There is a relatively common belief and idea that we are in an age of accelerating technology. Technology is advancing and there is a good chance that various super-technology will be developed over the next 80 years. The story of technology and the world is more than just the number of cars and different technologies that are developed and dispersed.
1940 to 2020 vs 2020 to 2100
There is some level where technology and developments accelerate and some aspects where things slow down. It is useful to consider how much has changed since 1940 to 2020 (80 years) and also the change from 1860 to 1940 (the prior 80 years).
There was more change from 1860 to 1940 in terms of the lives of people in North America and Europe. The 1860 to 1940 period saw the dispersion of the industrial revolution. The world shifted from traveling on sailing ships, bicycles, horses and the beginner steam industrialization to oil-powered trains, ships, cars, and airplanes. Railways were built, airplanes were invented and used in WW1 and the start of WW2. There was also the development of sanitation, vaccines and the beginnings of antibiotics.
There was electrification and cleaner water and a large scale.
90% of the human population did not get full development or all modern medicine until much later. Half of the world population is still vastly underdeveloped.
There is a vast rise in the numbers of cars produced each year.
Other technologies have also been developed and rapidly adopted. However, going from walking on foot to bikes and then to the first cars are greater changes in utility and productivity than going from the model T to the Edsel and then to the Volkswagen.
Going from the pony express to landline telegraphs and then to the first landline telephones is a bigger change than going from landline telephones to mobile phones. Communication went from weeks and days to hours for mail delivery to wired telegrams. The transmission was instant but then the message had to be delivered to the recipient. Phones cut the time for messages to be delivered to instant 60% of the time. You had to reach the person at the office or in their home or other known location.
There is about 15 times more oil and steel produced in the world now than was produced in 1940.
World steel production increased by around 30 to 40 times from 1860 to 1940. It went from 3 million tons per year to about 130 million tons per year.
Oil from the ground was not really a thing in 1860. They were going oil from whales and using a lot of coal.
Predictions from 2020 to 2100
The First Humans will go to Mars 2024-2050, Most likely in the 2024-2035 timeframe.
I have a lot of predictions about the age of fully reusable rockets. I will consolidate and update to this article.
Molecular nanotechnology will be developed 2022-2080 (100%). I think there is a pretty good chance this happens in the 2023-2050 (60%), I think it can happen sooner 2023-2035 (35%). This will need to be broken down in detail as how much and when. We already have graphene and carbon nanotubes but the impact has not been widespread.
Artificial General Intelligence. It will happen but it is complicated in terms of how much and when. I will follow up with an analysis of this.
Radical life extension will happen. I am most optimistic about Rejuvenate Bio and AgeX. I am tracking over 100 other companies. This will require consolidating a large amount of information and developments. Deployment will be similar to the development and deployment of cures and partial cures for AIDS-HIV. Adding 20-30 years to lifespan and healthspan will happen within 30 years (by 2050). However, there is lag in this appearing in statistics.
As I said, it is time-consuming and complicated to do proper large scale predictions. Therefore, more articles to follow and more updates of this article.
Brian Wang is a Futurist Thought Leader and a popular Science blogger with 1 million readers per month. His blog Nextbigfuture.com is ranked #1 Science News Blog. It covers many disruptive technology and trends including Space, Robotics, Artificial Intelligence, Medicine, Anti-aging Biotechnology, and Nanotechnology.
Known for identifying cutting edge technologies, he is currently a Co-Founder of a startup and fundraiser for high potential early-stage companies. He is the Head of Research for Allocations for deep technology investments and an Angel Investor at Space Angels.
A frequent speaker at corporations, he has been a TEDx speaker, a Singularity University speaker and guest at numerous interviews for radio and podcasts. He is open to public speaking and advising engagements.
73 thoughts on “Prior 80 years and the Next 80 Years”
The implications of your lifespan prediction are vast, especially in the economic sense. If your thesis is correct, even a country with horrible demographics such as Japan is expected to enter into an inflationary stage and the whole economic system from taxes to pensions would have to be reformed. Why is no one in the “street” talking about this.
Brian – check out LEAFscience.org’s Rejuvenation Roadmap which tracks companies working on damage repair interventions in the 7 SENS Research Foundation or 9 Hallmarks of aging categories:
Luckily, much of what you (rightly) think difficult to make has already been done by life, the best nanotechnology on the market, at least for now.
Don’t know why iodine fell out of favor for cut and scrapes. Perfectly good, and no added pain: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20619933
Your number for population over 60 in China is way off – it’ll be more like 20% in 2025. However, it is projected that China’s population will peak shortly after 2025, and then start to fall.
And going to the dentist was a common phobia/nightmare, with good reason.
And it was common for kids to get chicken pox, measles, mumps – and even for parents to deliberately expose their kids to get it over with at a convenient time. Whooping cough wasn’t a rarity, but a repeated thing for kids. And there were still some kids who had been hit by polio. And we put iodine on cuts. And if someone you knew got cancer, it was only whispered about, as if talking openly about it might draw its attention and a similarly likely death sentence.
