This is a quickly written note that I don't expect to have time to polish.
This note aims to bound reasonable priors on the date and duration of the next technological revolution, based primarily on the timings of (i) the rise of homo sapiens; (ii) the Neolithic Revolution; (iii) the Industrial Revolution. In particular, the aim is to determine how sceptical our prior should be that the next technological revolution will take place this century and will occur very quickly.
The main finding is that the historical track record is consistent with the next technological revolution taking place this century and taking just a few years. This is important because it partially undermines the claims that (i) the “most important century” hypothesis is overwhelmingly unlikely and (ii) the burden of evidence required to believe otherwise is very high. It also suggests that the historical track record doesn’t rule out a fast take-off.
I expect this note not to be particularly surprising to those familiar with existing work on the burden of proof for the most important century hypothesis. I thought this would be a fun little exercise though, and it ended up pointing in a similar direction.
There have been two technological revolutions since the emergence of homo sapiens (about 3,000 centuries ago): the Neolithic Revolution (started about 100 centuries ago) and the Industrial Revolution (started about 2 centuries ago).
Full calculations in this spreadsheet.
Full calculations in the spreadsheet.
Suppose technological revolutions arise as a Poisson point process, with time measured in human-years, so that it takes the same number of human-years for each technological revolution (on average). This seems like a reasonable way to form a prior in this case. If it takes N human-years for a technological revolution on average, and the number of human-years has been growing exponentially, then the time between each multiple of N should get shorter. But population hasn’t grown at a constant exponential rate, it’s more like the growth rate is proportional to the population level (until very recently, in macrohistorical terms).
Numerical simulations suggest that when population growth is proportional to population level, the time delay between each N human-years gets shorter by the same factor each time.
Very cool. You may have seen this but Robin Hanson makes a similar argument in this paper.
Interesting. Thanks for sharing :)