An Extended Kardashev Scale

Understandably, it’s not very detailed. But here we go:

A type 3 civilization is of another order of evolution altogether, probably taking 100,000 years or longer to get there. Kardashev saw it as “a civilization in possession of energy on the scale of its own galaxy”. […] … What’s next after such an advancement? Kardashev didn’t see a need to hypothesize any further civilizations, but prognosticators since then have proposed that a type 4 world would be able to harness the energy of an entire universe, while a type 5 can do the same in a multiverse, drawing power from multiple universes. […] What about type 6? We are talking god stuff here, controlling time and space, creating universes at will. Type 7? We can’t even imagine and understand what that could be like. …

(It’s hard to be confident about why Type 7 needed tacking on.)

Quotable (#72)

From Carlota Perez’s Technological Revolutions and Financial Capital: The Dynamics of Bubbles and Golden Ages (2002, p.159):

When reading the accounts of the 1870s and 1880s written by those who lived through them, one is inevitably struck by the similarities between the evolution of compound engines and ships and that of chips and computers, between the process of generation of a world economy through transcontinental transport and telegraph and the present process of globalization through telecommunications and the Internet. By making the relevant distinctions between that context and this one, the power of those technologies and of these, the worldviews of that time and our own, we can learn to distinguish the common and the unique in all such processes. The same happens when reading the glowing accounts of economic success in the 1920s and the similar writings about the ‘new economy’ in the 1990s. If one is willing to accept recurrence as a frame of reference and the uniqueness of each period as the object of study, then the power of this sort of interpretation comes forth very strongly.

(The entire book is, of course, a masterpiece.)

Quotable (#71)

John Gray does not share in the common assumption that scientific development is connected to moral progress. He imagines the replacement of ancient prayer-wheels with …

… an electronic tablet containing inspirational statistics on the progress of humankind, powered by algorithms that show this progress to be ongoing. […] Unlike the old-fashioned prayer wheel, the device would be based on the latest scientific knowledge. Programmed to collect and process big data, it would have the ability to deliver statistics that never fail to show long-term improvement in the human condition. If regress of any kind was happening, it would appear as a temporary pause in the forward march of the species. In order to ward off moods of doubt – to which even the most convinced believers in improvement are occasionally prone – the device would broadcast sound versions of the uplifting statistics. Best of all, the device would be designed to be worn at all times.

It would not be the first time that science has been used to bolster faith in the future. Nineteenth-century disciples of Comte’s religion of humanity practised a daily ritual in which they tapped the parts of their heads that according to phrenology embodied the impulses of altruism and progress. In order that they would never forget the importance of cooperation, they were instructed to wear specially designed clothing with buttons down the back that could be accessed only with the help of other people. Twenty-first century believers in human improvement can surely find a better way to practise their faith. Reciting out loud numbers broadcast by their amulets, they can exorcise any disturbing thoughts from their minds. For so long shrouded in myth and superstition, meaning in life can at last be produced by modern methods.

Soft Decadence

A thoroughly-considered challenge to the accelerationist orientation is formulated by ‘Viznut’ at countercomplex, who has been receiving a lot of attention recently for this remarkable blog essay. A significant sample:

What happens if you give this buggy civilization a virtual world where the abundance of resources grows exponentially, as in Moore’s law? Exactly: it adopts the extropian attitude, aggressively harnessing as much resources as it can. Since the computing world is virtually limitless, it can serve as an interesting laboratory example where the growth-for-its-own-sake ideology takes a rather pure and extreme form. Nearly every methodology, language and tool used in the virtual world focuses on cumulative growth while neglecting many other aspects.

To concretize, consider web applications. There is a plethora of different browser versions and hardware configurations. It is difficult for developers to take all the diversity in account, so the problem has been solved by encapsulation: monolithic libraries (such as Jquery) that provide cross-browser-compatible utility blocks for client-side scripting. Also, many websites share similar basic functionality, so it would be a waste of labor time to implement everything specifically for each application. This problem has also been solved with encapsulation: huge frameworks and engines that can be customized for specific needs. These masses of code have usually been built upon previous masses of code (such as PHP) that have been designed for the exactly same purpose. Frameworks encapsulate legacy frameworks, and eventually, most of the computing resources are wasted by the intermediate bloat. Accumulation of unnecessary code dependencies also makes software more bug-prone, and debugging becomes increasingly difficult because of the ever-growing pile of potentially buggy intermediate layers.

This is an abundance-driven decadence theory, and a highly plausible one. Viznut draws his discussion towards its conclusion on a somber note: “I am convinced that our civilization is already falling and this fall cannot be prevented.” There is much here worth pondering upon (so read it all).

Twitter cuts (#7)

This tweet seem well on the way to immortality, but any additional microscopic contribution to that end is worth making:

Musk seems to have invented the term “biological boot loader”. It’s instantly indispensable.

Replicator Usurpation

Hans Moravec’s 1998 graph of computer performance evolution has surfaced in the Twittersphere (via Hillary Haley). It’s sixteen years old now, but the story it tells hasn’t shifted much (which means the climax is quite a bit closer).

computer-power-future (Click on image to enlarge.)

What’s happened to the curve? According to this account, it has leveled off significantly since 2002, but it was never easy to fix on exactly what to quantify. MIPS is generally derided as a metric, in part due to simple quantitative obsolescence (exceeding three orders of magnitude since 1998).

Moravec’s brutally quantitative, hardware determinism remains a credible predictive tool, however, especially if unplanned emergent effects are expected to dominate (overwhelming software engineering). Once history has thrown up enough synthetic brain capacity, things can begin to move in.