Homes with poor insulation were indeed awful in the winter – I recall standing on a hot air vent and shivering because the only warm part of me was my legs. 🙂 But sitting in a hot crowded room in the summer, even with windows open and fans blowing – THAT was unpleasant, especially if the occasion called for being ‘dressed up’.
Yup – good times, the 60’s…
> The problem with affluence, and we do have world-wide affluence is people produce fewer and fewer children in times of prosperity.
Have you ever thought about it as humanity is getting ready for radical life extension, using the same genetic and other related technologies?
For me it is obvious since 2000. Less deaths -> less births. No overpopulation even in theory — we (especially in Eastern Europe and other areas of negative demography) are preparing for future reduction of mortality and increasing lifespans by proactively reducing birthrates and increasing age of birth (even if hardly many are doing it consciously but the social values are evolving toward less family-oriented, more individual-oriented and fluid society).
Your argument is upside down. It describes a terrific demographic
drop provoked by a persistent 1-child per couple policy. After
10 generations population has shrunk 1000 times.
But I made it too complex. Each person doesn’t die as soon as
their replacement is born, but each person’s granddaddy does, so
It is one in, one out, and population keeps steady (at roughly two children per couple).
You haven ‘t read the whole discussion. What you say may well
happen, but goes against a demographic explosion, not in favor of it.
(Discussion started with Scott Baker.)
The 1950s were unusual for a very good reason. Technology had been marching forward fairly steadily during the 1930s and 1940s, but it was not applied to benefit the average person because both the 30s and 40s were special, though for different (well known) reasons.
Then, in the 1950s people were finally able to return to business as usual, and we got 3 decades of tech improvements but released to market in 1 decade.
Oh yes, we are not yet at the point where we know for absolute sure that space settlement is the equivalent of crossing the Atlantic, looking for the Northwest Passage, or finding the Inland Sea of Australia.
On the technical side, I grew without a phone of any kind (excluding a phone booth nearby), with monochromatic TV and not much on it, long before internet. None of that was missed. I was busy with interesting and productive activities at all times, reading, learning, playing with friends. The future was beckoning, space was open, every healthy boy wanted to be a space man, a jet pilot, or something to that effect. Healthcare was sometimes a bit rough, but no one, not one, was concerned about not getting help because it costs several years of one’s salary. If healthcare was capable, help would be provided. There were no people with gaps from missing teeth, none. I see that now all the time, and I am sure that is not how those people prefer that. In short, life was good, and the modern additions to comforts were not missed back then. They are mostly a manufactured need, though some improvements are certainly useful. As for restaurants, I suppose it is very much location problem, as food was great in general: for example, tomatoes smelled and tasted fantastic, now they smell and taste like plastic due to advances in genetic engineering and terminal marketing insanity.
What you describe is mostly social. I have one memory and example that best (for me) illustrates the social change. A boy aged 7 or 8 rides a bicycle. A bunch of bullies take his bicycle and drive off. Boy is a bit far from home, so he runs to a man that is fixing his car nearby, tells what happened. The man stops what he was doing, sits the boy in his car and asks him where they went. He chases down bullies, gives the bicycle to the boy and drives off. Now imagine how that level of trust could exist today. A boy is trained to distrust men as they are all pedophiles. Men consider children a general existential threat, as they can destroy their life with one word. Bullies don’t steal bicycles, they know that if they kill, they leave no witnesses, and everyone is conditioned to look the other way or run away. That is just a glimpse, indicative of the change. Changes in family are as stark, not to mention all that “parent #1” stuff. I had childhood and real friends. I had quality time. Father could do everything, solve any problem I encountered. Mother was endless comfort whenever I encountered the belt. Modern children suffer from the lack of the belt in their lives, and do not even realise that. They will realise the consequences though. As one guy put it in a conversation on the subject, “I father did not belt me, I would be in prison now”. Today childred can be taken from parents if they as much as say they are unhappy with their presents, or something. Social progress.
I was saying that SpaceX could still turn out to be a different Apollo. We can’t take for granted they’ll succeed. They could suffer some unsurvivable glitches, competition, intractable practical problems (e.g. humans can get to space but can’t survive there without genetic help).
I think you misunderstood my analogy.
I’m not saying SpaceX = Vikings.
I’m saying Apollo Project = Vikings. Through feats of bravery and pushing their tech as far as it could go they made it to a remote and frozen new world. But it was too far away, took too long and was too hazardous given their frail, small craft and didn’t have easily exploitable resources, so they could not sustain the effort.
What few prizes they did bring back were valued because it came from this new place, not because it was a valuable resource that could sustain an industry.
Their small, fragile craft, originally developed as weapons of war, were just not suitable for the sort of long distance cargo hauling that would be required.
The first man to stand on the new landscape achieved eternal fame, but there was no way to establish colonies or trade, so they retreated and devoted their efforts closer to home.
