The Noughties

The start of the Noughties for me was Y2K. It was a non-event, thanks, I might add, to people like me making ourselves mentally unwell fixing endless date issues in crappy database code. Next was the massive dot com crash — our wonderful future of super internet everything was an illusion… except, well, the biggest technological development of the decade was in fact the growth of the internet and all its related technologies. The problem existed in the mind of the market, not in the soundness or long term significance of the underlying technology.

It’s hard to believe that almost everybody was on dial-up internet in 2000, broadband existed, but it was slow and not many had it. The rise of blogging was interesting. To start with many more traditional media sources were freaking out about the idea that some 15 year old from his bedroom could get as much exposure as their latest newspaper article. Now blogging is just another part of the information ecosystem. Wikipedia: the encyclopedia’s went through the classic Ghandi stages of ignore, ridicule, attack and then lose. The iPod completely changed the music business, espeically combined with file sharing. Nobody I knew had DVD‘s before 2000, this was the decade they became big. Same for flatscreen monitors and TVs. I got a digital camera in 2000 when they were just coming out and still cost a fortune. During the Noughties they revolutionised photography. Wifi, nobody I knew had it in 2000, now it’s almost everywhere. Same for internet to the phone. Or text messages, that’s been quite a change. I remember when online banking was seen as strange and a bit risky, now it’s how many people do most of their banking. Google existed, but they really only became huge during this decade. Youtube, another big change in how many people used the internet. Same for Facebook. I still remember how people would react to my enthusiasm for open source software, basically it was seen as a hippy movement that wasn’t something that most serious business people would entertain. That certainly has changed. The iPhone revolutionised the smart phone industry.

In a nutshell, I’d say that the Noughties were all about a massive proliferation of digital communication. In a way the dot coms had roughly the right idea, but it took another decade for the vision to mature.

Outside of technology, 9/11, Bush and Iraq feature strongly in my mind. I think the rise of robotic weapons is something that is currently under appreciated. The rise of China and the way in which global warming went from fringe to mainstream were also significant. For me seeing a black man elected president of the US was one of the most surprising, and thrilling, things to happen in the last ten years. If you’d asked me in 2000 about the probability of that happening, I’d have put it at something like 1%. Was I grossly mis-calibrated, or was Obama really a rare event? I’m still not sure. Then finally we have the financial crisis and the continuing repercussions from that now. I can only presume that the next decade is likely to bring a similar amount of change. It should be an interesting time to be alive…

First question, what will we call the next decade? The “teens”? That seems kind of lame to me! Second question, what do you think are likely to be the changes of the coming decade? Are we in for some big surprises, or just a continuation of current trends?

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34 Responses to The Noughties

  1. Carl Shulman says:

    “Was I grossly mis-calibrated, or was Obama really a rare event?”

    I’d say mis-calibrated, but not by an order of magnitude, given that such a prediction would be applying to only two presidential elections, one of which would probably have an incumbent at play. Remember Colin Powell in the 90s? When he was apparently considering a presidential run polls showed him over 50%.

    • Shane Legg says:

      I didn’t know, or don’t remember, Powell polling so high as a presidential candidate. Quite possibly the former as I didn’t pay much attention to American politics prior to 2000.

  2. Roko says:

    The naughties started for me standing on the Malvern Hills surrounded by dense fog, in an ill fated expedition to see 7 counties’ worth of fireworks. I guess the most significant event of that year was getting pretty much straight A* grades in my first serious exams. I guess the pivotal event of the end of the noughties for me is realizing that that level of academic achievement isn’t actually my only or best talent, that I seem to be able to think rationally where others think in cliches, and that that talent really is one in a million.

    • Shane Legg says:

      How do you know that your ability to think puts you in the top 1%, of the top 1%, of the highest 1% of thinkers?

      That’s an extraordinary claim. Do you have extraordinary evidence?

      • Roko says:

        it seems that very few people – all somewhat extraordinary – have yielded to correct arguments surrounding the singularity.

        Maybe I should regress to the mean a little more and say 1 in 100k.

        • Kevembuangga says:

          it seems that very few people – all somewhat extraordinary – have yielded to correct arguments surrounding the singularity.

          If the “correctness” stems from your agreement isn’t that a circular argument?

          • Shane Legg says:

            Yes… history is littered with smart people who were highly impressed with their own thinking. All too often, however, reality didn’t care.

            Let’s let the results, as they arise, to speak for themselves.

          • Roko says:

            It isn’t an argument at all: it’s just a reflection on a fact that I believe for other reasons, which you can find on, e.g. Less Wrong or Nick Bostrom’s essays.

          • Roko says:

            @Shane: it isn’t as if Jo average who doesn’t care about her own smart thinking is even remotely likely to get it right either.

            Though I admit it reluctantly, I expect to be wrong about the future. Just less wrong than most people.

          • Roko says:

            > Let’s let the results, as they arise, to speak for themselves.

            To be honest, thinking about that thread on Vetta where I proudly proclaimed to be one of the rare few illuminati, and how I have proved all the doubters wrong is not really going to make up for the likely disaster that I face in C21.

