The Vital Role of Exponential Growth in Technology
The role of exponential growth in technology is one of the main reasons we will ultimately win the war on aging, this is because biotechnology and genetics are two of the areas massively impacted by this accelerating rate of technological progress. Ray Kurzweil, myself and many others frequently try to explain the role of exponential growth and this is my attempt to get the point across clearly. 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 and in fact the rate of increase gets ever faster as time goes a perfect illustration is lets say you were born in 1450 not much changed over the 100 years until 1550 but today things change massively in just 10 years.
To demonstrate how this works I compiled the two lists which are below of technological developments covering the period 1041-1898 where there are 78 items, and 1902-2019 where the are 64 items. The important factor is that list one covers 857 years but list two covers just 117 and frankly I was scratching around to put list one together, when it came to list two there was so much I had to be selective when I decided what to put on!
To explain this whole issue of exponential growth and how it works is pretty easy, 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 2030 than we made in the entire 20th century and that we will see it happen again by 2040. Look at the changes from the year 2000 to now we have drones, AI, self drive cars are about to take to the roads, gene editing, iPhones, CRISPR-Cas9 gene editing and numerous other developments that are changing our lives very rapidly. Now think about technology in 1920 compared to 2020. We had no antibiotics, we had taken to the air just 17 years before, cars were still very basic, there was no TV, farming was almost entirely carried out with horse drawn implements, in fact we had 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 which is what we will have in a hundred years or less.
Some people say "what if the theory is wrong?" Personally like Ray Kurzweil, I do not believe it is. The reason is that once an area of technology starts to develop the progress accelerates rapidly, take as an example manned flight, it took us centuries to figure it out but once we did in 1903 we saw the first supersonic flight only 44 years later and reached the moon just 22 years after that. It can't be over emphasized how good an illustration this is when you think about it that from that first flight we took just 66 years to reach the moon in July 1969.
Bear with me a bit further and I will show you exactly how this exponential growth is the primary factor in the growth of technology. If you look below at the list of discoveries since 1041, which are deemed to be the most important, you will see that 78 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 118 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 along ever more rapidly and these developments frequently spur progress in other fields too. And are ever more influential for good or bad. 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 lists make it much clearer better than any single individual possibly could.
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: Radium
73. 1895: Diesel engine
74. 1898: Remote control
List 2: (covering a period of 118 years)
1. 1902: Air conditioner
2. 1902: Gun silencer
3. 1903: Powered, controlled airplane
4. 1905: Einstein: theory of special relativity
5. 1913: Niels Bohr: Model of the atom
6. 1913: Stainless steel
7. 1919: Theremin
8. 1922: Geodesic dome
9. 1923: Television
10. 1924: Edwin Hubble: the discovery that the Milky Way is just one of many galaxies
11. 1927: Georges Lemaître: Theory of the Big Bang
12. 1928: Antibiotics
13. 1937: First Jet Engine
14. 1939: Automated teller machine
15. 1941: Computer
16. 1943: Oswald Avery proves that DNA is the genetic material of the chromosome
17. 1945: Nuclear weapons
18. 1946: Microwave oven: Percy Spencer
19. 1947: First supersonic flight
20. 1950: First Cardiac Pacemaker
21. 1953: Polio Vaccine Developed*
22. 1953: Crick and Watson: helical structure of DNA, basis for molecular biology
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
53. 2014: Research into GDF11 indicating that factors in young blood could offer an antidote to aging
54. 2014: Discovery of a Gene Editing Enzyme which will eventually enable us alter an individual's genes
55. 2014: Researchers Clone Human Cells from a 35-year-old and a 75-year-old man using nuclear transfer
56. 2015: Stanford University discovers a procedure to quickly and efficiently increase the length of human telomeres
57: 2015: CRISPR-Cas9 which enables us to edit parts of the genome by removing, adding or altering sections of the DNA
58. 2016: Scientists succeed in removing senescent cells from mice resulting in health benefits and 20/30% life extension
59. 2017: Stem Cells injected into stroke patients at Stanford University enable them to walk
60. 2018: Artificial Embryos created from stem cells with neither sperm nor egg playing a role
61: 2018: Self Assembling Nanorobots containing a drug that releases when they encounter a tumor-specific protein
62: 2018: Lockheed Martin Onyx exoskeleton enabled 72 squats with a 185-pound load; without it, he managed only 26!
63: 2019: Custom cancer vaccines which destroy only cancer cells by identifying mutations unique to each tumor
64: 2019: Extended Reality - covers several new & emerging technologies used to create immersive digital experiences.
65: 2020: Development and deployment of Covid-19 vaccines in under 12 months.*
* Vaccines are the perfect example of exponential growth. Researchers first started trying to develop a polio vaccine in the early 1930s but progress was slow, 20 years later in 1953, Jonas Salk introduced an inactivated polio vaccine (IPV) compare this to the Covid-19 vaccines developed and deployed in less than a year and you can see how technology has progress due to other technologies such as sequencing etc.
My predictions for the future of Anti Aging Technologies
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. (I am late on this one as of June 2020 but evidence is strong we are very close due to progress in Senolytics
2021: First indications from researchers that RMR (Robust Mouse Rejuvenation) research has yielded significant success. Indications are we are very close on this one with significantly better than even chance of success by 2022
2023: Initial trials of RHR (Robust Human Rejuvenation) confirmed - Note 2020: While progress has accelerated in many areas this could be a bit optimistic but time will tell and it is clear we are getting all the pieces together.
2025: We begin to approach life expectancy escape velocity (LEV) where progress will lead to us adding 12 months or more each year to remaining life expectancy. Note: It is looking like this might arrive around 2030 but again could be +/-5 years see https://www.marketwatch.com/story/we-are-nearing-longevity-escape-velocity-where-science-can-extend-your-life-for-more-than-a-year-for-every-year-you-are-alive-2020-02-24
2035: Life expectancy becomes to all intents and purposes infinite through repeated rejuvenative interventions. Note June 2020: If we achieve LEV this would be realistic.
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 for aging 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 quite weak.
Short Term Objectives
My final word is that our short term objectives must be as outlined below:
2020-2025: 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. A NAD+ precursor called NMN coupled with removal of senescent cells might be the first steps and Senolytics are looking very promising at the current time.
Mid 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, tissue engineering, CRISPR gene editing, developments in immunology, lengthening of telomeres and cancer therapies are showing significant progress as are senolytic drugs.
The interventions I am outlining here will initially work in conjunction with improved versions of pharmaceutical compounds which already exist and have potential such as metformin, rapamycin etc.
Late 2020's to 2030's: The first treatments arrive in the mid to late 2020's which can repair damage laid down by the aging process and effectively restore some 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.