Decades later, the Iberians (SpaceX) started off with redesigned transport craft that were longer lasting, could haul more cargo, and were originally designed for near term resource extraction. These were developed over time to have longer range, and in a step-by-step expansion of the systems could eventually reach the same new world, but now with the cargo capacity and endurance to do more than just flags and footprints.
Regardless of the path, there are several limiting factors:
1. (Amount of) funding. R&D pace is very limited without that.
2. (Amount of) concentrated, deliberate effort at making actual progress towards useful systems. So far I haven’t seen much of that at all. It’s been mostly basic research by a handful of almost fringe individuals or small groups. At least DNA stuff has been getting more attention, which is encouraging. But that too seems more like very initial exploration and “probing around” of a vast new land, than a well planned expedition with a clear goal in mind.
3. Design of actual systems. As in: once we get the assemblers, what do we build? There is a huge lack of blueprints at the atomic level, and such blueprints are very difficult to make and analyze. (Perhaps easier with DNA.)
4. Which brings me to: lack of tools. Design tools in particular, but probably also other important tools. (Again, DNA has more.)
5. Time (as with everything).
There is still an enourmous amount of engineering left to do, as well as some basic research. But I guess, one step at a time. A long, slow process, as you say.
My guess is that the default path to nanoassemblers is for developers to use DNA-based nanotech to make some valuable constructs. Then, to help them make yet more complex constructs, they make the DNA equivalent of jigs and other very simple tools to hold and otherwise manipulate DNA objects under self-assembly construction.
Meanwhile they move beyond ‘normal’ DNA to altered DNA with side molecules that enable specific operations. For example, a ‘catalyst’ machine that can flop open and shut, with designed molecules attached inside that greatly increase the chances of a rare chemical reaction taking place.
The complexity and power of their tools will grow in proportion to the value of the DNA-based products they can make. Eventually they’ll be able to make the equivalent of a crude and error-prone 3D atom printer.
E.g. an assembly line of the above ‘catalyst’ machines, each catalyst custom designed by a software ‘compiler’, and produced with automated DNA synthesis hardware. Work-pieces and feed atoms would be carried precisely into them by a DNA ‘belt’.
That tech would be refined to reduce errors and become useful itself – but some developers will start playing with printing tools that don’t use DNA at all.
And so on – a long, slow process. There could be a faster path, bootstrapping using atom precise tools we already have – but no sign of that yet.
> Humans only CAN manipulate macroscopic tools.
That’s what computers are for. But the smaller the device and the more copies of it need to be controlled and coordinated, the more difficult it gets.
> a macro-tool that can produce a smaller version of itself? Unfortunately that approach breaks down in multiple ways as you scale down.
Yes, an exact copy won’t work all the way down. There will need to be regime shifts at certain intermediate scales. Such as switching from electromagnetic motors to electrostatic, to maybe piezoelectric. There were some attempts to analyze these transitions. I don’t know how complete.
A Feynman Path machine would need to be flexible enough to make these substitutions. Right now we don’t even have a compact device that can fully copy itself even at the same scale (with vitamins provided).
> difficulty building things thicker than one layer, and probably of depositing and binding more than one type of atomic element
Back in 2008, Merkle and Freitas designed a complete toolset for diamondoid APM – http://www.molecularassembler.com/Papers/MinToolset.pdf
Don’t know what happened with that since then. There were supposed to be some experiments, as I recall.
> probably that they more than most understand the difficulty of the task.
If APM was easy, we would have had it already. This applies to all the above.
Humans only CAN manipulate macroscopic tools.
I believe some of the limits of Zyvex’s APM lie more in the difficulty building things thicker than one layer, and probably of depositing and binding more than one type of atomic element – both of which are likely necessary to construction of a nanoassembler.
I think you were saying that you’d like to see a macro-tool that can produce a smaller version of itself? Unfortunately that approach breaks down in multiple ways as you scale down. Lubricants become more like gum in the works, bearings made to the precision of the previous scale don’t roll as well, etc.
A while back Zyvex split itself into multiple companies, one of which continues to do basic R&D as far as I know. To the extent they aren’t making progress toward nanoassemblers, it is probably that they more than most understand the difficulty of the task.
There’s no certainty that any scenario (extrapolation) based on a history of humans living to only 80 on very rough average, with everything that entails (e.g. the cultural consequences of everyone taking for granted that dying is inevitable within 1 century, that curing aging is fantasy, that fusion and space travel wont happen in their lifetime because of it, etc), will actually hold even in its general predictions.
When you technologically expand lifespan to double its natural length, the consequences on culture and politics and direct funding and scientific focus, etc, all combine.
One of the direct consequences is that the odds drop significantly (at least as sure as any other prediction) on further healthy lifespan improvements not being pursued, and the odds probably increase on most people who make it to 160 being also alive when the next 160 years (or whatever multiple) are made possible.
Nah. If people live to 160, they won’t keep having children at the age of 20. In the developed world it’s already shifted to 30, and as fertility technology pushes the boundaries, people will delay longer. By the time the elderly are living to 160, the youngest generation will be having their children at 40-50.
