The Vital Role of Exponential Growth in Technology
The role of exponential growth in technology is one of the reasons we will ultimately win the war on aging. Ray Kurzweil, I and many others continually try to explain the role of exponential growth and this is my attempt to get the point across. Regardless of how it is looked at, I simply cannot see that any argument against the exponential growth in technology can possibly make sense. The reason is simple, history just does not support any argument against the theory because we need look only at the past the rate of progress to see that it has always been continually accelerating.
To explain this whole idea, let us just start with a $1 bill and double it each day. After a week you would have $128, not a lot but a significant increase. In another week you would have $16,383. It is now that the growth pattern really starts to kick off because, by the end of week three, you would have $4,194,048 and the next week you would have $27,574,274. Yes, heading for thirty million dollars. Five days later, you are drowning in cash with $882,376,768!
The growth from here just keeps accelerating faster and faster but the vital point to keep in mind is that the first week only took you to $128. Now, three weeks later, you have nearly a billion dollars but you only need five more days and you have over 14 billion! This is the nature of exponential growth and it is exactly what is going on with technology and has been since the very beginning. You hardly notice the growth at first but the effect becomes increasingly clear over time. If we take the last century, it did not equate to 100 years of progress at today's rate but was around 18 or 19 years because of the rapidly accelerating rate of progress. I estimate we will make more progress by the mid to late 2020’s than we made in the entire 20th century and that we will see it again by the mid to late 2030's.
Ray Kurzweil loves to play with the figures relating to exponential growth and he has more of an understanding of this area than anyone else I can think of. What to me is very apparent (and maths is not my strong point!) is that Ray Kurzweil is correct when he say that the power of technology per dollar doubles every twelve months and that the rate of growth is accelerating. It seems likely based on exponential growth that our technology will be over 1000 times more powerful in just 10 years - and a billion times more powerful in 25 years.
Getting the whole concept into perspective
To get this in perspective, think about technology in 1910 compared to 2010. We had no antibiotics, we had just taken to the air, cars were basic and there was no TV, in fact virtually no technology that is familiar today. Now think what the result would be if we had technologies a billion times more powerful than we do currently. But what if the theory is wrong?
like Ray Kurzweil, I do not believe it is. Bear with me and I will
show you why. If you look below at the list of discoveries since 1041,
which are deemed to be the most important, you will see that 74 were
made in the 857 years between 1041 and 1898 and 41 of these were made in
the 19th century. Now look at list 2 which lists the groundbreaking
discoveries made in the last 107 years and you will see that the number
of discoveries in the 19th and 20th centuries are about the same but the
importance of the discoveries in the last 100 years is much more
significant in many cases and they are coming faster and faster.
It does not matter whether you personally agree or disagree with me, what matters is that the date of breakthroughs cannot be disputed and you will see the closer we get to the present the developments are coming faster and faster. Not only are they coming faster they are becoming ever more influential. I am confident that I am correct when I say that, even if the rate of progression slowed by 50% or even 75%, the rate of technological progress in the 21st century would still eclipse everything that came before it. If anyone has an argument that contradicts this I would love to hear it but I think the list below makes it much clearer better than any individual possibly can.
The Historical Trend Since 1041
List 1: (covering 857 years)
1. 1041: Movable type
2. 1088: Mechanical clock
3. 1128: Cannon
4. 1206: Kitchen appliance
5. 1297: Wooden movable type printing
6. 1350: Suspension bridges
7. 1391: Toilet paper
8. 1450: Printing press
9. 1494: Whiskey
10. 1500: Scissors
11. 1510: Pocket watch
12. 1568: Bottled beer
13. 1582: Gregorian calendar
14. 1590: Microscope
15. 1608: Telescope
16. 1630-1632: Artificial wings
17. 1643: Barometer
18. 1645: Vacuum pump
19. 1656: Pendulum clock
20. 1698: Steam engine
21. 1700: Piano
22. 1714: Mercury thermometer
23. 1752: Lightning rod
24. 1759: Shampoo
25. 1767: Carbonated water
26. 1769: Watt steam engine
27. 1775: Flush toilet
28. 1783: Hot air balloon
29. 1784: Bifocals
30. 1791: Artificial teeth
31. 1793: Cotton gin
32. 1798: Vaccination
33. 1804: Locomotive
34. 1816: Stethoscope
35. 1816: Kaleidoscope
36. 1821: Electric motor
37. 1826: Gas stove
38. 1826: Photography
39. 1830: Lawn mower
40. 1834: Refrigerator
41. 1835: Revolver
42. 1835: Incandescent light bulb
43. 1837: Telegraph
44. 1842: Anesthesia
45. 1843: Typewriter
46. 1843: Ice cream maker
47. 1846: Sewing machine
48. 1849: Safety pin
49. 1852: Airship
