Singularity's Reality Distortion Field

Sunday, February 19, 2012

In Walter Isaacson's biography of Steve Jobs he mentions how Jobs worked in a reality distortion field.  Isaacson writes that at a base level the reality distortion field is tantamount to a lie, but exploited properly it allowed Apple to achieve what much larger organization such as Xerox and IBM could not do and with a fraction of the budget.

The term was coined by Bud Tribble at Apple Computer in 1981, to describe Jobs' charisma and its effects on the developers working on the Macintosh project in particular.  Tribble claimed that the term came from Star Trek. Later the term has also been used to refer to perceptions of his keynote speeches (or "Stevenotes") by observers and devoted users of Apple computers and products.

Andy Hertzfeld said that the reality distortion field was part of Steve Jobs' ability to convince himself and others to believe almost anything with a mix of charm, charisma, bravado, hyperbole, marketing, appeasement, and persistence. The effect was said to distort an audience's sense of proportion and scales of difficulties and made them believe that the task at hand was possible. While the reality distortion field has been criticized as anti-reality, those close to Jobs have also illustrated numerous instances in which creating the sense that the seemingly impossible was possible led to the impossible being accomplished (thereby proving that it had not been impossible after all). Similarly, the optimism which Jobs sowed in those around him contributed to the loyalty of his colleagues and fans.

Singularity theory and futurism exploration necessarily makes use of a type of reality distortion field.  In dealing with what is not yet, but what may be, a certain suspension of objective reality must take place.  That said, much of what is predicted in the Singularity by Ray Kurzeil and others is based on extrapolating the development of key areas via their exponential trajectories.

Increasingly we find that the age of scientific discovery is transforming into the age of scientific application.  Certainly there are a great many areas that can benefit from raw scientific exploration, but increasingly our awareness of the natural world and definition of it is leading to human improvement and efficiency.  For instance DNA was discovered and defined in 1953 by Watson and Crick but now over half a century later we are starting to develop personalized medicine based on cheap, fast and widely available genome sequencing.  The path of this field of study from discovery to implementation took a long period of time.

However if we contrast that development with the technology of human flight, it would seem to be quite a fast jump from discovery to implementation.

Part of what the Singularity means is that discovery will be replaced by or nearly immediately be followed with an implementation or an improvement implementation.   

Moreover projecting these developments through a reality distortion field can make the realization of the projection more possible.

Peter Diamandis is another great user of the reality distortion field.  When the first X Prize was first uses to propel the development of commercial space travel, Diamandis did not have the prize money or the full organization established for the prize.  Nevertheless the prize spurred on millions of dollars and the talents of many individuals to meet the goals of the contest, and in the process they have transformed an industry.  This  process is now continuing on in other X Prizes such as the Qualcomm Tricorder Prize and the Archon Genomics Prize.

Diamandis' concept of the Go Fast Button is another example of this type of thinking.  The  Go Fast Button, means that innovation is in the hands of anyone that wants to use it via Cloud Computing, the internet and exponential technology.  Diamandis predicts an explosion in the rate of innovation via this phenomenon.  Democratization of technology, the ease of communication and collaboration will led to this acceleration of innovation.   By providing a lens for the exponential thinker, the Go Fast button is a meme that empowers people.

As Isaacson writes, 
A lot of people distort reality of course.  When Jobs did so, it was often a tactic for accomplishing something.  [Steve] Wozniak, who was congenitally honest as Jobs was tactical, marvelled at how effective it could be.  "his reality distortion is whn he has an illogical vision of the future, such as telling me that I could design the Breakout game in just a few days.  You realize that it can't be true, but he somehow makes it true."  Isaacson, Steve Jobs p. 118. 
Ray Kurzweil, claims he used Moore's Law, as a basis for many of his predictions of the future.  This may be the case, but in making the predictions Kurzweil may have introduced self-fulfilment via the tactic of the reality distortion field.  By pointing to the date for the arrival of smarter-than-human artificial intelligence for instance he has, in fact presented an unrealistic, unachievable target that empowers those working on it to meet and exceed the goal.