> no one attempting to use that to make a nano-machine or nano-factory that can build other nano-machines atom-by-atom
Probably because their system is still effectively macroscopic, not capable of self-replication, and doesn’t have nearly enough parallelism to build anything complex. As I recall, they’re using it for some nano-lithography or something. Barely.
I think Zyvex themselves gave up on APM. Their approach wasn’t scalable enough, so I’m guessing it wasn’t economical to pursue.
If average lifespan increases to 160 years, there will be 8 generations
at the same time, so as lifespan increases, we’ll experience a doubling
of population, but after that, if you think about it, population will
keep stable, with the oldest generation dying at the same time
the newest is borning. On the long term 1 child per couple brings
a halving of the population no matter how many generations are
living at the same time.
‘the instantaneous horror of nuclear war’
You think people burned with incendiaries in the Tokyo firestorm, or phosphorus in Fallujah, enjoyed it any more than those in Hiroshima ? Any war is horrible. Von Clauswitz called it ‘the continuation of diplomacy by other means.’ Between first world countries, it is no longer an option, but against poor brown people it seems to be accepted. ‘All options are on the table’ means ‘ I’m thinking about killing some of you lot.’ Nobody is stupid enough to say ‘All options are on the table’ about China, or Israel, or Pakistan. They stick to diplomacy – however imperfect, it’s better than ‘other means.’
The study of how fast technology is advancing is well documented. The romans, greeks and egyptians kept very detailed records. Plus we keep detailed records now. To plot those advancements in technology back 2,000 years is not hard. While the politics of those past and present records are in doubt, the scientific facts are not. A evaluation of those rechnologys shows that technology’s growth is exponential.
The truly scientific studies by some of our best and brightest minds state that technological progress IS exponential. It is only the people that rely on their own flawed memory that state, technological growth is not exponential. You can spot those people by their statements that say “I think” not “my study showed..”.
That sounds like YOU’RE the one trying to scare us.
Yes computational power has been increasing exponentially. However that doesn’t mean the utility you get out of that computational ability is increasing at an exponential rate. In fact as the Solow productivity paradox and other measures have shown, the utility you get from an exponential increase in computational power is small. I got just as much enjoyment out of my old ps2 games that took up less than 1 GB of storage space as I do with current video games that take up 100 GB of space. Businesses aren’t much more efficient with orders of magnitude more processing power than they were 30 or 40 years ago.
The 1950’s outpaces any decade since in terms of technology’s impact on society. You went from only the wealthy owning a car to most families owning one. The jet engine opened up air travel to the masses. Nuclear energy offered both the hope of an unlimited source of energy for civilization, but also the potential for its destruction. All of these technologies caused big changes in the way people lived. It actually seems like the pace of change in society in recent decades is relatively slow compared to the 1950’s and the early 20th century.
Although recent decades have been slow, I’m expecting the 2020’s to be another decade of immense societal and technological change like the 1950’s were. AI has been on the start of the S curve and the 2020’s are going to be the decade we start reaping the benefits. AI is going to be the most transformational technology in history.
All the waitresses have men’s voices and shaved painted-on eyebrows. I think they all work for the DMV now…at least the ones that did not get lung cancer and die. Park/rest area bathrooms are dangerous at best. I will skip the description of what was happening there…suffice it to say no Craigslist. Downtown was all porno theaters, and liquor stores for the homeless. Lots of boarded up old hotels.
Homes were small and identical. Concrete floors, thin walls, glass sliding doors that don’t work. The built-in garage is filled with car exhaust full of lead seeping into the house.
But at least they were not running up insane deficits. LBJ and Nixon though fostered the building of oil burning for electric power, making what had been something like 7% of power into our second largest energy source sending us into a trade deficit, which, along with their absurd spending in Vietnam is what caused our economy to self-destruct, forcing us to abandon the Bretton Woods system and causing all sorts of financial issues for decades. And, at the risk of sounding like a broken record, lead exhaust caused intelligence decline, crime explosion, and all sorts of destruction and addiction.
Maybe you could buy a car every three years, but it did not last, and was unreliable. It slowed dramatically when going up hills and often overheated going over mountains. You came away with serious injuries often in the face, chest and spine if you got in a wreck. And you had to buy new tires every year and still had blowouts. If your blowout happened in the boonies…good luck.
Their ability to fight cancer was not very good. Though you would probably die of heart disease in your 50s or 60s. Cigarette smoke was everywhere. Downtowns were filthy and crowded with homeless often very violent homeless…rather than a few schizos arguing with themselves.
And not having a cellphone often meant more worrying and wasted gas going to check on people. It meant not being able to find people in stores, fairgrounds, or amusement parks.