50. 1852: Passenger elevator
51. 1855: Bunsen burner
52. 1858: Mason jar
53. 1859: Oil drill
54. 1866: Dynamite
55. 1873: Barbed wire
56. 1876: Telephone
57. 1877: Stapler
58. 1877: Phonograph
59. 1879: Cash register
60. 1880: Safety razor
61. 1880: Seismograph
62. 1881: Metal detector
63. 1882: Electric fan
64. 1884: Fountain pen
65. 1884: Roll film
66. 1885: Automobile
67. 1885: Motorcycle
68. 1886: Dishwasher
69. 1887: Contact lens
70. 1891: Escalator
71. 1891: Zipper
72. 1893: Radi
73. 1895: Diesel engine
74. 1898: Remote control
List 2: (covering a period of 107 years)
1. 1902: Air conditioner
2. 1902: Gun silencer
3. 1903: Powered, controlled airplane
4. 1908: Cellophane
5. 1913: Crossword
6. 1913: Stainless steel
7. 1919: Theremin
8. 1922: Geodesic dome
9. 1923: Television
10. 1924: Frozen food
11. 1927: PEZ candy
12. 1928: Antibiotics
13. 1937: First Jet Engine
14. 1939: Automated teller machine
15. 1941: Computer
16. 1943: Slinky
17. 1945: Nuclear weapons
18. 1946: Microwave oven: Percy Spencer
19. 1947: First supersonic flight
20. 1950: Credit card
21. 1950: First cardiac pacemaker
22. 1955: Velcro
23. 1957: Fist Satellite launched
24. 1960: Laser
25. 1961: Cochlear implant
26. 1961: First man in space
27. 1967: Hypertext
28. 1967: First heart transplant
29. 1969: Moon landing
30. 1971: E-mail
31. 1973: Genetically modified organism
32. 1978: First test tube baby is born
33. 1978: Spreadsheet
34. 1984: DNA fingerprinting
35. 1990: World Wide Web
36. 1996: Dolly the Sheep (first clone)
37. 1998: Viagra
38. 2001: Self-contained artificial heart
39. 2001: First human / machine neural connection - Kevin Warwick
40. 2003: Hybrid Car
41. 2003 Human Genome Project (HGP) Completed
42. 2004: Translucent concrete
43. 2005: You Tube
44. 2009: A new computer interface called the sixth sense
45. 2009: A retinal implant for the blind
46. 2010: First Artificial Pancreas enters human trials
47. 2011: Stem cell technology and precision gene therapy are united for the first time in humans.
My predictions for the future
In January 2008 I made a list of predictions concerning the progress of aging research. I will not list them all here but will gladly email the list (with progress to date annotations) on request. Anyway, here are the big six predictions that I will make rather than bore everyone with the entire list.
2011: Conclusive Proof that we can influence lifespan in a mammal (this one was 2 years early in July 2009 see Rapamycin
2014: An Anti Aging compound which has been shown to conclusively slow the aging process is in phase II trials.
2021: First indications from researchers that RMR (Robust Mouse Rejuvenation) research has yielded significant success.
2023: Initial trials of RHR (Robust Human Rejuvenation) confirmed beyond doubt.
2025: We begin to approach life expectancy escape velocity where progress will lead to us adding 12 months or more each year to remaining life expectancy.
2035: Life expectancy becomes to all intents and purposes infinite through repeated rejuvenative interventions.
Before ending this page I just want to clarify one point. My prediction for 2035 that we could live indefinitely is not suggesting we will have cured aging only that we will be able to control, repair and mitigate its effects. Whilst the end result is similar in that you could live for hundreds of years, it is far from an actual cure. What this means is that aging like HIV/AIDS or hypertension today becomes a chronic but manageable condition.
If I stick my neck out and hazard a guess, my estimate for the timescale when we develop an actual cure lies somewhere between 2100 and 2150. It might be sooner than 100+ years but doubtful because we need to understand a great deal more of the underlying processes and human metabolism which is an area of knowledge in which we are currently not very strong.
Short Term Objectives
My final word is that our short term objectives must be as outlined below:
2015 - 2020: Move as quickly as possible to develop a medication that delays aging and buys an extra 7 years or more of healthy lifespan. As I explained before, drugs which simply slow aging are essentially a dead end in the long term but in the short term they are a potential lifeboat because they will enable some older people to survive long enough until the later therapies arrive.
Early 2020's: Implementation of early rejuvenation therapies such as gene and stem cell therapies when they become available. It is my guess stem cell therapies will play a huge role because we are already making rapid progress and implementing treatments in this area.
The interventions I am outlining here will initially work in conjunction with improved versions of pharmaceutical compounds which were first developed in the last half of the previous decade to retard the aging process.
Mid 2020's to 2030's: The first treatments arrive in the mid 2020's which can repair damage laid down by the aging process and effectively restore most body systems to a more youthful state. At the beginning these treatments will be strong in some areas but weak in others but exponential growth will now play its role and progress will accelerate rapidly. I am confident that once this stage is reached we are all pretty much home and dry because it now becomes just a question of living long enough to take advantage of each further breakthrough as it unfolds.