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I see no evidence that Moore's Law is steep enough to outrun all these problems without additional unforeseen intellectual achievements.

A fundamental statement of the question I'm examining here is: Does software tend to be unwieldly only because on human error, or is the difficulty intrinsic to the nature of software itself. If there is any credibility at all to the eschatological scenarios of Kurtzweil, Drexler, Moravec, et al, then this is the single most important question related to the future of mankind.

There is at least some metaphorical support for the possibility that software unwieldliness is intrinsic. In order to examine this possibility I'll have to break my own rule and be a cybernetic totalist for a moment.

Nature might seem to be less brittle than digital software, but if species are thought of as "programs", then it looks like nature also has a software crisis. Evolution itself has evolved, introducing sex, for instance, but evolution has never found a way to be any speed but very slow. This might be at least in part because it takes a long time to explore the space of possible variations of an exceedingly vast and complex causal system to find new configurations that are viable. Natural evolution's slowness as a medium of transformation is apparently systemic, rather than esulting from some inherent sluggishness in its component parts. On the contrary, adaptation is capable of achieving thrilling speed, in select circumstances. An example of fast change is the adaptation of germs to our efforts to eradicate them. Resistance to antibiotics is a notorious contemporary example of biological speed.

Both human-created software and natural selection seem to accrue hierarchies of layers that vary in their potential for speedy change. Slow-changing layers protect local theaters within which there is a potential for faster change. In computers, this is the divide between operating systems and applications, or between browsers and web pages. In biology, it might be seen, for example, in the divide between nature- and nurture-dominated dynamics in the human mind. But the lugubrious layers seem to usually define the overall character and potential of a system.

In the minds of some of my colleagues, all you have to do is identify one layer in a cybernetic system that's capable of fast change and then wait for Moore's Law to work it's magic. For instance, even if you're stuck with LINUX, you might implement a neural net program in it that eventually grows huge and fast enough (because of Moore's Law) to achieve a moment of insight and rewrite its own operating system. The problem is that in every example we know, a layer that can change fast also can't change very much. Germs can adopt to new drugs quickly, but would still take a very long time to evolve into Owls. This might be an inherent trade-off. For an example in the digital world, you can write a new JAVA applet pretty quickly, but it won't look very different from other quickly written applets- take a look at what's been done with applets and you'll see that this is true.

Now we finally come to...

Belief #6, the coming cybernetic cataclysm.

When a thoughtful person marvels at Moore's Law, there might be awe and there might be terror. One version of the terror was expressed recently by Bill Joy, in a cover story for Wired Magazine. Bill accepts the pronouncements of Ray Kurtzweil and others, who believe that Moore's Law will lead to autonomous machines, perhaps by the year 2020. That is the when computers will become, according to some estimates, about as powerful as human brains. (Not that anyone knows enough to really measure brains against computers yet. But for the sake of argument, let's suppose that the comparison is meaningful.) According to this scenario of the Terror, computers won't be stuck in boxes. They'll be more like robots, all connected together on the net, and they'll have a quite bag of tricks.

They'll be able to perform nano-manufacturing, for one thing. They'll quickly learn to reproduce and improve themselves. One fine day without warning, the new supermachines will brush humanity aside as casually as humans clear a forest for a new development. Or perhaps the machines will keep humans around to suffer the sort of indignity portrayed in the movie "The Matrix".