Restaurants often had just canned vegetables except potato. There is always a fresh potato or french fries. Coffee was horrendous. No arabica beans. Just robusta. And in every Restaurant there is so much tobacco smoke there is a gummy layer of icky on everything. And not just cigarettes, lots of cigars…mostly smoked by old men who took up smoking in WWI. There is 5 pounds of gum on the underside of every table and 1 pound under each chair. Gum on all the sidewalks (no presser washers to clean the stuff off). Pedophile old men are everywhere. There was an ambulance about every 15 minutes blaring by. Lots of fights and drug and alcohol related crap.
Sure – and I’ve been reading about those speculative exponential manufacturing methods for about 30 years now.
About the closest we’ve got today is Zyvex Corp’s atomically precise manufacturing tech, and I’ve heard of no one attempting to use that to make a nano-machine or nano-factory that can build other nano-machines atom-by-atom.
All we need is one wish and then we can wish for more wishes!
Different areas move at different speeds. Political theory/philosophy moves the slowest, transportation technology is next (including space travel), then mining technology, metallurgical technology, military technology, chemical technology, manufacturing technology/robotics, medical technology, agricultural technology, nanotechnology, computing, then the fastest…communications technology.
You will notice that I have not placed medical technology as particularly fast even though our knowledge is growing rapidly. That is because most of this has failed to trickle down to the patient. I have faith that it it will…but I have to go with the current and past results. And medical technology and military technology are artificially accelerated by the enormous sums invested to advance them…often involving government spending. Military and medical generally turn to the areas of technology that move the fastest to integrate that as soon as possible to nudge it forward. And when there is a major breakthrough, things can move quickly that were stuck in a rut. AI is a clear example of that. Machine learning and such is probably moving faster than any area at the moment. 3D printing has also been moving rapidly, even though manufacturing tech in general tends to be slow. The investment is fairly low in Agricultural tech…yet we manage to make enough food for everyone…though issues with international relations, and transportation can make it hard to reach some people.
I hear you like probabilities, so I put your probability inside another probability about probabilities.
Exactly, I was thinking just that:
<< Yes, the Vikings [SpaceX] got further, and earlier. But they were unsustainable and didn’t have the capacity to do more than get there, and maybe get home again. >>
So very clearly it remains to be proven, but for various more or less tangible reasons I would bet for SpaceX making it and enabling themselves or whoever else to get BEO and stay there, regardless how many other loss leaders pave the rest/end of the way there.
The tree hugging libs thing is the same stale tribal crap and doesn’t stick even by sophistic standards: SpaceX is not tree-hugging and control-whatever.
I’ll add to the prediction & raise you one…
Any prediction anyone makes for the next 80 years has an 80% probability of being wrong!
It’s like saying that I haven’t got fat overall, it’s just that individual fat cells have accumulated fat.
That’s not going to convince anyone.
To be fair to Iggy, SpaceX hasn’t landed anyone on the moon.
Contra Iggy, Apollo didn’t take “us” to the moon, it was a handful of men operating at the ragged edge of technological capability where only a fantastic streak of good luck stopped one or more of the missions from ending in death.
Comparing Apollo and SpaceX is probably (hopefully) like comparing the Viking visits to the Americas with early (1430s) Iberian voyages to the Canary Islands and Azores.
Yes, the Vikings got further, and earlier. But they were unsustainable and didn’t have the capacity to do more than get there, and maybe get home again. The Spanish and Portuguese were still mucking around in the mid east Atlantic, but developing tech that meant when they did reach the Americas they could set up long term trade and settlements.
Inexpensive and powerful computers has accelerated technological advancements considerably.
First in incorrect, read that around 80 billion humans has lived up to now so less than 10% is alive, this is still a lot.
And civilization rarely fail. Has any industrial civilization failed? Yes Germany fell apart at the last months of WW2, this was pretty expected as it was the center of the larges war ever but the occupying forces took over.
Back in history this was more common, meme is the fall of Rome, but even then the conquerors wanted to keep that they held. However they hold the hub not the resources so Rome was not much fun after they looted the gold.
Note that even idiots like ISIL managed to recognize this. Yes this was the idiots who managed to pull more agro than WW2 Germany having 3-4 division of very light and not very trained infantry, couple of tanks and no air force.
They lasted longer than expected as none wanted to take losses or kill lot of civilians, it was no hurry but great options to battle test new weapon systems.
I just wanted to underline his apparent underestimation of the
instantaneous horror of nuclear war, doesn’t mean I’m not a big
As I see it, he’s just looking at the bigger picture. “Rebuild” can also be applied to population and other aspects of civilization. It isn’t limited to buildings.
There are theoretical solutions to making macroscopic products one atom at a time within reasonable time. They generally rely on exponential replication, massive parallelism, and convergent assembly.
The difficult part is making the first assemblers. There are several options for that too, but they need a concentrated effort and adequate funding. So far, both are lacking.
I think the best option is the Feynman Path, or perhaps some hybrid approach. DNA alone can make some interesting useful structures, but it may have trouble making assemblers.
