November 3, 2019

Paul Graham argues that technology can take things we like and concentrate them to make them more addictive. As technology improves, this process will accelerate.

Here are two quotes from his post: “No one doubts this process is accelerating” and “the world will get more addictive in the next 40 years than it did in the last 40”. I want to push back on this.

This only looks at one force: the technological force. And that’s clearly increasing. But it ignores the opposing force: that making something addictive is (probably) getting harder. The stuff that was easy to make addictive, like opium into heroin, people figured out long ago. We’ve done the low-hanging fruits and now we need higher ladders.

More generally, exponential growth (or a positive feedback loop) on one side of an arms race doesn’t necessarily mean that side will win. You have to consider the other side too.

A few more examples:

Exponential technology doesn’t imply that we’ll pick exponentially more apples, if those apples are harder to get.