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What the History of Humanity's 3 Great Accelerations Suggests About the Next One

By Motley Fool Staff – Oct 12, 2016 at 2:22PM

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For centuries at a time, civilization advances at a steady pace. But when we put on bursts of speed, we never look back.

In this week's Rule Breaker Investing podcast, Motley Fool co-founder David Gardner has invited a special guest: Robin Hanson, a George Mason University economics professor and research associate at Oxford's Future of Humanity Institute. Hanson has master's degrees in physics and philosophy and a Ph.D. in social science, and he previously worked on A.I. at Lockheed Martin and NASA. His recently published book is The Age of Em: Work, Love and Life when Robots Rule the Earth.

Hanson joins us this week to discuss a broad topic: the future. But before the get there, in this segment, he offers a fascinating take on the past.

A transcript follows the video.

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This video was recorded on Sept. 14, 2016.


Let me start with the past. You do a really nice job telling the story of humanity. Can you do it in two minutes or less?


Absolutely. The story of humanity is three great ages. During each age, growth was steady (not accelerating), and then there were sudden transitions where, within a previous doubling time, the economy started doubling 50 or more times faster.

First, there was the age of foragers, where we slowly hunted and gathered and accumulated, via culture, more kinds of ways and environments we could survive in. Then farming, about 10,000 years ago, suddenly started doubling every thousand years, vastly faster, and farmers could grow via accumulating more plants and animals, and ways to survive in many different environments that way.

And then there was the great Industrial Revolution a few hundred years ago. And since the Industrial Revolution, we've been doubling roughly every 15 years, and we've been doubling steadily.

So when people say things are going to get weird, I say, "Yes. When they do, it will get really weird, really fast," but I don't actually see much happening in the next 20 years or so. I disagree with Andrew McAfee, for example, of thinking that we're on the verge of something right about now. But when it does get weird, it will get weird really fast, and you probably shouldn't try to time it. You should probably just be ready for it.


We might even get into investment implications before we're done, but before we move forward, one of the things you point out in The Age of Em is that as each new age dawned, the dominators (the leaders of the previous age) were still around, but they became marginalized. They were off to the side. Foragers didn't count for as much when farming showed up, and farmers didn't count as much when the Industrial Revolution hit. And to foreshadow your thinking, about a hundred years hence (which is the time frame you're addressing in your book), you see humans being that outmoded group, that fringe world...




Marginalized. And what's taking over?


Robots of a certain sort.

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