A Brief History of Intellectual Discussion of Accelerating Change


A history of the ideas of progress and accelerating change.


As acceleration watcher Robert Trask eloquently stated: “It is tough to try to explain to someone what all this is about without coming across as a fanatical moron.”

Reading some of this definitely feels like reading a religious text, but the citations and historical perspective offered here is great and the insights are genuine and originate from some of the greatest thinkers of their time.

Important passages:

  • Unlike human social systems, which oscillate on a pendular dynamic between phases of centralization and decentralization, technological evolutionary development has been on a much more smoothly accelerating, and increasingly self-catalyzing trajectory. Technology is moving toward its own true autonomy.

  • The pendular swing (cycle) between plutocratic income inequity and democratic income equalization is a basic feature of civilization.

  • The idea of universal computing also achieved perhaps its first major popularization at this time, from Isaac Asimov in a famous 1956 short story, The Last Question. In this story, the universe is proposed to be a self-organizing computational system that ultimately defeats entropy by recreating itself in a recursive manner. This speculative idea, universal rebirth as the only way around “the entropy problem,” represents the most credible solution to the question of the long term survival of universal intelligence that has yet been proposed.

  • STEM (Space, Time, Energy, and Matter/Mass) efficiency is the idea that the leading edge of local complex systems always discover how to do more computing with less space, time, energy, and matter per salient computation (however measured), due to special pre-existing universal structure. They naturally run down a STEM efficiency and/or STEM density gradient, built into the physics of the macrocosm, microcosm, nanocosm, and eventually, femtocosm.

  • The engineer and futurist Brad Holtz states something similar, as a general rule of thumb: “Three orders of magnitude allows a paradigm shift.” At the phase change, the process being examined changes its nature in such a way that the quantity being measured no longer captures some of the key qualities or dynamics of the emergent entity. A singularity has occurred.