I'm reading Ray Kurzweil's book, The Singularity Is Near, and finding it somewhat persuasive. However every once in a while something just looks wrong, and that upsets the persuasivity.
In Chapter 1, he shows various “significant” events in history, like the invention of writing, the development of fire, the Cambrian explosion, etc. He uses the timing of these events to show that change is accelerating:
Image courtesy of Wikipedia.
The thing that occurred to me when looking at the choice of events is that it's a natural tendency to view the world logarithmically. For example, if you ask most Americans about places in the world, they will be able to name the places very close to where they live, the towns nearby, the state, the large cities in the USA, a few very large cities around the world, a few large or important countries around the world, and then places like “Africa” and “Asia”. If you plot the places on a logarithmic chart, you'll get something close to a straight line. If people name astronomical objects, it will be the ones close to us (like planets), the Sun, some nearby stars, and maybe some galaxies. But it won't be some planet in some other galaxy. If people name biological variants, it'll first be the ones close to us (various races of humans), then types of mammals and maybe reptiles, then “fish”, then “bacteria”. It won't start with various species of bacteria or fish. This is because things that are physically or conceptually farther away are resolved in the brain at a lower “resolution”. The closer something is to you, the finer granularity you use to distinguish it from other things.
The same is true for time. For example, Kurzweil's choice of events includes the Cambrian explosion at a very coarse granularity. It doesn't include development of limbs, eyes, skeletal system, muscles, or other events that would've been considered significant if the list was developed back then. Those changes are all grouped together. Similarly, if the list had been developed around the time multicellular life developed, it would have included significant achievements like the development of cell walls, a nucleus, ribosomes, etc.
Things that are farther away are resolved in the brain at a lower “resolution”. The brain's use of variable resolution means that changes from the past are grouped together into larger units, and that makes it look like change was occurring more slowly in the past. I do believe that change is accelerating, but it's not accelerating as quickly as Kurzweil believes.