          • Shane Legg says:

            @Roko. As you think you’re going to be a lot more right about the future than most people, do you care to make some specific falsifiable predictions? Maybe as a blog post. This would make your degree of insight about the future eventually measurable.

          • Roko says:

            @Shane: I assign a significant probability to smarter than human AI by 2100, say +7% per decade (approx). A prediction blog post might be fun.

          • Shane Legg says:

            @Roko. I think specific predictions for the next decade would be especially good, because then in the not too distant future you’ll be able estimate your level of prediction performance.

          • Roko says:


            Interesting point. I could make a wide variety of 2020 predictions and then, in 2020, judge the accuracy and calibration of my predictions.

          • Shane Legg says:


            Some predictions for 2015 would be good too, or even earlier… then you won’t have to wait a decade to get some data points.

            Be warned: it’s hard coming up with objectively measurable predictions. At least, I’m finding it hard!

          • Roko says:

            SL analysis says that there are 20-100 SL4 people in the world. This has probably gone up a fair amount to, say, a couple of hundred, but even so, if one went by those numbers one would be rather more exceptional than 1 in 100k.

            My guess is that there are lots of people in the world who have other parts of the picture that SL4 is missing, e.g. people in positions of power in politics and business who know how the power games of the world really work.

          • Tim Tyler says:

            From the above URL:

            “SL4s believe that the creation of qualitatively smarter-than-human intelligence could result in discontinuous levels of progress.”

            That is rather vague – but also pretty nutty sounding.

        • Tim Tyler says:

          Which “correct” arguments are those? Being in a tiny minority is not necessarily a particularly positive sign.

  3. Greg says:

    I think: The web currently is pretty much a mess of ‘paper-based’ pages, mixed with some pretty isolated applications. So, to do anything in the real world, you’d need to have logins to at least 5-10 apps on the web.
    So my prediction is a massive amount of consolidation amongst cloud apps, and development of ‘application portals’ where basic users can just select which things they want, and use them in an integrated manner.

    So the development of a task-based web, rather than the site-based web we have now.

    The other big change which has happened now is the transition to non-english characters in webnames, which will partition the web more firmly along language lines, so auto-translators will become a big business.

    Robots will be more ubiquitous and have a problematic effect on employment and hence global ‘happiness’. Global warming will be ‘the big problem’, which it may actually be.
    AI will also become ubiquitous but it will be in ways that we won’t care or understand. Because secretly, no-one can comprehend something smarter than themselves, so we will just gloat at our superiority in an ever diminishing number of activities.

    Electric transport will become compulsory, and electricity grids will suffer. People will work out that hybrid cars are really not all that, and the market will tank.

    The water market will take off, with oil tankers being refitted to be water tankers.

    And Twitter and Facebook will be replaced by something even more inane, and will never really make money. I know, both twitter and facebook are making money, because advertisers will spend money on any old thing, but I don’t think they’re really ‘making’ money.

    Thats it for monday!

    • Shane Legg says:

      So far nobody has worked out what this new decade is going to be called. I’m going for the Teenies, on the grounds that it’s soooo bad it’s almost good, and the lack of any alternatives so far.

      I don’t expect robots to become a big deal this decade. We can build some really great robot bodies now, but we still can’t do perception well. Without that, all sorts of simple takes for humans just can’t be done with machines.

      I’m not sure if having Facebook replaced is as much a prediction as it is a wish. Somebody really needs to come in and do social networking properly. I think things like Facebook are going to be shown to be quite fragile.

      • Tim Tyler says:

        I tend to see mechanical actuators as on the trailing edge. The problem is mostly one of moving parts and maintenance. As a result we have to make everything very hard (so it doesn’t wear) and very modular (so it can be replaced). Those are not ideal constraints to operate under.

      • Tim Tyler says:

        The dominant social network has changed before – but one would expect a substantial lock-in effect – since they have people’s data, offer few “export” options, and are in a winner-take-all space.

  4. Sean Taylor says:

    I boldly predict that the cataclysmic decade ahead of us will see science, technology and the religion of progress fall out of favor among the masses in the industrialized world as the vast global failure of this paradigm becomes self-evident. This may result in a kind of spiritual renaissance as humans begin to rediscover the incredible power of their minds and give up on the suicidal fantasy of creating machines who surpass themselves. Look for a flowering of pre-Enlightenment systems of belief such as has not been seen since the days of the mystery religions of the ancient world. We may see the beginnings of a “Butlerian Jihad”, and certainly the hysteria around 2012 will reach a fever peak amidst global chaos and collapse. My advice to all of you very bright people is to develop a plan B for when this materialistic paradigm crashes and burns, because I’m afraid that day maybe be closer than you think. As the high priests of the techno-paradigm, you should at least be aware that your project to build a material God in the form of AI may not be long for this world.

    • Kevembuangga says:


      I am not a Singularitarian nor really that enthusiastic about unfettered AGI but deriding the high priests of the techno-paradigm while calling for a flowering of pre-Enlightenment systems of belief such as has not been seen since the days of the mystery religions of the ancient world is the pot calling the kettle black and even beyond.

