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Man and Superman: Modern Science Revolutions

Posted on Wednesday, Jul 12th 2017

By Guest Author Frank H. Levinson

In the first segment of this series, we saw what a singularity was and were looking at the evidence for the possibility of a technology singularity. So, let’s now fill in the revolutionary landscape (remember that the agricultural revolution which started about 10,000 BCE was the first one!).

The next major scientific revolution was led by Greek science and Roman engineering when systematic structure (e.g., modern mathematics was born) and methodology in terms of engineering occurred.  We see this reflected in such diverse fields as geometry, architecture, logic, metallurgy, technology-based warfare, and initial ideas about astronomy and cosmology beginning around 500 BCE and lasting to perhaps 300 AD. Beyond the basic science foundations, this time we see multiple specific engineering for things like aqueducts, amphitheaters, chariots, ballistae, and more. The leveraging of scientific knowledge through engineering enabled much broader application of the ideas, often across empires.  [~200 BCE, time span 500 years]

Following the peak of Greco/Roman science, the next revolution brought the Renaissance. It begins with Copernicus and ends around the time that Newton’s Principia was published. We get modern mathematics including calculus, modern physics including mechanics, optics, and astronomy, the beginning of chemistry, and modern biology. In terms of years, this begins around 1550 and ends around 1650 AD.  As engineering evolved around these new sciences, we had eyeglasses and telescopes, predictions for improving cannon aim, steam locomotives for railroads, stronger bridges, and larger churches. We had leverage that allowed the creation of modern cities of 1M people or more and all the social structures, governmental forms, and economic systems that we recognize today.  [~1600AD, time span 100 years]

The remaining revolutions are more modern, they are –

  • Electrodynamics, quantum mechanics and relativity are scientific/technology areas, which were grounded between 1870 and 1920. They give us the base technology for electric power, communications, nuclear science, modern chemistry, cosmology, and so much more. Before this period, our cosmology still had the earth/solar system at the center of the universe, communication was mainly by letters that often took months to be delivered, and basic sanitary methods were best met by water from a hopefully clean stream. Inventions arising out of these sciences created autos, planes, rockets; telegraphs, telephones, televisions; x-rays, electron microscopes, centralized clean water, sewage, and so much more. [~1900 AD, time span 50 years]
  • Bio/DNA, which started around 1930 and was well grounded by 1960. This gives us the structure of cellular life, antibiotics, vaccinations, and reliable modern surgery. Technology here is credited with a near doubling of the average human lifespan (from 47 years in 1900to 76 years in 2000) since random deaths from disease and infection were effectively controlled for the first time. We produced biologically active substances from vaccines to antibiotics, and we understood the basic bio-chemical machines of life. [~1950 AD, time span 30 years]
  • Semiconductor-based computing, which started around 1975 and was well grounded by 1995. This gives us the integrated circuits (ICs based on CMOS processes) used in nearly all electronics today e.g., the computing cores for general, floating point, signal processing, and graphics that underpin all modern gadgets. This revolution enabled us to manage the giga-scale economies, politics, and environmental details of modern world. We can take large amounts of data, use this to model various outcomes, and test different hypotheses. Pervasive computing down to the level of individuals was empowering. This was the first revolution where exponential growth and compounding of the ideas made change faster than we could readily anticipate. [~1985 AD, time span 20 years]
  • The creation of the Internet, which started around 1995 and was well defined by 2005 with the emergence of the world-wide web, information search, social media, and cloud computing, is another wave. It is easy to discount this one as a “revolution” on par with the others above but do not be fooled. Humans are the only “story telling” creature on earth, and this revolution changes the whole game of how we tell stories. With the world-wide web, Harari’s inter-subjective realities (ISRs) can propagate, form or disintegrate more freely with the ability to publish an idea universally, by almost anyone, for basically no cost!  Remember some of these ISRs are fundamental -democracy, paper money, various international treaties and compacts regarding basic human rights, war crimes and trade, and the Paris accord on climate change – to name just a few. The Internet fundamentally changed the way we tell each other stories, and therefore empowered new ways to create inter-subjective realities – things that we collectively agree are true and where we have common cause.  We see this driving force everywhere today and its impact elected Donald Trump.  [~2000 AD, time span 10 years]
  • And finally, we probably need to add programmable DNA, which is starting right now [2015 AD, time span ~10 years]. The ability to change and program life itself will be of enormous importance in the very near future.


Note that the revolutions are happening with increasing frequency and the time for their impact to be diffused and put into practice by a significant fraction of the world is shortening with each new revolution! In the next installment, we will dig into this a bit more.


This segment is a part in the series : Man and Superman

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