Generally speaking, individual technologies advance on S curves: slow start, rapid increase, then slow down as the technology matures. The up curve of some technologies is exponential (computers and computation-heavy technologies are good examples). Some of these exponentials are stronger than others. But quantifying “technology” in total is very difficult.
Perhaps a good proxy is the amount of information being generated and processed. That has been increasing exponentially, if I’m not mistaken. Though a large part of that is youtube videos and various raw big data, much of which doesn’t really translate to technological progress. Another proxy is patent registrations, but I’m less familiar with that statistic, and current patent practices are distorted.
There are several technologies today that are in the upward curve or even exponential phase. Others are still before the up curve. AFAIK, there are more startups today than ever before, and it’s only increasing. Many of them rely on big data and related computational fields, which have exponential growth potential. On the other hand, the big technologies of old – such as cars and aviation – have reached the end part of their respective S curves. At least until new paradigms allow them to start new S curves.
I think this article does a good job of saying that technological progress isn’t exponential. In the 1950’s and 1960’s we went from propeller driven aircraft to manned aircraft that went mach 3. We haven’t gotten any faster since then. In the 1800’s we went from weeks or months to send a communication to near instantaneous. We went from horse driven carriages to cars. Since then we have cars that are faster and have more features, but it’s still a car. Sure some technologies advance faster then others and some run into roadblocks. But I think technology is advancing more along a linear path than an accelerating path.
Mass manufacturing (i.e. kilogram and up) via nanofactory machines depositing atoms is not likely happening soon, but scientists have been doing molecular nanotech with DNA in labs for decades (i.e. making self-assembling DNA structures).
I think the recent development of DNA cages that open under specific conditions to deliver a drug will ultimately be remarked as a key milestone in this early phase of nanotech – a simple artificial nano-machine designed and built for a specific purpose with potential beyond ‘lab demo or toy’. TBD if it gets applied and has enough success to encourage others to design more nano-machines, or construction molecules better than DNA (e.g. from the synthetic biology field).
3D printing with materials produced by designed organisms (or those organisms themselves) seems the more likely way we’ll be bridging the nanoscale assembly to macroscale products gap. There’s already work in 3D printing replacement organs and meat.
A more realistic way of looking at it is that the average person lives to 80 years old now (rounded up), but one generation is only twenty years. So if each person has one child as replacement, then, by the time that person dies, there won’t just be one still there. There will also be that child’s child and that child’s child and that child’s child adding up to four. The only way to keep the population steady would be for each person to die as soon as their replacement was born. This is a pretty gloomy view. But, of course, in the real world other factors to come into play.
It seems that you give more importance to buildings than to people.
The neutron bomb should be your weapon of choice.
It’s not going down, it’s diverging like it would at the very tiniest negligible hints of the start of an exponential step (key word, step). If you’re on the wrong elevator (analogy breaks down bc you can’t be on multiple elevators at once in reality, versus in analogy-land, you can: you can belong to multiple subcultures, etc) it seems like you’re missing out™ on what’s elsewhere.
The future is smarter, and if you don’t get smarter (sounds snobish but boil it down, and that’s what it is) you will miss out on what everything-technological allows.
Now, society, politics, culture, that particular dimension of life nowadays definitely is a multiverse with many bad apples, many of which it’s easy to get lost in or have the misfortune of being born in, and be so close (one continent, one river, etc) yet so far from a completely different life — completely different potential.
So the American Dream is alive and well, in theory; despite the overwhelming majority of people with access to it, exploiting its availability to ridiculously low extents.
According to some, the terrorists did get hold of nuclear weapons, and they dropped them on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Since my dad had a dog in that race, I don’t agree, but in any case the fossil fueled ordnance dropped on Japan killed a lot more people, and did a lot more damage – but they rebuilt. Ten metres of sea level rise and a thousand or more kilometres of shift in climate zones will make rebuilding many places impossible – that’s what’s dialed in with just todays greenhouse levels. Compared to that even a superpower nuclear exchange would be just a temporary inconvenience.
Technology (its progress in your more-specific argument) is not the problem, it’s culture – human software.
<< Here is my prediction for the next 80 years. Just one, and it is based on the entire history, not just the last 80 years of it. >>
Single planet, single century lifespan, (etc) history.
Everyone has 2 parents, 4 grandparents, 8 g-grandparents, 16 g-g-grandparents, etc. This generational doubling is pretty reliable until people mate with their cousins, which is pretty common (actually certain)…….but I don’t buy your gloomy view.
I was born over 80 1/2 yr ago. I watched the lead paint generation take us to the moon. The tree-hugging libs took the lead outta paint and we ain’t been back since. The people who want to control you, first try to scare you.
I disagree with Brians estimate on molecular nanotechnolgy, theres been recent advances in it that make me believe it will have higher probabilities of occurring sooner rather then later. And it will change things in unimaginable ways. Once we can build things that look like slow replicators we can build ultra small power generation devices to power them. At that point….its a question of if we destroy ourselves. If we don’t then we enter into effectively immortality and a complete fulfillment of our basic needs with ease. I hope to live long enough to see it. Colon cancers trying to stop me, but so far its failing.
