22 May

Origin of Ideas

Origin of Ideas

This 5 post series will addresses as to how “we are facing exponential threats from resource crunch and environmental degradation and that in response, we are inventing a new idea age”.

  • Exponential Threats identifies the exponentially growing threats we are presently facing
  • In Exponential Technology, we argue that our exponentially growing technology, our best ally, is not sufficient to tackle these threats. To do that, unprecedented level of human ingenuity should come into play.
  • In this post Origin of Ideas, we discuss the source of human ingenuity, both inside an individual’s head and across the society.
  • In Age of Creativity, we address as to why we have reasons to believe that we are entering an era of unprecedented global creativity.
  • In the last post, we will address as to how you can prepare for the coming Idea Age

Before discussing how human creativity is likely to save the day, we must first understand the origin of ideas, either inside a human head, or across a society. After all, there are striking similarities between both types of idea generation.

Human Mutation and Population

First, a small detour. Faster Human Mutation A paper was published in 2007, showing how the rate of human mutation was picking up speed with time. The reason was discovered to be the rising human population! More humans meant more mutations. More mutations, of course, meant more variety and better chances of human race continuing to eke a living. According to Matt Ridley, as he argued in this TED talk, there is one other thing that becomes more common with increase in population: Ideas. Ridley argues that since people make ideas, where there are more people, we have more ideas generated. But ideas funny creatures. With ideas, 1+1 = 11. Value of an idea goes up multi fold when it is in the midst of other ideas. For example, take the idea of petroleum mining. When this idea is not combined with any other idea, it has zero value (imagine a guy digging out tarry goo, with no idea what to do with it). But when it is combined with other ideas like IC engines, automobiles, jet planes, plastics, war, pollution, etc., the idea of petroleum mining becomes a formidable! Idea Having Sex Each idea makes several others come alive. To better understand how ideas work, you can think of ideas having sex (an analogy introduced by Ridley in his TED talk). But since ideas combine in every which way possible, we should think of them as polyamorous, egalitarian, libidinous and indiscreet! Ideas Are Indiscreet But the value of an ideas is derived from its ability to combine with other ideas. Not from its ability to stand alone. According to Ridley, an environment that fosters mixing of ideas is much more productive and valuable than sheer IQ. For example, industrial towns like Tiruppur and Sivakasi pop up out of nowhere to become an island of superior performance only because these towns end up having a bunch of people thinking, eating and breathing closely related ideas. Interestingly, a reasonably large population is needed to sustain idea generation and specialization. And when it comes to playing the idea catalyst, no population is large enough. There is evidence from the past that China stopped advancing its science and technology when it cut itself out from rest of the world. Similarly, it is my personal belief that India fell short of exploiting its potential to innovate when it decided to cut itself off from the West (the chief idea generators at this point in the history) after obtaining its political independence from the British.

Creativity Inside your Head

Interestingly, creativity inside your head works in a very similar fashion: Generating a new idea inside your head is just a matter of combining two or more existing ideas in a novel way. To foster your own creativity, you will need rich knowledge base. The more ‘idea raw materials’ you work with, more appropriate will be the ideas generated by you.

Ideas

You get to work with more ‘idea raw materials’ when (a) you are knowledgeable and (b) you get to retain more of what you learn. Retention is partly genetic, partly due to repetition and partly due to physical health of the brain. Of course, we will have better understanding of memory as more research throws light on the subject.

Next  to memory, your ability to communicate between different models of your brain is important to combine ideas in a novel way. The physical health of your brain like blood circulation, health of the myelin sheaths insulating the axons, etc., determine how well you can combine ideas inside your brain and create new ones. If the circulation is poor (supplies of less energy) or the myelin sheaths are damaged (increased noise level during communication), all energy hungry neural operations like creation of new ideas get down regulated.

Sustained attention is a faculty that is known to play an important role in creation of new ideas. As if, the longer you hold an idea in the center stage of your head, the more opportunities you give it to finding a suitable  partners to hook up with.

Living and interacting with people who have a knack for creating new ideas certainly helps your own creativity. They teach you that it is alright to come up with new ideas and supply you with building blocks for generating new idea.

Most importantly, learning to suspend one’s critical factor is an important ingredient of personal creativity. People have a tendency of snuff out new ideas, even before the idea was given a decent chance.

Of course, intention/motivation is another huge factor in fostering personal creativity.

The last factor in personal creativity are external. Some people respond to external pressures (e.g. impending deadline) by becoming creative. In these people, pressure activates their norepinephrine, increases their mental alertness and actually makes them more creative. Another brain chemical that increases the mental alertness is dopamine. Dopamine levels in the brain increase when you are faced with a novel situation, when you are suitably rewarded or when in love (among other things). Typically, when you are in any of these situations, the level of your personal creativity go up.

