The Rapid Rate of Our Recent Progress (Part 2 of Addressing Human Advancement)

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In summarizing our previous piece: Since the dawn of man, we’ve always asked ourselves, “Why?” Why -exactly- are we here, to begin with? What are we doing here? How have we come to be here?! Simply who we are… at all? All of those are very good questions, indeed! Equally so, all of those many different answers applied to them have remain unchanged -by and large- for countless centuries, at the very absolute least! Most of them even date back multiple millennia!

And yet… just this past century has brought with it change quite unlike anything ever before witnessed by anyone. Electricity? Transportation, with cars, planes and trains? No less, the dawn of the nuclear age? Then, the past couple of decades alone have rapidly seen such gains become exponential in magnitude- now, only every few years our technologies are totally and completely transforming the all of everything. Think about the previous 20 years: Computers. The Internet. Cellular phones. Genetics and DNA.

Then, over but the last handful of them: Tablets beget mobile devices; the Internet becomes available everywhere, no less coming at broadband speeds! Smart devices beget the Smart Home; where now we can turn simple lights off and on using any mobile device, from anywhere! Our digital devices? Not only do they currently audibly talk to us, but so too understanding us whenever we speak to them! Artificial intelligences surely aren’t very far off right now, heralding a truly unprecedented new world quite unlike any before.

If the detailed complexities and intricacies of technologies I laid out last time around might be lost on you…? Well before we move on to other matters, for now I’d like to quite specifically lay out the rate of progress we have been witnessing only over this past decade, in ways hopefully most anyone can readily grasp.

Look only to see the seismic shift in video gaming! Ataris and NESes were only all too recent memories, yet today? Those modern PlayStation and XBox consoles? They are so amazing as to defy all description! Fantastically complex worlds employing all too realistic physics; characters and scenery so impeccable in quality as to appear utterly lifelike.

We went from white pixels bouncing on-screen going ping and pong (all day long!), to total recreations of late 18th century revolutionary Paris; a world where hundreds appear on-screen simultaneously, who go about mundane daily tasks whilst speaking to one another and carrying on random conversations.

Now, at least hardware wise, there’s exceedingly little room yet left to go; having now reached an apex in power, easily noticeable given the console generational difference between PS3 and PS4 was, for the very first time, somewhat minimal in appearance. Before then, every five or six years spelled an exponential improvement in quality: Atari to 8-bit era, to 16-bits, onward to 64, then PS2, leading to the PS3. Each instance was monumental – Atari days were basically user controlled splotches of color on a TV set.

The 8-Bit era introduced considerable variation and actual gameplay elements. 16-bit, those elements started becoming something approaching lifelike. 64-bit – the Nintendo 64 and PlayStation 1 – brought 3D gaming to the fore. The penultimate era, reducing the distinction between pre-rendered cut-scenes and those rendered on-the-fly, as graphics while playing start looking just as good as anything one might hope for. Finally, the PS3/360 cements High-Definition and high-capacity storage media. This modern PS4/One era, if it is to be remembered for anything of note the same way as all prior such generational shifts, will undoubtedly be adding networked features along with complete home entertainment integration.

One might all too easily imagine that digitally recreating such staggeringly complex worlds to be entirely outside of rhyme and reason. But… think again! Our current supercomputers have already proven more than capable of simulating entire universes over billions of years – our recent investigations peering into the darkened silhouettes of dark matter and dark energy, where researchers have presently applied their efforts towards putting their theories to the test in order to ascertain the validity of such ideas in the only way they possibly might hope to.

In the process? We’ve also been witness to evolution on a universal scale going from the starting gate (Big Bang) all the way up to modernity, as eerily similar galactic structures to what we see and know emerge from their projects focused on the testing of those various darkened matters.

There’s an additional curiosity here: imaginging the scale of our world, and the numbers involved when talking about microscopic atomic realms is mind blowing… but of course it is! You know what else is equally as mind blowing? Our own contemporary computers! Your modern gaming console, taken as a ‘fer example’ hereabouts? The PS4’s own CPU clocks in at a full 1.8 teraflops worth – which means 1.8 trillion operations… per second! For another, how about a modern supercomputer? In China, the current record is over 30 PETAflops! That’s handling an insane 30,000 trillion calculations… always running each and every single second it operates!

