower (51 seconds for boot
up) than its 20-year predecessor (16 seconds). My 2007 Thinkpad -
over 50 seconds. Yes, I know that Vista is much more sophisticated
than MS-DOS and therefore consumes much more disk and memory and takes
that much more time to load. But really, are those 3D spinning
doodads really helping me work better?
Then I found a benchmark comparison on the performance on 6
different Word versions over the years. Summing 5 typical
operations, the fastest version was Word 95 at 3 seconds. Word
2007 clocked in at 12 seconds (in this test, they all ran on the same
In summary, software has become bloated. Developers
don't think about performance as much as they used to because memory and
CPU speed is cheap. Instead, the trend in software development is
layers of abstraction and frameworks on top of frameworks.
Developers have become increasingly specialized ("I don't do "Tiles", I
only do "Struts") and very few get the big picture.
What does this have to do with the Singularity? Simply
this - With some notable exceptions, software development has not even
come close to following Moore's Law in terms of performance or
reliability. Yet, the Singularity predictions depend on it.