Winning the War on Aging

Why do we age? Can we prevent it? Will a treatment arrive in time for me? Find the answers here!

I don't want to achieve immortality through my work... I want to achieve it through not dying.
Woody Allen 1935 -
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Exponential Growth

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?

Firstly, 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.

            48.    2012: Higgs Boson

            49.    2012: XNA synthesized by molecular biologists

            50.    2013: Biologists use antibodies to transform bone marrow stem cells directly into healthy brain cells

            51.    2013: Genome editing enabling a disease-causing gene mutation to be corrected

            52.    2013: 
Scientists announced several big steps towards engineering functioning organs from stem cells


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 an intervention that delays aging and buys an extra 7 years or more of healthy lifespan. This would yield vast savings to health budgets worldwide and although it does not sound significant it will be a significant step in the right direction and raise public awareness of the potential benefits of future anti aging therapies. Unfortunately 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 more robust therapies are developed.

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 and stem cell therapies, develops in immunology and cancer therapies are showing significant progress when I wrote this in November 2014.

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.

 


Any input on regarding additional items or amendments to the list is very welcome. Just fire me off an email: comments (at) drjohnty (dot) com