One of my methods for professional development is to try and read things that I really don’t understand. It can be frustrating and fruitless, but sometimes leads me to stray into interesting domains on the periphery of library and information concerns. Internet, webbery, bioinformatics, science policy, public engagement, even blogging – all have been ripe for my ignorant eye. Sometimes I even try to read Henry Gee’s blog ;-).
Earlier on I perused the latest issue of JANET News (usually a publication I do not linger over, concerned as it is with the technicalities of the UK academic computer network). I was nearly through skimming for comprehensible morsels when I found some extraordinary statements about the end of the world as we know it1. I am usually averse to apocalyptic pronouncements but this article gives some food for thought, speaking of a coming technological singularity
our technological progress in a number of key areas is just starting to reach … the point where … near-imperceptible increases in the rate of progress suddenly become large enough to demand our attention. The relatively slow accumulation of knowledge in the past is set to accelerate beyond our ability to imagine
OK, so things are changing. No surprises there really. And I’m sure you, dear readers, have an almost infinite capacity to imagine. But hang on a moment, next it says:
The technology curve will go vertical some time in the 2020s, causing technological change so rapid and profound it represents a rupture in the fabric of human history
Ouch. That sounds potentially painful and probably rather dangerous. But it gets worse:
the half-life of any given skill we might learn will get shorter as these changes accelerate. The key skill will therefore be the ability to learn
So no sooner have I mastered one technical trick or new piece of kit than it’ll be old hat and I’ll have to forget it and learn it over. Actually, on reflection, I usually forget and have to learn over again anyway so maybe there’s not so much difference.
Just as I’m starting to despair about the future, the article concludes with a sheepish admission that:
there are of course those who dispute either the timetable or the possibility of singularity at all
Oh, so it’s all just a high-grade Daily Mail-style piece of flummery then? No need to worry after all. Or is there?
1 JANET News, Sept 2008. It’s the end of the data networking world as we know it (this links to the whole issue as a pdf. The article in question is on page 11)