Knowledge Doubling Curve

How much have things changed since Boulding delivered his 'Evolutionary Potential' Backhouse Lecture?

The question to consider is: how quickly does what we know change?, What is the speed fo evolution of human knowledge?

In his 1982 book Critical Path, futurist and inventor R. Buckminster Fuller estimated that if we took all the knowledge that mankind had accumulated and transmitted by the year One CE as equal to one unit of information, it probably took about 1500 years or until the sixteenth century for that amount of knowledge to double. The next doubling of knowledge from two to four 'knowledge units' took only 250 years, till about 1750 CE. By 1900, one hundred and fifty years later, knowledge had doubled again to 8 units. The speed at which information doubled was getting faster and faster. The doubling speed is now between one and two years.

When Boulding delivered his Backhouse Lecture there was no World Wide Web, no PCs or laptop computers, No DVD, no satellite TV, no mobile phones, no PDA's, no Ipods, no digital cameras, no no blogs and no Wiki. By March 2010 the world wide web had 20 billion web pages.

When plotted on a graph this “The Knowledge Doubling Curve“ looks like a J curve (see diagram) but the curve is not smooth. Certain key events have been like thresholds. The invention of writing, then of printing (first in China then later in Europe) were significant thresholds. The printing of the Bible was an important precurser to the emergence of Quakerism in 17th Century England. The invention of the World Wide Web, and then Web 2 allowed for exponential increase in the speed of knowledge doubling, and IBM [see Toxic Terabyte link below] predicts that before 2014, the 50th anniversary of Boulding's lecture, recorded knowledge will be doubling every 11 hours.

Ray Kurzweil (2005) predicts that within decades humans will have the knowledge to read minds, assume different forms, and reshape his physical environment at will. When human knowledge allows us to transcend our biology, we will in effect have evolved into a new species. of Today's human beings, will be as outmoded as Homo Erectus. He believes there will be a point called The Singularity when technological change, propelled by the explosive growth of artificial intelligence, will accelerate past the point of current human comprehension.


Buckminster Fuller, R. Critical Path (1981) New York: St Martin's Press

Kurzweil, R. (2005) The Singularity is Near: When Humans Transcend Biology New York: Penguin

The Toxic Terabyte,

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