The accelerating rate of change

Following a discussion with Matt Edgar about the accelerating pace of change in the modern world (Matt denies this phenomenon exists) I propose a quasi-scientific proof of concept (and my apologies for any inaccurate science in my reasoning).

Consider a gas contained in a fixed volume. The molecules have a certain amount of space within which to vibrate and interact. If you add more molecules into the fixed volume, the interaction between them all will increase producing a higher pressure and higher temperature. If more molecules are added then at some point the gas will reach a tipping point and become a liquid. At this point the rate of change is accelerated and demonstrable.

Now consider a human population contained in a fixed space. The interactions between the people will occur at a certain rate. Increase the population in the fixed space and the interactions have to increase proportionally. If the people are creative as well, then the resultant interactions are likely to produce even greater ‘temperatures’ than would be expected.

This phenomenon is observed in the animal kingdom. A swarm of locusts is created when grasshoppers interact at a specific rate. The grasshopper population metamorphosing into a swarm of locusts represents the transformation of a gas into a liquid and the rate of change is accelerated and observable. The consequences of that swarm of locusts on the surrounding area represents what happens when the pressure inside the fixed container becomes too great for the container to hold and an explosion occurs. Again the rate of change is then accelerated and observable.

This change from a stable condition to an unstable one is perfectly demonstrated in the example of fish farms. The increased density of fish in a fixed volume of water produces unforeseen consequences to the environment. The incidence of disease and parasites within the farmed fish increases dramatically. The faeces from the fish cannot be processed quickly enough by the natural biological cycles within the system and the result is ecological devastation for the sea bed. So change is brought about by an imbalance in the system (whatever that system is).

Therefore, I assert that modern civilisation is inherently imbalanced in nearly all of its practices, from agriculture to the financial systems and that the process of maintaining these unsustainable systems is an accelerating one and the inevitable catastrophe when these systems collapse will represent accelerated and observable change.

6 Responses to “The accelerating rate of change”

  1. Dan Ladds says:

    I think there are several problems with productivity today.

    Firstly, although economic output is rising, the system within which the economy operates is itself broken. What we are currently doing is patching it: letting free trade happen then imposing regulations to stop it happening quite as much, using taxation to provide token Socialist efforts, or using taxation in a weak attempt to balance out wealth and ration finite resources like fossil fuels.

    We are trying to contrain a broken system into what is right, but we simply cannot do so forever. Eventually the underlying principles of the system must change.

    The second is that economic and technological progress have outstripped social progress. We live in a world where I can communicate instantly with someone on the opposite side of the planet, but a majority of people believe that planet simply popped into existence thanks to “God”. The fundemental ways society deals with right and wrong are broken and no rise in GDP is going to fix that.

    There is an argument that we will eventually reach a technological singularity, where we build a computer more intelligent than ourselves in every way. Such a machine would then be able to build a machine superior to itself. Since computers move at such high speed, we would very soon have a machine with unimaginable capabilities, able to solve any problem that can be solved. Its only core programmed axiom would be to do good for mankind rather than itself.

    I propose that if we ever reach such a point, it would be destroyed under the banner of “playing God”, or bent to fill some purpose of profit.

    I think above all, the main problem we have in terms of progress, is the commonly-held belief that it can be measured in GDP.

  2. Ivor Tymchak says:

    Thanks for the comment Dan. I immediately picked up on the immense complexity of your simple axiom: “do good for mankind”. Here we have the problem in a nutshell…

    • Only mankind? As we are totally dependent on other life forms, this is fraught with paradox. We have ‘protected’ ourselves from parasitic worms, for example, and produced an explosion of allergies. How is a contribution of any species evaluated?

    • What if humankind is the problem? We are the virus, the plague of locusts, the meteor from space which wipes out 90% of all species. How does the computer justify that?

    • Can you ever see a time when humankind will surrender its sovereignty to a machine (OK, we pretty much did that with our confidence in mathematical models for the financial sector, but only because we thought money was to be made)? If we ever disagreed with the machines prognosis we would simply disregard it.

    • All our problems stem from technology. Inventing even more powerful technology merely magnifies the problem.

    Correlating rate of change with GDP is an interesting idea though.

  3. Dan Ladds says:

    Thanks for the reply Ivor.

    I appreciate your point: what constitutes the greater good is a complex matter.

    Of course, we might create a system that did identify us as the major threat to life as a whole and then decided to wipe us out. It is a perfectly logical conclusion. This would have to be overridden, simply because I for one am not ready to die ;)

    Given this, we would have to define our own goals as a species more thoroughly – balancing human survival, quality of life, ecological factors, etc.

    I think however, that if we could create a machine that had the all intellectual functions and capacity of a human and we carefully programmed its key axioms, it could make better decisions about our own fate than us. It is arrogant of humanity to think it cannot be bettered in the relm of thinking.

    No, as I said, I can’t see humanity actually going down this path. As I said, such a machine would be destroyed with the argument that it was playing god to create such an intelligence. As you said too, if the machine disagreed with us, we would ignore it – although assuming the machine had a greater intellectual capacity to us, 9/10 times when we did this, it would be us in the wrong.

    I disagree that all our problems stem from technology. Many of our problems stem from the way *we* use it. At the same time however, technology has improved our quality of life in many ways. Technology is the reason I’m not sat in a mud hut right now.

    Technology can amplify both good and bad; we decide which, and right now we’re deciding pretty badly. For example, the introduction of mechanisation technology into a factory could be used to allow all workers to work less hours for the same produce, therefore increasing their quality of life. As it happens, in our current economic system, such a change means that a portion of the workers become unemployed and the factory owner makes more money. This isn’t the fault of technology – it’s the economic system within which it is employed.

    Technology could be used to source energy cleanly, give everyone on this planet a reasonable quality of life, ensure that we lead healithier, fuller lives. We could all have more free time thanks to the productivity of machines. It’s the fault of humans, not machines, that we waste their capabilities on pumping money upwards.

  4. Ivor Tymchak says:

    Dan, to separate technology from the species that invented it, is mistaken. I can see the attraction of bestowing upon technology a neutral bias but that is a fiction: humans invented technology for several reasons and all those reasons are human in nature. Probably the worst piece of technology ever invented is money. Money itself is neutral but our biased use of it has conditioned us to behave in a way that serves money and not ourselves (see your example about more efficient machines). The master has become the servant.

    More here;

  5. [...] by my Twitter followers after dConsruct, and by Ivor Tymchak’s pseudo-science, I offer this first draft. It’s an attempt to tell an alternative story about change in our [...]

  6. Alan Hoshor says:

    Greetings Dan,

    You may be interested in a book I’ve recently written on the topic of humanity’s next 100 years. Just visit


Leave a Reply