Friday, July 4, 2008

I'm So Impressed

Wow, I just finished reading Freeman Dyson's book review and KK's intellectual riff on it. My first feeling is Part of me thinks that I should just stop writing and pondering long term thinking 'cus these guys are waaay smarter than me. I won't bother to summarize their posts other than to say that they cover long term thinking and environmental trends, they're fairly dense posts, and that I think they are profoundly insightful. I don't think I have my own riff on them yet I have to chew over their ideas for a while ( Anyways, I'll leave you with my favorite piece from KK's post.

"But while progress runs on exponential curves, our individual lives proceed in a linear fashion. We live day by day by day. While we might think time flies as we age, it really trickles out steadily. Today will always be more valuable than some day in the future, in large part because we have no guarantee we’ll get that extra day. Ditto for civilizations. In linear time, the future is a loss. But because human minds and societies can improve things over time, and compound that improvement in virtuous circles, the future in this dimension is a gain. Therefore long-term thinking entails the confluence of the linear and the exponential. The linear march of our time intersects the cascading rise and fall of numerous self-amplifying exponential forces. Generations, too, proceed in a linear sequence. They advance steadily one after another while pushed by the compounding cycles of exponential change.

Balancing that point where the linear crosses the exponential is what long-term thinking should be about. For each generation and for each issue that equation of intersection will be different. Sometimes the immediate needs of the now will dominate, and the discount rate will favor the present. For example, the chronic use of childhood vaccines and antibiotics may prove to have long-term downsides, but their value to present generations is so great that we agree to send the cost to the future. Descending generations will have to pay the price — or to solve the problem by inventing better medicines using exponentially better knowledge and resources. Other times future generations will be so enhanced by the later exponential growth begun in a small immediate gain that we raise the discount rate. For example the yield in educating girls in any society is so great, so amplified and compounded in so many ways, over so many generations, that it is worth an awful lot to pay its costs now — even stiff costs in the face of cultural resistance and low immediate yields. Here the cost point is shifted to the present.

A timeline of where we expect these cost/benefit/risk-thresholds to fall in each sector of our civilization, or a field map of places we can see where our linear lives cross exponential change — either would be very handy to have."

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