[ExI] Why Cities Keep Growing, Corporations and People Always Die, and Life Gets Faster

Kelly Anderson kellycoinguy at gmail.com
Sat Jun 4 06:07:37 UTC 2011

On Fri, Jun 3, 2011 at 3:39 PM, Anders Sandberg <anders at aleph.se> wrote:
> I recommend his paper "Growth, innovation, scaling, and the pace of life in
> cities" at
> http://www.pnas.org/content/104/17/7301.short
> (free access) It gives some of the data and modelling, as well as the
> singularity model he gets.
> Overall, it seems to be a "law" that if anything has a superlinear factor in
> its growth, it tends to have a finite time singularity.

I think that's just basic math. Whether a singularity is reached in
real cities, who knows? Is this what happened to Mohenjo Daro, or in
the American Southwest, or Easter Island?

> Kelly Anderson wrote:
>> The discussion of the Singularity is that it can be avoided for a
>> while by using technology to push it off. I think this is a different
>> sort of singularity than what we are used to talking about here. This
>> is a singularity in the growth of a particular city or company, not of
>> mankind in general, although that could be interpolated from what he's
>> saying by treating the entire planet as a biological system of the
>> type he's discussing.
> Yup. His model is essentially arguing that we will get a finite time
> singularity that runs out of resources. A correlate is that if we want to
> have a "sustainable" singularity we better have our growth in domains that
> are more and more resource efficient.

That makes sense.

> Note that the other kinds of singularities we often talk about
> (superintelligence, prediction horizons, intelligence explosions, phase
> transitions, ...) may or may not have resource limits.

It would seem that everything has some kind of limit, but it might be
VERY far out there.

>>> You need major innovation on smaller time
>>> scales to continue growing the way we do.
>> Yes, this is where he falls off the rails. He dismisses it as
>> unrealistic that human beings can incorporate major new technologies
>> on the time scale of 6 months. Well, perhaps human beings can't, but
>> humanity+ can, and probably will. AGI can and probably will. I don't
>> think he is aware of the Singularity that we are all familiar with, or
>> at least he doesn't address that at all in this discussion. It would
>> be fascinating to discuss it with him.
> He is kind of aware. I talked with him about it, and he plans to meet with
> Nick next time he is over here in Oxford. It is just that he doesn't buy
> into AGI and similar things straight away, and at the very least not that
> that it would not be having the same kind of resource limits.

The double negative is throwing me here, is he saying AGI would follow
a different power law than people?

> Also, what
> happens to the AGI cluster when it needs to innovate faster than it can
> communicate the innovations to the other parts due to lightspeed limits?

Eventually, it would seem  that AGI would run into it's own singularity... :-)
Whether that would entail a collapse, or a steady state is the question.

>> I wonder if he's ever applied his technique to governments? Now THAT
>> would be interesting. I'd bet governments grow sublinearly at a rate
>> below that of even companies, but that's just a guess. It feels like
>> they get less efficient with growth, but that would contradict his
>> entire thesis. This would be interesting indeed.
> Would bthe number of laws or government employees count as growth? In that
> case I suspect superlinear growth and the prediction of a bureaucratic
> singularity!

How about something related to the tax rate? Seems that is running
into a singularity. :-)

> Quick check: http://www.data360.org/dsg.aspx?Data_Set_Group_Id=228
> Ha! I was apparently wrong, the number of federal employees has remaining
> pretty constant. Local employees are increasing but perhaps merly linearly.
> I suspect the volume of laws is increasing faster, but you need to specify
> what to measure carefully.

Ya. What would you measure as government efficiency given that
government doesn't really produce anything itself. Biologically
government is a parasite. Wonder if he has anything to say about
parasites in his whole analogy.


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