But true enough, when a single living cell might house a trillion different atoms… even such extreme numbers can quickly begin appearing downright paltry in comparison. Then again, consider only that same PlayStation 4 console: In some 18 months on the market, Sony has already sold some 20 million units globally! If each one handles nearly two trillion calculations every second, then that means – for just one gaming console, over only 18 total months available so far – has some 40 million trillion calculations each second… assuming, that is, we were to magically link them together in unison. That’s an impossible 40,000,000,000,000,000,000!!!

Also consider technological trends: A gigaflop, as you might already guess, is some billion operations a second processed.

You know how much a computer that could handle exactly a billion calculations each second would cost over the years? Also understanding just a modern PlayStation console is 1,800 *times* as powerful as those mere one billion operations?

In 1961, back in the days when we sent men to the Moon? Each gigaflop processor would’ve run $8.3 TRILLION (as with all our dollar amounts, when adjusted for inflation)! That’s nearly ten thousand bucks for every single last calculation per second!!! (And so, a PS4 costing 1,800 times that same $8,300,000,000,000 – an incomprehensible $15 quadrillion dollars worth of 1961 processing power: $14,940,000,000,000,000!! One half century of added time transforms $15 quadrillion into a couple hundred bucks!)

How about in 1984? You know, the year of the big Apple Computer Super Bowl ad promoting Different Thinking? Surely, the days of Microsoft and MS-DOS couldn’t be anywhere nearly so astronomical… right?

Wrong. 43 million wrongs, to be exact! Every 1984 gigaflop was $43 million bucks. The PS4 would still run someone $77 BILLION only a scant three decades prior, back in the days of the NES!

Fine, fine, you must undoubtedly be thinking – let’s try 1997. My goodness gracious, you think… Windows 98 and the AOL world…? Years after the PS1 came out?! 1/1800 of the PS4’s processing power surely had to have been reasonable. Again… wrong! This time around, only on the order of 42,000 wrongs, to be exact. A gigaflop in 1997 was $42,000 in 2010 dollars! Making for a PS4 still costing nearly $75 million bucks… but 18 years previous!

What about… oh, 2007? Holy Guacamole, Batfans! Not even a decade ago; a gigaflop certainly *MUST* have been reasonable in cost! Well, it was… kind of – $52 per gigaflop in 2007. The PS4 would then have run our 2007 selves only a microscopic $93.6. Oh, sorry, wait a second – that’s actually $93,600!!

Today every gigaflop costs us but eight cents each. In only eight short years, we went from $52.00 to $00.08 per gigaflop. Got the picture just yet? If you’re doing the math there at home, and with this presently being 2015: The PS4’s 1,800 gigaflops processors today runs us each only a relatively obscenely reasonable $144.

So over a decade, it went from $75,000,000 in 1997 to $93,600 in 2007. Then, another eight years later, from $93,600 to $144!!

Extrapolate such trends out into the future, and begin envisioning just what the near future might spell for us there, much as these types of technological gains only become increasingly exponential in nature with each passing new year. Then, dare to conceive what it means if we master quantum computing at any point! We’ll need entirely new scales to merely describe their first initial capabilities: trillions of trillions of trillions of trillions per second will seem downright paltry compared to the realities they’ll immediately usher in.

And yet, even today alone… we find orders on scales of trillions and trillions, for each and every single isolated processing machine! Connected together in network arrays, such distributed computing efforts offer us equally staggering realities just right here and now, in only the present day.

Our modern rate of progress is incomprehensible, developed solely by we “mere mortals” over infinitesimal periods of time. Daring to even begin imagining what a truly divine entity could achieve along similar lines, additionally given the benefit of infinite time? As we will soon be exploring, it’s certainly no small wonder such outright impossibilities were labeled as literal magics by and to ancient peoples whose time came thousands of years in our own past world.