“imagination-challenged” thinking…

by Chris T. Armstrong

Below is a recent post from my Facebook page:


including some comments from Peter Rothman that I thought would be a good way to kick things off…


When thinking about future possibilities, strive to avoid this kind of “imagination-challenged” thinking…

“The notion that 3D printing will on any reasonable time scale become a “mature” technology that can reproduce all the goods on which we rely is to engage in a complete denial of the complexities of modern manufacturing, unless you’d like everything made out of plastic” http://www.technologyreview.com/blog/mimssbits/27526/?p1=blogs

Ray Kurzweil comments:
“This person is imagining that 3D printing will never move beyond the materials that are currently used. The scope of materials is expanding and will include electronics in a number of years. Within 20 years they will be moving molecules around and will use machinery modified from biological assemblers such as the ribosome and chaperone molecules (which fold up amino acid sequences into proteins). This article is typical myopic thinking that assumes not much will change with the current state of the technology. There is never a shortage of articles such as this about every emerging technology.”

Conditions like “on any reasonable time scale” need to take into consideration: http://www.kurzweilai.net/the-law-of-accelerating-returns

“The Law of Accelerating Returns has a very important consequence in that extrapolation of exponentially improving technology trends into the future suggests, by Kurzweil’s analysis, that highly advanced technologies will arrive far sooner than linear-thinking people assume. The creation of the modern Internet and the completion of the Human Genome Project are prominent examples illustrative of this point. Both were multi-year projects that relied on computer technology to reach completion. In both cases, critics derided them as hopeless since, in the beginning, both relied on computers that would have taken decades to process all of the necessary data. However, these critics had failed to take into account the exponentially improving nature of computer processing speeds and price-performance, and thus failed to see that, within a few years, the two projects would have access to vastly superior computers that would drastically shorten their timelines for completion.” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Singularity_Is_Near

‎”Look at the human genome project. Ray predicted it would take 15 years to complete. Many critics said it would take a thousand years. And sure enough 7 years in to the project Craig Venters team had only decoded 1% of the human genome. The critics said they were right, “1% in 7 years, this project will take 700 years to complete.” But the critics did not predict exponential growth as Kurzweil did. 1% of the human genome completed means that the project was half way done. They were only 7 more doublings (at a doubling each year) from completing 100% of the project. And sure enough 7 years later (15 years from the start) the project was complete.” http://ja-jp.facebook.com/TranscendentMan/posts/10150370827657608

Peter Rothman: Yes but…Widespread availability of 3D printing of the nature envisaged here by Kurzweil will be far more disruptive than he lets on. You are essentially talking about deconstructing some of the largest industries in the world here. How much will Apple’s manufacturing expertise and supply chain be worth if anyone can print an iPhone 10 on their home 3D printer? Isn’t the answer zero? Think about it…many of the largest and most successful companies in the world will be reduced to nothing in less than 20 years if he is correct.

Chris Powell Armstrong: I agree Peter. Ray doesn’t get much into political/economic issues, which are pretty “messy” and unscientific. I believe we are in the beginnings of a transition to a post-capitalist world.

In an interesting bit of synchronicity, I just got this email from Kurzweil:

Dear Chris,
I’d like to reach out to you personally about a new book that I am very excited about: Abundance — The Future Is Better Than You Think. This book is written by my dear friend and colleague Dr. Peter H. Diamandis, Singularity University Cofounder and X PRIZE Foundation Chairman, and Steven Kotler, science journalist.

Peter and Steven intend to start a new conversation in the world — one focused on solving problems rather than just being gloomy about them. In the book, they give an extensive tour of the latest in four emerging forces: exponential technologies, the DIY innovators, the Technophilanthropists, and the Rising Billion. They present a very convincing case that the world’s getting better at an accelerating rate and lay out a road map for achieving the vision of abundance. I think you’ll enjoy the abundant stories, hard facts, and science/engineering in the book.

Today, we are all empowered more than ever before to solve humanity’s grand challenges. You can help change the world’s conversation from the pessimism of scarcity to Abundance!

Please explore this book at their website, www.AbundanceTheBook.com, where you can pre-order Abundance, download the first chapter, watch videos, share your reactions, and participate in a campaign to change the world’s conversation (and win a $5,000 prize in the process).

To launch the book and make a real impact in turning the world’s current negative focus around, Peter and Steven are offering four gifts to thank any early supporters for pre-ordering at www.AbundanceTheBook.com by February 13. (You’ll get access to Singularity University’s video library packed with graduate training on exponential technologies, the Transcendent Man documentary, and more.)

Please help spread the word!

Ray Kurzweil

Peter Rothman: This book is interesting too…but again, the devil is in the details. Kurzweil (IMO) always imagines a smooth transition to shiny bright future. Human history however suggests that the opposite is more likely.

Chris Powell Armstrong: I expect a tumultuous transition with a “great tribulation and gnashing of teeth.” People naturally want to hold on to their familiar models and power/money derived therefrom.


Quite a lot of people are, understandably, change-averse or change-phobic. I have always tended toward change-philia myself. It is not clear whether we’ll make it through the Singularity without some serious trauma…or maybe not even AT ALL.

It is interesting to note that Nikola Danaylov http://www.singularityweblog.com/
has asked his many interviewees on his bloody FANTASTIC Singularity 1 on 1 podcast how they would estimate humankind’s chances of surviving the Singularity and he has been surprised to discover that many of them rate our chances fairly low.

I have long looked at the “future” as: the good getting better, while simultaneously, the bad getting worse – and it’s just a competition to see which one will dominate. I am hoping that the Abundance book mentioned above will give me good cause to revise this long-held, and possibly misplaced intuition of mine…we shall see.