With BCIs, genetic engineering, and other tech on the horizon, humans of 2100 may be effectively a different species (or multiple) from humans of today. As it happens, 2100 is roughly three generations from now. But just as likely, many humans may remain largely the same.
Great article Brian. I believe we are entering into the Genetic Age and despite the pessimism below, I remember in 1995 an Environmental Sciences professor telling my class (with a straight face) the world would be out of oil by 2030. Today, we all know Peak Oil and Fossil Fuels are incorrect theories.
Another dire prediction was world starvation and the population bomb. We have many more people and are producing food at record levels. The trick will be to eliminate despotic regimes that cause instability, such as Iran, North Korea, and Cuba. It would be good to put Putin in his place as well.
In ten years will will see incredible genetic therapies mainstreamed.
The problem with affluence, and we do have world-wide affluence is people produce fewer and fewer children in times of prosperity. Nearly 70% of people in Mainland China will be above 60 by 2025, and the problem is worsening in Japan, Korea, most of Europe and America. An aging populace means fewer producers, and fewer producers puts a burden on upcoming generations. Many nations are finally creating incentives to have kids, and the coming Health-span/Lifespan therapies will be crucial to keeping boomers in the job place and out of assisted living.
My message: It’s going to okay. Have a little faith. A really vacant and stupid view is that people are Vacant and Stupid. Nothing could be further from the truth!
The world is a better place than it has ever been for a human to live in. In every age since the beginning of time were people that thought they were living in the end times. They were wrong. I think they still are.
The thing that most concerned me for a time was Gott’s use of the Copernican method, which provides a mathematical formula to determine (with 95% likelihood) how much longer something has to exist.
When I applied this formula to the human race, it suggests we have maybe three generations left at current numbers (less if our numbers climb much higher) and, if we have a catastrophic die off (say to one hundred million or less) we still only get about seventeen more generations. In my calculations I estimated 107.5 billion as the number of humans that have ever existed (which I only later learned is considered to be bang on the money by many that are considered experts in such things).
In other words, homo sapiens goes out in a big way in three generations, or kinda lingers for a few centuries before exiting stage left.
Then it occurred to me that each one of our pre-human ancestors would have gotten similar results (with only 5% of them being wrong) showing that their own remaining time was limited–yet though their days did come to an end, it is only because they gradually became us.
That makes me hopeful that we aren’t coming to an end, we are merely coming to a change.
That is not a mistake. Amazingly, suming up progress in all the little domains is how you get overall progress.
How many people were alive yesterday? How many today? I am guessing the difference between these figures is very small compared the the number of people that died in the last month…never mind all of history.
I’ll be charitable. Lets say you are not counting anyone alive today in your “recorded history”. They say 108 billion people have lived in the last 50,000 years. Even ignoring that a good chunk of that is in the last 5,000 years (recorded history), and just dividing 108 billion by 10, that is still more than the 7.7 billion alive today. So, whoever these mythical people are who say more people are alive now than in recorded history are clearly idiots.
This Malthusian nonsense you spout just does not bear scrutiny. Just as you have more mouths to feed, you have more brains to invent, discover, organize, build and innovate. Even the most efficient plants use less than 6% of the sunlight that hits them. And only about 1/10 of the sunlight that hits the planet hits plants, yet the energy that is gathered feeds these 7.7 billion people and the trillions of other animals on this planet…with most of it spoiling.
Gee, do you suppose we could make something at was more efficient than plants? Oops, we did. Solar panels are often over 20% efficient and produce where plants can’t survive. Hydroelectric and wind are also harvesting this solar energy a step removed. And we have enough nuclear material to power civilizations 100x the size of ours for centuries.
Real danger lies not in total war between superpowers, but in
terrorists getting hold of nuclear weapons. This will make 9/11
look like a firecracker.
Haha. The PS3 would have been the most powerful computer
in the world until 1997. We are stuck in the 60s when we have to satisfy our biological needs.
Pax Britannica lasted a hundred years – 1815, Napoleon’s final defeat, to 1914. There were wars, but not universal ones. Pax Americana has so far lasted seventy five. Probably Pax Atomica would be a better name, in which case it dates from 1949, when the Soviets exploded their first A-bomb. That meant any war between their allies and the West would cause guaranteed catastrophic losses for both sides. Since then, the Chinese bomb has ensured that the US and Russia can’t stitch them up, the Indian and Pakistani weapons have put a stop to the series of wars on the sub-continent, and the Israeli bomb has halted state level attacks by Arab countries. Wars are allowed between, and against, no-account poor states, but not between large economies. Wars are the best way of keeping them poor and no-account, but the general trajectory is up. Wars have always been net destroyers of human wealth and happiness, but in the past there were winners. Increasingly, there will be no winners. Even crushing minor players like Iraq and Libya has proved massively costly for the West, and before that Afghanistan destroyed the Soviet Union. When the first result of starting a war is liable to be the vapourising of one or more of his cities, the most gung-ho nationalist has to pause.