      There is no doubt that for people confronted with mysterious technologies there will be some kind of “spiritual renaissance” but we’ve seen that before…

      There are serious critics of techno optimism but even the “spiritually inclined” look nothing like your demented blog, a shockwave, yeah! a tsunami… of stupidity.

      There are indeed true believers in the Singularity who see your apocalyptic eschatology as possible and desirable, you are just the mirror image of theses nutcases.

      As for being eager to create “machines who surpass themselves” haven’t you noticed that every machine created so far (beyond plain hand tools) does surpass man in some respect?

    • Julian Morrison says:

      Mr “I just typed about the failure of science on a device operating by quantum principles”, I find your argument unconvincing.

    • Shane Legg says:

      Pre-Enlightenment thinking was a total flop. Sickness was caused by evil spirits rather than things like viruses. Mythical beasts dragged the sun across the sky. The world was only a few thousand years old. It could hardly have been more wrong about more things if it tried.

      As a lowly post doctoral student, calling me a “high priest” of anything is a bit of an exaggeration.

  5. Julian Morrison says:

    You were mis-calibrated about Obama but mainly due to not seeing the shape of the change – everything looks linear in the short term. Of course Obama was boosted by the Bush polarization (Dems didn’t dare pick an unadventurous candidate lest they lose the angry base), by his opponents (the Rep base forced “howling mad” Palin on McCain, ruining his centrist credentials) – but mostly, he won because he’s Obama, a genius at fast political climbing. So I think he’s probably “ahead of the curve”.

    We shall call the next decade: “prelude to singularity” ;-P

    What we’ll see in the next decade: the rise of India, the over-reach and fall back of China. Ubiquitous mobile internet. Dominance of the smartphone format. Mobile carriers forced (by Google?) to become neutral data pipes. Hot war for control of free speech and copyright on the internet. Ebooks obliterate paper books at retail. Transhumanism enters mainstream culture. Augmented reality gets big for games and information. The first driverless cars appear on roads. Electric cars start their rise. Key-words: mobile, ubiquitous, data.

  6. michael vassar says:

    I would say that global warming went from mainstream issue to mainstream panic, not from fringe to mainstream, and that Katrina and the desire to exalt Gore were the main causes of that. In tech, I agree with everything said, but I still think that the spread to ubiquity of cell phones world wide was the big news of the decade, not any of the new technologies. I’d also say that the improvements in Google search in the first half of the decade were a bigger deal than any ‘new’ technology and that all-in-all it was the least technologically innovative decade in a century and a half, and very plausibly the decade with the least change of any sort. I expect much more from the next decade.

    I’m pretty sure Obama was a rare event. I would have put it even lower than 1%.

    I’ll probably make some predictions on In general I have found that people who made predictions on the long bets web page haven’t actually taken me up on the bets when challenged.

    I think that Roko is being overconfident, as arguments for SL4 positions were presented to him more thoroughly than to most people and he isn’t accounting for this.

  7. Shane Legg says:

    @ Michael.

    Regarding global warming: I’m not seeing the panic. The general vibe I’m picking up in the UK from things like newspapers is that it could be a big problem, but nobody really seems to understand what’s going on and some suspect it’s a scam. Companies are in on it in order to be politically correct, but the average person on the street is only mildly concerned as far as I can tell.

    Regarding “new” technologies: most of the publicly visible change hasn’t been about new technology, but rather the maturation of existing technology. I think this is often the case. For example, the internet wasn’t new technology in the 1990’s. In terms of fundamental technological change, I think the story of the 2000’s was the fact that the price of computation (assuming you’re willing to compute in parallel), and the price per bit of communication, has continued to fall exponentially. It was on the back of this that things like Youtube became possible. Youtube itself required almost no innovation at all.

    Regarding the longer term rate of change: I think the amount of change seen this decade has been roughly typical of the last century. We haven’t had any really stand out events like moon landings or nuclear weapons, though.

    Regarding the next decade: I don’t expect more change in the next decade, I’m actually suspecting that we might see less, at least in terms of visible change. Sort of a continued maturation of all things internet and mobile. The fundamental change I’m expected is a broader understanding of the brain, better machine learning algorithms, and continued exponential growth in computer power. However I think we need at the least 10 years, and maybe 20 years of progress in these areas before their significance starts to become publicly visible.

    I look forward to seeing your decade predictions on lesswrong. I’m trying to come up with some myself, but I’m finding it pretty hard going as the changes that interest me still look more than a decade out.

  8. Kevembuangga says:

    The new site design is a bit too “bare bones”, what was wrong with the old one?

  9. Shane Legg says:

    @ Kevembuangga: I was bored of it and felt that it had too much unnecessary crap. I wanted to move the focus to the content, and a bare bones style achieves that. I would prefer a more advanced comments system, however. Though even with that, I can see advantages to having a bare bones comments system: I’ve come to the conclusion that blog comments aren’t a good place to have extended discussions.

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