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On Kiwi Crus and Kurzweil

Posted on | January 25, 2010 | Written by Christy Canterbury | 2 Comments

Last week, I laughed out loud reading an article in Decanter on establishing a cru-like system in Central Otago, New Zealand.  The provoking moment in question occurred when Decanter quoted Simon Field, MW and the wine buyer for Berry Bros; Field said, “the appellation systems required ‘minute levels of detail’ and that the Burgundian system had taken ‘several centuries to establish’.”  I usually just roll my eyes when I encounter similar statements, but I’ve grown weary of hearing them and, at this point, I’m outright amazed at hearing them from smart people in the wine world.

Reading assertions like Field’s, I wonder if the people who make them have heard of Ray Kurzweil’s Law of Accelerating Returns?  While Kurzweil’s theories ostensibly deal with computer and media technologies, the premise is applicable in other areas. Here’s a quote from the paper’s introduction that gives the gist of the theory and makes clear the ridiculousness of statements about why some new region isn’t going to catch up that fast:  “So we won’t experience 100 years of progress in the 21st century — it will be more like 20,000 years of progress (at today’s rate). The ‘returns,’ such as chip speed and cost-effectiveness, also increase exponentially. There’s even exponential growth in the rate of exponential growth.”  Even if you haven’t heard of Kurzweil (or if you think he’s crazy), you’ve at least heard Steve Jobs, Jim Goldman on CNBC Tech Check or some similarly forward-thinking individual talk about how quickly technology and the sharing of accumulated intelligence moves us forward faster with each passing day.  It’s a more or less accepted notion.

Interestingly, it’s not just humans’ ability to build semi-conductors or cyborgs that gains from the Theory of Accelerating Returns: all technologies do. And, in fact, Kurzweil’s theory explains how quality winemaking has soared in Washington State and Chile, not to mention Sardegna and Umbria—even taking into account the long lead times required in an agricultural industry such as wine.

In sum, whether or not Central Otago is ready for a cru-style system (and putting aside the question of whether it would benefit them) is a question that cannot be addressed by seemingly dismissing the idea by insinuating time is not on the Kiwis’ side. It’s an issue that’s complex, nuanced and touched by the long hand of human history, much as is wine itself.


2 Responses to “On Kiwi Crus and Kurzweil”

  1. Kerry-Jo
    January 27th, 2010 @ 10:43 am

    “Ray Kurzweil’s Law of Accelerating Returns,” reminds me of “The Collapse of Complex Societies,” by Joseph A. Tainter.

    Tainter’s theory of evolution and societal complexity states: “the number of challenges with which the Universe can confront a society is, for practical purposes, infinite,” complex societies need to keep on increasing their level of complexity in order to survive new challenges. Tainter’s thesis is that these “investments in additional complexity” produce fewer and fewer returns with time, until eventually society cannot muster enough energy to fuel complexity. At this point, society collapses.”

    Obviously Tainter and Kurzweil are in opposition when it comes to how a society evolves. Tainter believes in an ebb and flow, where marginal productivity of a society moves upwards until it reaches its breaking point; at which point disintegration occurs and complexity lessens.

    Whether we agree with either of these theories, it is always interesting to relate the present day to the movements of the universe and our place in it!

  2. Christy Canterbury
    January 28th, 2010 @ 2:30 pm

    I think many of us feel Tainter’s point as we’re overwhelmed with the pace of communication these days. His quote is a good reminder (to me) to focus relentlessly on what is most essential. In the case of New Zealand, I would say that simply would be about making great wine, no matter what goes on the label!

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