Interestingly, we have entered an era that supplies ample quantity of several factors that we saw above. In the next installment of this series, we will see as to how creativity across the globe is in the process of reaching unprecedented levels.

REFERENCES:

- This post is a sequel to Part-1, Exponential Threats and Part 2, Exponential Technology
- All the posts in this series are based on the presentation Idea Age is Here
15 May

Exponential Technology

Exponential Technology

This 5 post series addresses as to how “we are facing exponential threats from resource crunch and environmental degradation and that in response, we are inventing a new idea age”.

  • Exponential Threats identifies the exponentially growing threats we are presently facing
  • This post, Exponential Technology, argues that our exponentially growing technology, our best ally, is not sufficient to tackle these threats. To do that, unprecedented level of human ingenuity should come into play.
  • In Origin of Ideas, we discuss the source of human ingenuity, both inside an individual’s head and across the society.
  • In Age of Creativity, we address as to why we have reasons to believe that we are entering an era of unprecedented global creativity.
  • In the last post, we will address as to how you can prepare for the coming Idea Age

 

Exponential Technology

One ray of hope against this exponential threat is one proven exponentially growing tool available with us: Our technology, at least the Information Technology. A group of people are such staunch believers in the power of exponential technology that they even predict that human beings would demat (de-materialize, become digital) by 2045! Technology and Transhumans In a world where human beings are demated (i.e. our minds are ported into machine), we don’t need agriculture, we don’t need cooking, we don’t need transportation (we will travel on electrons), we don’t need to die, we don’t need to have children, we all can have zillion clones, each one of them living inside a $1000 computer! The world inhabited by demat human beings will use less resources than anyone in 20th century could have imagined. This merger of man with machine was named the Technological Singularity (or, simply, Singularity) by the man who predicted it. It is, of course, so loony and so outlandish an idea no on in their right mind would even dare mentioning it in a civil conversation. Only problem is that this idea has been put forward by a no-nonsense person, backed by solid data with mind boggling predictive power.

Exponential Intelligence

Ray Kurzweil, the proponent of Technological Singularity, took 15 different prominent lists, containing major intelligence events in the history of planet earth and plotted it on a log-log graph sheet. Here is what he got: Major Intelligence Events Kurzweil showed (see his book Singularity is Near) that the exponential growht of information technology during later past of 20th century, attributed to Moore’s Law, is merely a part of a larger trend that has been unfolding from the formation of Milkey Way Galaxy! The trend is so reliable and predictable that Kurzweil proposed that it could be safely extrapolated into the future. Kurzweil's Prediction By extrapolating the trend, he showed that by 2013, our super computers would have enough processing power to enable human brain’s functional simulation

PS: Incidentally, in 2013, Kurzweil took up a job with Google and he now heads a project to build the human brain in a machine. In this 2014 TED talk, he discusses as to how intelligent machines that are capable of reading the entire internet will be here in less than 10 years.

He also showed that by 2025, the super-computers will have enough processing power to enable neural simulation of human brain! He went on to predict that by 2045, $1,000 would buy enough processing power to equate all the 10 billion human brains alive that year. By 2045, Kurzweil speculates, we will have the capabilities to port human brain into intelligent machines! However, there is a leap of faith that Kurzweil fails to address adequately. For example, by 2014, $1,000 can already buy more processing power than what is in a mouse brain.

But then, were are the cyborg mice?

While Kurzweil had provided wonderful argument to establish the predictable growth of computing power, he failed to show convincingly as to how the increase in processing power would result in augmentation of intelligence. Though, he provided some indirect evidences to his argument. Kurzweil showed that even stuff that doesn’t seem to be directly related to information technology explosion seem to follow the exponential curve.

Example 1: Exponential increase of private manufacturing in USA

Private Manufacturing   Example 2: Per-capita GDP of USA US PerCapita GDP In other words, Ray Kurzweil showed that technology grows exponentially, that intelligence grows exponentially and that wealth creation happens exponentially. He failed to adequately explain the anomaly between the humongous processing power we have today and primitive state of current intelligent machines.

Idea Explosion

A thinker, author, journalist, politician and ex-banker called Matt Ridley came up with a plausible explanation for the puzzle that Kurzweil left unanswered. Unlike the data driven argument put across by Kurweil, Ridley’s explanation was just another leap of faith. Though, he made an elaborate anecdotal evidences and couched his argument in it. As we will see in the sequel to this post, Ridley argued that human ingenuity would rise to the occasion and save the day.

