Singularity of Great Britishness

I’ve written a bit recently about the technological singularity, the idea that paradigm shifts have been increasing in frequency logarithmically, so that soon there won’t be time to do anything except paradigm shift and that will be so tiring for us that all bets are off about what we will do or become next.

Anyway, the proof of this is all here in this lovely graphic on wikipedia, collecting data from many esteemed sources (click for the big version).

Someone once pointed out to me that people tend to overvalue recent changes, because they mean more to them, and they forget or undervalue older stuff. I’ll call this the Dewhurst effect.

So my question is, are these paradigm shift graphs simply artefacts of the Dewhurst effect?

It’s very difficult to tell, but I thought one thing we could do is to generate a similar graph for something we know to be true, and see if the Dewhurst effect has had a distorting influence on that.

Everyone knows that the British are getting better and better as time goes on. There is no question that we are heading towards a singularity of greatness, when eventually so many great Britons are being born every minute that the Oxford English dictionary has to redefine greatness. Since this is a given, is there any data that I can plot to see if the Dewhurst effect has distorted the evidence for this?

Fortunately, there is. The Great British Broadcasting Corporation a few years ago ran a survey to determine the greatest britons of all time. You can read the full list on Wikipedia. I had to clean up the data a little, removing those whose names could be associated with paradigm shifts and technological discoveries to remove the influence of the technological singularity. Eventually, I got a list of musicians, politicians and humanitarians.

Here’s the graph (click for the full image).

Great People

Result. Well, obviously we don’t have as many data points as all those different think tanks, (I chose 1987, because I figure it takes about 20 years for greatness to manifest, so we wouldn’t have data for the last 20 years) which means that the graph isn’t as nice, and they have data going back more than 10000 years, but there looks to be a definite straight line there to me. In fact, I think if you just consider the last 10000 years our line is actually straighter than theirs. The fact that we are producing great Britons exponentially faster as time goes on is supported by the graph, with no sign of distortion from the Dewhurst effect. Perhaps we could also use the graph predictively. According to my calculations, there was a great briton living about 600 years before Boudica, or in 560 BC, that history has forgotten. This date corresponds neatly to the start of the iron age in Britain, so I would hazard a guess that he was the one who kicked it all off.

One thought on “Singularity of Great Britishness

  1. A lot of things are growing exponentially these days, most specifically population. It’s difficult to disambiguate the more interesting network causes that are driving informational change and the more trivial resource causes driving informational change.

    In either case, like Moore’s Law or Malthusian growth it often turns out we are looking at the first half of a sigmoid not a true exponential growth curve. If we are going to believe otherwise we need a good reason to think so.

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