Leonardo di Vinci thought of the helicopter in the 1500’s – does that mean we’re stuck in the 1500’s?
Physics doesn’t change much any more, and scientists and engineers can foresee potential useful applications and create crude prototypes long before they are able to refine the tech into viable products.
The vast improvement of microprocessors since the 70’s is so obvious that saying we’re “stuck with” it doesn’t make sense.
And in fact we’ve gained a huge host of other new or vastly improved digital electronic technologies since then.
UNIX is hardly the only OS available, but it has been improved and altered for a variety of uses.
I’ll just say one thing: More people are currently alive today than in all of recorded history put together, at least according to some people. That has severe ecological and resource consequences that we are only beginning to see and have not begun to meaningfully deal with. No species outruns its resources for long, and I’m not convinced Humans are smart or coordinated enough to avoid a hard population crash, which would devastate our delicate civilizations.
I hope I’m wrong and the many solutions that show up in NBF will take hold, but I’m getting less optimistic every year, and somehow, people seem to be getting stupider every year too.
We would be happy to be stuck in 60s, but it has been a decline since about 1970. It was then that the following happened: first civillian supersonic, first microprocessor, first UNIX, space, and so forth. We are still stuck with UNIX and microprocessors, despite numerous attempts to move on to better things. Supersonics are a dream again, space is a dream again. I am not even going into the subject of social decline: things that were a trivial part of live then, now are either forbidden, inaccessible or an absolute luxury. This elevator is going down.
People mistake progress in a particular technology with progress in overall technology. While there is great progress in particular fields there isn’t actually much progress in technology. Think. Is there any thing really new under the sun. The answer is no. We are stuck in the 60s.
Now a little step back half the way, 40 years ago. At the end of cold war, the warring parties had a full spectrum of high-tech weapons that guaranteed annihation of the other party in so many ways, with multiple layers of redundancy. Nuclear triads were enough, but that was just one layer. There was a full scale chemical weapons arsenal, biological weapons arsenal, there were space weapons, there were planted means of massive scale sabotage (as CIA planted a defect in some controller that was used in a gas pipeline in USSR, with the largest non-nuclear blast as the result). All that was before the computer revolution of the nineties, before genome sequencing revolution, before many other things that will be weaponised for the next war.
The inescapable conslusion follows: all that, without exception, just as before, will be weaponised and used in a total war against people and economy that have never before been so vulnerable, concentrated and interdependent. Billions will have die at least as the collateral damage in any big war, even without deliberate targeting of megacities. Among those billions will be countless specialists that make modern life modern. There will be people you hope will deliver you longer and better life. And 80 years from the last such war is historically overdue for the next one, which will not just ruin dreams, but erase them from memory. It is a burden, but not an obstacle to have a full life. But hope for 80 more years of world peace? Unpossible.
Now back to the here and now, and the current state of affairs. Global urbanisation passed 50% a few years ago. Population density is in five digits per square kilometer. There are many cities with eight digit populations. Economy is global, complex, fragile and narrowly specialised. To make the long narrative short, the world has never been more vulnerable to any disturbance that involves destruction or loss of life of specialists. Militarily, any modern country today is such an easy target in the total war, that winning such a war is not a matter of strategy, or even tactic, but a matter of first strike and minutes or hours. Once the socio-economic complexity is attacked, the outcome of war is inevitable: social collapse, economic collapse, political collapse, and depopulation. A megacity without power supply is a territory of a local zombie apocalypse. Those people that will not go to work on day one, and not going to survive soon after, will not do their part in the operation of economy. People who maintain high voltage power lines, literally hold lives of millions in their hands. People who run power stations, desalination plants (dear Saudi Arabia, Iran says hello), fuel and transport infrastructure – they all will be victims of war, and the cascade of disfunction makes socio-economic collapse the only possibility.
Here is my prediction for the next 80 years. Just one, and it is based on the entire history, not just the last 80 years of it.
There will be a big war in the next 80 years, and every means on science and technology will be weaponised to survive and (attempt to) win.
80 years ago, in the year 1939, the last big war started at about this time. The usual European thing, not unlike the one 25 years prior, not unlike the one before that. As the war progressed, and with no decisive military superiority on any warring side, it switched from the “military against military” to a “total war” mode. The objective of total war is not to win, but to physically annihilate the enemy. Anyone who can read knows how that ended; more to the point, how it never ended. The entire complex of science and technology was militarised fow WW1, which brough disruptive innovation into the arena of total war. That is the most important historical fact of the last 80 years. The second important fact necessary for making predictions is the economic and social baseline. An average person in 1939 was capable of attending to one’s needs with little effort, given modest resources: food, clothing, tooling, basic healthcare, basic everything. Even the total war could not set (the survivors in) such society back more than ten years or so — Europe and USSR are the historical examples. 12 years after losing a quarter of population and winning the worst war in human history, the USSR put a satellite in orbit.
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