2002-11-01 – Slowing pace of progress – a link and discussion

A man called Phillip J. Longman wrote an interesting article about the world today, titled “Slowing pace of progress”. It was published December 25, 2000, and he has some interesting things to say. http://www.gyre.org/news/cache/517 is the link to the article.
Having just read it, and a few of the various other comments about it on-line, including this amusing rebuttal. I want to add my voice, both for and against.
While the arguement is very true, and correct, and, therefore, I have to agree with it, I would, at the same time, argue that it is the wrong explanation to the question posed.
The author has, in my opinion, been very selective. By taking the time of fastest change through the whole of modern human history, then claiming the pace has slowed, is dis-ingenius. It is like standing on top of K2 or another mountain, and complaining that they don’t make mountains like everest any more. The pace of change is still hurtling along, and, I strongly suspect, will continue to accelerate over the short-term. The use of the telegraph as a way to cut information travel times is a step change, and there is nothing that can beat it, since we know the speed of light, and, even if we came up with instantaneous communication, the change, in human terms, would be far lower than the weeks to seconds of the previous step change – unless inter-stellar distances were involved, and that is unlikely at the moment.
However, in a roundabout way, such a step change has already happened in some areas, and will happen further in future. Take, for example, e-commerce. For the first time, I can put something on sale, and then not care about anything except the money coming in. If I sell my eBook, the money is automatically transferred from the buyer’s account, the product delivered, the money deposited in my account – and I didn’t even have to speak to the buyer, who could be anywhere in the world! Not only that, but they can be buying what I sell while I sleep, and no-one can steal it (at least, not directly from me, and not without effort) so when I wake up, all I need to do is spend the money. Even this is done semi-automatically. While walking down the street, I can access my bank, and spend money using direct debits to pay off my credit cards and mortgage, my car payments and more. My salary is paid into my account automatically, and my Pay As You Earn income tax is deducted ready, so I don’t get a huge bill at year end. I can arrange a plane ticket, or a taxi, from almost anywhere, using wireless communications. I can update this page from anywhere in the world. As I walk, my Web phone can provide me with a map, purely from the postcode. In a few years, it will know where I am better than I will, using GSM triangulation or GPS. Correlating that gives a rolling map, in my pocket. Local shops will be indicated, if they match what I want to buy (assuming they can match the price on the web!) The pace of change is still frantic.
In line with this, things get faster every day. Soon, autonomous agents will search for things on our behalf, for example, searching for the price of a share to reach a certain level, or an item I want, across the world, and automatically marking it for my attention, ready for when I wake, or, just a small step on, it could do the entire job, and even answer the door, in the future. This would free me to work and play more, and sleep more. Unless I don’t need to.
A new product called \”ProVigil\”, which may be the first in a range of drugs to combat sleep itself. Imagine 24 hours a day, being awake, through a pill every 12 hours, if you want. It has the US Army excited. It has me excited too. But can you imagine the pace of life then?

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