1. 4

Long, but interesting conclusions.


  2. 4

    NB: I haven’t finished this, so I might be misunderstanding.

    So far, this is very interesting. Hintjens makes a few interesting points–I hadn’t heard of Cost Gravity before, it seems like it’s novel. I think he is wrong about its properties–one thing he said was that Cost Gravity is unstoppable and has been around for a long time. I think it has a lot of momentum, but I don’t think it’s unstoppable and, and it has been stopped before.

    For a while, China was extremely technologically advanced compared to the rest of the world, but it basically stagnated after the Song dynasty. This was possible because there wasn’t anyone to pick up where they dropped off–technology wasn’t shared as much then as it is now, and the Europeans ended up reinventing a lot of things that the Chinese already had during the great divergence. Because the world is so flat right now, it seems like it would be a lot harder to arrange a stagnation, but it’s easy to imagine apocalyptic events that could stick us behind. There are already fields where we’re beginning to lose knowledge (eg. thermonuclear weapons–this isn’t necessarily a bad thing).

    Another example that I’m not sure if it exactly applies is medicine. Individual procedures in medicine absolutely seem to be dropping cost precipitously. I had an appendectomy and my scar is three inches long. I’ve talked to people where they went in through the belly button and there is no scar. My grandfather showed me his appendectomy scar and it’s nearly a foot long. But this is part of the problem. As techniques get better, people are willing to pay (or are unable to choose not to pay?) more for the better techniques. This is also true for drugs, where people pay significant premiums on patented drugs over nearly identical drugs where the patents have expired, mostly for marketing reasons.

    I also don’t know if education has gotten significantly better in the past twenty years, but it has not become cheaper.

    Do you think this also applies to the cost of building software? I’m not sure. Could we build unix any faster than bell labs did today? If not, is there any good reason why cost gravity shouldn’t apply? For certain classes of software, it is absolutely true (e.g. lobsters). This might be why lots of people build things in the lobsters class, but not in the unix class. (NB: I might be completely off on this one–I’ve never been involved in an OS project before, so I don’t know anything about the state of the art right now).

    I suspect that cost gravity applies to certain things under certain conditions. For one thing, it looks like it happens more obviously for items rather than for services. Learning the limits of cost gravity seems fascinating, but might require a lifetime of work.

    1. 2

      Interesting analysis. Thanks for sharing.

      Could we build unix any faster than bell labs did today?

      One guy thought he could build linux.

    2. 1

      This theory of “cost gravity” is about 50% dumbed-down economics and about 50% complete nonsense. Yes, when taken in aggregate things tend to improve (get smaller, less expensive, cheaper to operate, etc.) over time, but these improvements are not evenly distributed (how much have washing machines improved in the last 30 years? Not by 2 ** (30/2) times.)

      The author offhandedly mentions “except for the influences of other ancient forces such as natural resources and friction”, but this exception is so huge that it ruins the entire theory.

      This article’s analysis of the Great Recession is completely ignorant of history (really, people didn’t think that banks could collapse? you can’t think of any historical examples of that?) I would love to see some figures, but I would be extremely surprised if “By 2013, the cost of running a 1980’s bank had fallen by 128,000 times.” had any truth to it. It seems to rest on the assumption that bank’s costs go almost entirely to computers.

      I’ve only read the first half of the preface, but I hate what I’ve read. Technoutopian nonsense.

      1. 1

        The idea of “cost gravity” may not apply to all things at all times in all places, but that doesn’t detract from ideas such as:

        I argue that every great empire is born out of a monopoly on a vital new technology: bronze, iron, the horse, irrigation, roads, military organization, finance. In each instance, essential knowledge spreads until everyone has access to it. Then the empire loses its monopoly, crashes, and the cycle repeats.

        It is hard to understand exponential curves. Our minds give up as we approach the infinite. The curve tends to look either totally flat or like a straight cliff. We can look at history and collapse it into: “clean water and roads let the Romans build their empire” or “my portable phone has more computing power than the whole of NASA in 1962.” When I tell you that in 60 years, the average person on the planet will have and use more computing power than the entire Internet today, does that concept fit into your world view?

        I’m thoroughly enjoying this read, currently halfway through the book.

        As a courtesy for anyone interested: there’s free PDF and EPUB versions available for download on the frontpage of the site.