REFERENCES:
- This post is sequel to Idea Age is Here: Part 1, Exponential Threat 
- Next post in this series is Origin of Ideas
- All the posts in this series are based on the presentation Idea Age is Here 
- In this TED video recorded in 2005, Ray Kurzweil explains the 'impending' Technological Singularity
15 May

Exponential Threats

Exponential Threats

This 5 post series will addresses as to how “we are facing exponential threats from resource crunch and environmental degradation and that in response, we are inventing a new idea age”.

  • This post, Exponential Threats, identifies the exponentially growing threats we are presently facing
  • In Exponential Technology, we argue that our exponentially growing technology, our best ally, is not sufficient to tackle these threats. To do that, unprecedented level of human ingenuity should come into play.
  • In Origin of Ideas, we discuss the source of human ingenuity, both inside an individual’s head and across the society.
  • In Age of Creativity, we address as to why we have reasons to believe that we are entering an era of unprecedented global creativity.
  • In the last post, we will address as to how you can prepare for the coming Idea Age

 

We (humans) are facing an imminent danger to the present way of life. Something must change. The popular belief is that change will drastically reverse the decades of advances that we have made in obtaining ourselves substantially better quality of living. Whereas, the popular hope is that we will come out on the other side much stronger than we are today.

Given that I am an ever-hopeful, I fall into the second camp and strongly ‘hope’ that some incredible breakthrough will come along (after all, what is the point in living, if one belongs to the ‘hopeless’ camp). The obvious candidate for the ‘breakthrough is coming’ camp is the exponential technology. That may not be the case.

All available evidences go to argue that over the coming decades, idea generation will be democratized, quality of average idea generated (or quality of idea generated by average Joe) will improve and give us new solutions that we didn’t even know were possible. This coming Idea Age will be very similar to various renaissance periods from the history, but much more potent. It is my hope that by the time we are finished with the idea age, we would have changed the human race both biologically and culturally.

More importantly, when idea generation is going to be democratized, a significant portion of human creative energy is going to be spent on improving human happiness. After all, in the centralized idea generation era that we currently live in, there is too much focus on economic value of the ideas.

Read on to understand more about the coming cultural and destiny shift, to learn what it would mean to you, and how you can prepare for it.

Growth vs Resources

We are stuck in an economy which is required to grow year on year, endlessly (image below).

Growth is Exponential

For example, no one (at least, no value investor) will ever buy shares in a company that doesn’t promise year on year continuous growth. You wouldn’t want to take up a job that can’t give you continuous increase in revenue. For reasons that I am not getting into here, we can’t wish away the exponential growth cycle without substantial hardship.

The trouble with exponential growth is that our consumption of raw materials doubles once in a few years (image below).

Exponential Growth

If, for example, take Oil. The global consumption of oil grows at 7% per annum year on year. At that rate, the global consumption of oil doubles every 10 years (1.07^10 = 1.97). Every time when consumption doubles, the amount of oil consumed during the new 10 year period equals the amount of oil consumed during the entire period coming before that! That kind of consumption growth can’t be sustained indefinitely.

Way back in 1972, a bunch of European scientists have modeled the global population growth and resource utilization and put their results into a book titled The Limits of Growth and updated it in 2004. The book predicted that our civilization would face a collapse during the mid to later half of current century.

In 2012, New Scientist published a paper wherein the predictions of 1972, as laid out in the book, were compared with the actual date obtained till the first decade of 21st century, and using much better modelling techniques. The result was a chilling conformation that the reality is not much different from the predictions of doom made in 1972 (image below)!

Boom and Bust

 

While the original 1972 predictions have been hotly contested and called deficient, surprisingly very little criticism has been heard about the 2012 New Scientist paper.

In the meanwhile, NASA recently announced that it has come up with climate model that matches with climate changes remarkably well. Based on this highly reliable model, NASA predicts that if we continued ‘business as usual’, by end of the current century, the global temperature would raise by as much as 14°C in the arctics and by lesser degree in other parts of the world.

Global Warming

 

Of course, NASA also pointed out that if we respond to impending climate change aggressively, we might just be able to get away with minimal damages. But the political will and preparedness seem to be widely lacking.

Given the looming resource crunch and consequent economic collapse, aggravated by global warming that is at least partly irreversible, we will have no way but to significantly change our present way of living.

Exponential Technology

While we are facing exponential problems, we have one exponential solution at hand: Technology. In the sequel to this post, we will understand exponential technology and how can it help us to deal with our exponential problem.

REFERENCES:
- This post is based on the presentation titled Idea Age is Here
- You can find the next parts of this series at Idea Age is Here: Part-2, Exponential Technology and at Origin of Ideas