Science advances that it is outrageous, said the famous verse of the zarzuela La verbena de la Paloma. All of us, more or less lay people, have had the same feeling at one time or another. Affirmations such as "who knew that one day we would be able to connect to the internet with such a small device!" or "the computer is not more than three years old and I am already old" (hello, programmed obsolescence) they do nothing more than express in a colloquial way a reality that is already here but that not everyone has realized : that the speed at which our environment changes is increasing, and that this evolution will take place in an exponential and non-linear way.
It is something that has been developed in what is known as the law of accelerated returns, which ensures that the growth of technological progress is exponential. Although, of course, it has been suggested by various thinkers throughout the last century, it was enunciated in its final form by Ray Kurzweil in a 2001 essay that was called this theory. In his work, the versatile scientist (also a musician and businessman) assured that there will be "technological changes so rapid and profound that they will represent a break in the fabric of human culture."
Faced with Moore's law –announced by Intel co-founder Gordon E. Moore in 1965–, which ensured that every two years the number of transistors in an integrated circuit would double (which already announced the exponentiality of growth), Kurzweil would a little further and assured that this would give rise to a technological singularity that would mark a before and after in the history of man.
A story to understand everything
Although the theory is old, it has been circulated again thanks to the recovery of an old traditional tale that Kurzweil has used frequently to help understand this exponential growth, and that the reader is probably familiar with. The story tells the story of the inventor of chess and the Chinese emperor, who wanted to reward him for his historic find. When asked what he wanted as a prize, the clever inventor asked him for something apparently very simple. Simply, the emperor had to place one grain of rice on the first square of the board, twice as many on the next one, four on the one beyond, and so on until all the squares were covered.
A seemingly humble request, but one that ended up wiping out the emperor's fortune (or the inventor's head, depending on the version of history consulted). Although growth appears simple and limited on the surface, raising the two to the 64th power (the number of squares on a chessboard) yields a result of 18 trillion grains (18,446,744,073,709,552,000, exactly) , an amount of production that not even the entire surface of the earth could offer.
The moral is clear: compared to the linear growth with which we usually manage in our daily lives (if I buy a car I will pay X, if I buy two my expenses will double), the technological logic is exponential and, therefore, its unstoppable growth, incalculable and constantly accelerating, as the usual sensation quoted at the beginning of this article shows. Something that has ended up affecting other aspects of our life, such as work or the management of our free time.
We all know where we started, but we don't know where we end
As Kurzweil explains, we are in the middle of that board, which does not mean that we are going for the 9 trillion grains (again the deceptive linear logic crossing our path), but for the 4,000 million. In short, there is still a long way to go, but that road will be traveled even faster than what we have experienced so far. It is at that moment when, according to the thinker, the emperor began to suspect that the deal had gone wrong. At first, everything seems to move slowly and in a way that is easy to understand. Only as time passes do we realize that what at first seemed controllable soon runs out of control, just as technology becomes increasingly out of date.
If these advances occur so quickly, it is inevitable that sooner or later we will reach a moment in which the conception of the human being changes forever (much more than with the appearance of the smartphone or the internet): it is known as singularity, the era in which artificial intelligence far surpasses the human and the human being can transfer his mind to a computer support. "As exponential knowledge continues to accelerate during the first half of the 21st century, it will appear to explode to infinity, at least from the limited and linear perspective of contemporary humans."
Since he enunciated the theory, Kurzweil, in addition to designing a peculiar diet with which he plans to reach a centenary, has become Google's director of engineering. But not everyone applauds his ideas or, at least, the application of these. As Professor Edward Frenkel, author of Love and Mathematics (Ariel) explained in a recent interview, it is a danger to consider man as a computer that must renew its hardware and software to evolve, especially if you are one of the most important men in the world. one of the largest technology companies on the planet.