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The Difficulty of Living in Exponential Time

posted by Jason Kottke Mar 15, 2023

In a piece about how the pace of improvement in the current crop of AI products is vastly outstripping the ability of society to react/respond to it, Ezra Klein uses this cracker of a phrase/concept: "the difficulty of living in exponential time".

I find myself thinking back to the early days of Covid. There were weeks when it was clear that lockdowns were coming, that the world was tilting into crisis, and yet normalcy reigned, and you sounded like a loon telling your family to stock up on toilet paper. There was the difficulty of living in exponential time, the impossible task of speeding policy and social change to match the rate of viral replication. I suspect that some of the political and social damage we still carry from the pandemic reflects that impossible acceleration. There is a natural pace to human deliberation. A lot breaks when we are denied the luxury of time.

But that is the kind of moment I believe we are in now. We do not have the luxury of moving this slowly in response, at least not if the technology is going to move this fast.

Covid, AI, and even climate change (e.g. the effects we are seeing after 250 years of escalating carbon emissions)...they are all moving too fast for society to make complete sense of them. And it's causing problems and creating opportunities for schemers, connivers, and confidence tricksters to wreck havoc.