[extropy-chat] Inside Vs. Outside Forecasts

Eugen Leitl eugen at leitl.org
Tue Oct 11 19:38:41 UTC 2005

On Tue, Oct 11, 2005 at 11:48:17AM -0700, "Hal Finney" wrote:

> Take cryonics, for example.
> Most optimism there comes from people who know nothing of the details.

I do know some of the details, and yet remain cautiously optimistic
(cautiosly, as it needing a quantitative assessement of vitrification
damage before a verdict is out either way). Ask the Society for Cryobiology,
and they'll roast you alive on a slow fire (and it's even pure politics,
individual folks dare not break out of the front lest they be excommunicated
from the hallowed halls).

> The more you know, the less optimistic you are.  AI is another area
> where, with a few exceptions, most of our more grandiose predictions come
> from people who have never worked in the field.  Drexlerian nanotech,
> likewise, is mostly supported by software engineers (in fact when I
> finally found Nanosystems in the bookstore, it was in the software
> section).  There's not a chemist in the world who believes in this stuff.

Not quite correct. Machine-phase chemistry (albeit not under this name) papers
are published in refereed journals. Is the reaction set library sufficiently
powerful for self-replication? That, no one knows for certain, yet.
Yet, as a chemist, I remain cautiously optimistic. The Drexler/Merkle/Freitas
community has moved on to mapping the set abstraction/deposition reaction 
computationally. And it's the only thing you can do, given limited resources,
and politics.
> Why do these predictions fail?  I will suggest that the fault is not in
> us, it is in the world.  Our predictions were reasonable.  It was the
> world that failed.

The worse for the world, eh? Seriously, it is only a fool who takes
those predictions seriously. You cannot predict a nonlinear system.
The more precise the prediction, the more brittle. Negative predictions
are easier. 
> I suspect that the world has changed, that it has fallen off the
> exponential curve.  The real shape is an S curve, the logistic curve

Not all metrics follow the exponential, at all time. In fact, the real
world can never follow an exponential for any meaningful periods, before
the spacetime itself has to give (spacetime being quite resilient, it
is usually the exponential that has to give in).

> of yeast growth.  It is hard to tell the two apart as you move through
> the inflection point.  We were using a reasonable methodology in making
> predictions, but it assumed continued exponential or even hyperbolic

We were completely unreasonable. We were smoking crack. We still do, in fact.
That's okay, as long as we know what we're predicting is completely 
kaka. It's just entertainment, and spinning of scenarios. There's a niche
in selling scenarios. This doesn't mean our insight is special in any way.
Presuming anything else is utterly unreasonable, given our methods (rather,
lack thereof), and the abysmal track record.

> growth.  That was in fact a fair reading of the history of humanity up
> through the early 20th century.
> The world changed, and it did not continue to grow as fast as it
> should have, as we predicted it would.  Whether due to social friction,

I disagree. Not from over here. The world is essentially the same, 
it is the irrational exhuberance that has diminished. (And good riddance).

> diminishing returns, complicated economic limitations, or the presence
> of whatever ideology you want to cast as a villain, technological and

The ideology has zero to do with it. Not even societies' attitudes
have shifted, merely the geographical focus. I notice a curious absence
of the Asian input in our forum right here.

> scientific progress has slowed.  As a result, with a few exceptions the
> world of today is not much different from the world of decades past.

The world of yesterday used to be not much different than kiloyears past.
Thankfully, the bad old times are past.
> Who could have predicted that, after centuries of accelerating change?

You *are* kidding, aren't you?

> I don't think anyone could reasonably do so, certainly not from the
> outside view.  If anything, I suspect that inside-view analysis would
> have been more likely to anticipate the change, by looking at details
> of what the prospects would be for growth in different areas.

Eugen* Leitl <a href="http://leitl.org">leitl</a>
ICBM: 48.07100, 11.36820            http://www.leitl.org
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