Notes on the Age of Capability

By | May 14, 2010

As discussed on the podcast a couple of weeks ago human capability is exploding. There are two major components of this rapid growth.

Our best-case capability, meaning the cutting-edge achievements that occur on the margins. Human capability includes every Olympic record ever set. It includes massive accomplishments such as traveling to the moon and building the Great Wall of China.

The distribution of capability, wherein capability that once belonged only to extreme outliers and powerful institutions becomes the domain of an increasingly generalized population. Film making is a good example of how capability is distributed. Imagine the resources that would have been required, 65 years ago, to make and widely distribute a 10-minute documentary film with nice titles and a background musical score. Only large corporations (or the government) could accomplish such a thing. Today grade-schoolers can do it, and they do. As we’ll see, this second factor becomes more important over time, especially in our current era.

Let’s compare human capability in two domains over the past 20,000 years. The domains are power, which we will measure in terms of the maximum mass that can be moved and the maximum speed for travel, and communication, which we will measure in terms of the number of options available for encoding and transmitting messages.

  • Tim

    And the thing is you are not allowing for true technological breakthroughs like extended Heim Theory:

    Even Nanotechnology which you do discuss is just an extention of what we do on the macro scale reduced to the microscale.

  • Teki Setsu

    We’re advancing so much that we need new measures: bits per cubic centimeter for storage, bits per second for transmission, millions of instructions per second for processing, etc.

    Certain new microscopic machines will be hugely transformational. Accelerometers in the Wii will find all sorts of amazing applications. All sorts of new microscopic machines will start showing up.

    New materials like carbon nanotubes will also change everything.

    Extremely powerful tiny processors will allow for things that will make the iPod look primitive.

  • David Kutzler

    You must be counting only the maximum velocity of manned vehicles if you are harking back to 25,000 Apollo-era speeds. The New Horizons probe to Pluto is currently traveling at around 36,284 MPH heliocentric (somewhat faster if you look at linear velocity).

    [ Yes, in fact we make that distinction on the podcast. -- Phil ]

  • MikeD

    new measures: People used to talk about Library of Congress (LOC) as a large collection of data. It would take X hours to send the entire LOC over newly available bandwidth, then it was minutes, now it’s seconds. Seems LOC is too small to be a useful measure. Hard drives used to be measured in Meg, then Gig, now Terabytes. How do we talk about that staggering amount of content? Number of weeks of continuous playback of music or video (because LOC just aren’t tangible enough) When we start uploading people’s identity into tomorrow’s storage mechanism(s) we may well be talking about “lifetimes” of digital content archives (upgrade to the newer model and you can record your primary as well as X alternate selves or backup your entire family on one fault-tolerant device)

  • Naomi Most

    Thanks for the link to I promise you, seasteads will be built.