IBM’s Watson may not have broken Gilder’s “Span of Life” constraint, but I think it put a dent in it

In his book “Telecosm”, George Gilder proposes that we are limited by 2 factors — The Speed of Light and the Span of Life. In his book he states:

The speed of light is the most basic constraint in information technology. As a key limit, the speed of light shapes the future architectures and topologies of computers and communications. For example, the light-speed limit dictates that the fastest computers will tend to be the smallest computers. Electrons move nine inches a nanosecond (a billionth of a second). As computers move toward gigahertz clock rates–a billion cycles a second–the longest data path must be decisively smaller than nine inches. Pulses of electromagnetic energy–photons–take some 20 milliseconds to cross the country and one- quarter second to reach a satellite in geostationary orbit (as you notice in a satellite phone call). At a gigabit per second, this means that as many as 250 megabits of data–many thousands of IP packets, for example–can be latent (or lost) in transit at any time, thus playing havoc with most prevalent network protocols, such as TCP.

Thus light speed is a centrifuge. It abhors concentration in one place, ordains that these small supercomputers will be distributed across the globe and will always be near to a network node. Although the networks will be global in reach, they will depend on the principle of locality: the tendency of memory or network accesses to focus on clusters of contiguous addresses at any one time. Light speed imposes limits on the pace of any one processor or conduit, and pushes both computer and communications technologies into increasingly parallel and redundant architectures.

What I think is relevant today is his second constraint

As a governing scarcity in the new economy, no less important than the speed of light is the span of life. Just as light speed represents the essential limits of information technology, lifespan defines the essential shortage of human time. Although medical and other health- related advances have increased the span of life in the United States some 5 years in the last 25–while the media focused on aids and cancer, and zero-sum pundits declared that our descendants, the scions of our science, will live less well than we do–the ultimate lifespan remains limited. Indeed, the modal economic activity of the information economy is exploitation of the technologies of the speed of light to increase the effective span of life by increasing efficiency in the use of time.

Gilder’s point is that we know all we know based on our life expectancy. There is no way to magically transfer all of our knowledge into the heads of our successors. We can leave behind our knowledge and records of experience, but each generation must learn for itself.

Enter Watson….

I’m at an age now where I recognize the wisdom of elders…I’m rapidly becoming an elder. My life experience has provided for me a great deal of time and exposure to new ideas…time that has enhanced my ability to evaluate options and see possible solutions.

Imagine a grandfather adviser who doesn’t age. Imagine a senior physician who knows and can apply the medical marvels of generations. Imagine an engineer who has been solving problems for hundreds of years. This can be Watson.

Through the work accomplished by IBM and the Watson project, mankind now has the ability to contain knowledge and continue the applied learning process without the fear of death overtaking us and causing us to start over from birth.

I believe with such creative spirit, we’ve made significant progress in breaking through Gilder’s second limitation “the span of life”.  Now….let’s see if we can do something about that “speed of light” issue!

For more information on Watson

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *