Can 21st Century Progress Surpass 20th Century Progress

Can the technological, scientific, medical and economic progress of the 21st century surpass the 20th century?

The richest countries in the world increased per capita income by 10 times from 1900 to 2000.

It will take about 23 years in the 21st century for the US to double per capita income. (2000-2023) If this pace were maintained to 2100, then the US would have 16 times the per capita GDP.

In the 20th century
Airplanes were invented and became mainstream transportation
Vaccines and antibiotics boosted life expectancy by about 30 years (from 47 to 77 years)
Computers were invited and PCs and laptops became common
Phones became common and then shifted to cellphones
The Internet was invented and popularized
Mass production was developed and used to create 1 billion cars
Rockets and jets were invented and developed
Oil and steel usage increased about 100 times from 1900 to 2000.
Population went from 1.6 billion to 6 billion
AI was invented
Nuclear bombs were created and proliferated
Moon landing level space technology
Genetic science invented and first human chromosome was sequenced
Semiconductors lithography reached 180 nanometers in 1999

In the 21st century so far
Electric cars have reached 2 million cars per year
First stages have been reused
Population has gone from 6 billion to 7.7 billion
Cars have driver assist
Semiconductors lithography has reached 5-7 nanometers
DNA nanotechnology is emerging
Molecular electronic-CMOS hybrids are emerging
Antiaging technology is starting to be deployed.

In the rest of the 21st century, I believe this will happen and 20th-century progress will be passed.

Electric cars will replace new ICE cars by 2035 and all cars by about 2050
Fully reusable rockets will be developed and become dominant
Population is going from 7.7 billion to about 12-18 billion. 15 billion is based upon longevity going to 100 years. 18 billion is if half of the people can reach 150 years of age. Population would also go to 16 billion if Africa’s birthrate was in the high UN population scenario instead the middle scenario.
Fleets of tens of thousands of fully reusable rockets could replace airplanes for long-range travel on earth and open the solar system with millions in orbit, moon, Mars and beyond

Cars will become fully self-driving. This will enable trucks to cross the US in less than a day

Biotechnology and medicine can conquer obesity (adding a few ounces of brown fat via stem cells) could burn 500 extra calories per day
Biotechnology can enable regeneration to level of restoring limbs

DNA sequencing and synthesis could speed up by 100-1000 times each decade.
Biotechnology of this power will enable intelligence enhancement, powerful antiaging and powerful medicine

Full diamondoid molecular nanotechnology will emerge.
This will supercharge antiaging, medicine, space technology, energy production, AI, Quantum computers, biotechnology and all other technologies.

57 thoughts on “Can 21st Century Progress Surpass 20th Century Progress”

  1. Same for computers, they are still getting smaller, more powerful and useful, but it has reached a different level so they are fast becoming integrated into everything we touch. We went from having a desktop computer to having them in our pockets, but also in refrigerators, children’s toys and even light bulbs.

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  2. “The solar constant is 1362 W/m^2 in space, before it reaches the atmosphere. The standard value against which solar panels are tested is 1000 W/m^2, which nominally is sea-level noon. ” and “Efficiency only matters if you are limited on space. Otherwise setup cost or levelized cost per kWh is what matters.”

    1. You’ll only get 1 kw/sq² on a perfectly cloudless day, and that still doesn’t refute my point that a photovoltaic cell only turns a fraction of that irradiance into electricity.
    2. There are more costs than setup costs, such as maintenance costs.
    3. Space, otherwise known as REAL ESTATE, is always limited, and solar requires far more of it than a steam turbine power plant for the same kilowatts produced.
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  3. That entirely depends on were the food is grown or cultured {vat grown}. Also, see my post below. Were are these extra people going to be born and who will support them? Cities do not seem condusive to population growth.

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  4. The solar constant is 1362 W/m^2 in space, before it reaches the atmosphere. The standard value against which solar panels are tested is 1000 W/m^2, which nominally is sea-level noon. In practice, the available solar flux varies a lot by location, season, time of day, weather, etc.

    Efficiency only matters if you are limited on space. Otherwise setup cost or levelized cost per kWh is what matters.

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  5. Well, sir, I wasn’t really talking about costs for photovoltaic cells, but the efficiency, which does affect the ultimate costs.

    The fact is, a photovoltaic cell is a type of NP junction. In other words, it’s a semiconductor. You’ll see a similar reduction in cost of manufacturing for a lot of semiconductor based devices.

    What you don’t address at all is my actual argument, “There haven’t been any huge advancements in solar. Efficiency rates are still below 30%, so at ground level, a solar power generation system uses only a fraction of the 1.3 kw /sq² m of the Solar Constant.”

    The inefficiency of solar doesn’t change just because the per unit costs dropped.

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  6. “XXI century will have at least 1000 more progress than XX century”

    Ray Kurzweil

    I agree with him

    We will start seeing this in late 2020’s

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  7. You have a point. We are doing alot more nanoscale thigs than macro things. Our perception is biased because of that. But if we objective focus on the great numbers, we will see things like: Hundreds of new fields of research, hundreds of times more scientists, Hundreds of times more money going to R&D, a much bigger economy to consume all this new innovation and xtimes nore productivity of each scientist because of much better IT.

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  8. Something has to be done to combat the rise of rent-seeking vs. producing and innovating. The former is de-industrializing the West and causing massive economic collapses. Perhaps Biden has the right idea to tax capital gains like ordinary income, but it’ll take more than that. Maybe a shift to Land Value Taxation too, plus public banking etc.

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  9. My apologies I read and listen to so much of this I lose track of who said what-[ .. keep up the good work, , yours is a site I check everyday it allows me to read deeper into issues / companies / emerging ideas that otherwise I would miss .. much appreciated.

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  10. The retail cost of solar panels over time has fallen by over 2 orders of magnitude over 40 years.
    That’s not subsidized. That’s just a complete collapse in costs.

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  11. The entire concept of longevity “escape velocity” is based on a physical analogy that does not match the real case in exactly the aspects that would allow an “escape velocity” to exist.

    Escape velocity as a concept assumes you are moving ballistically through a vacuum, so once you achieve a velocity you maintain that same velocity unless acted on by a force.

    Longevity increase is much more like trudging up a steep sandy slope. Where each step requires ever greater levels of effort, and a momentary pause in effort results in a sudden halt, rather than coasting at the current velocity.

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  12. I go back and forth on this.
    The conventional wisdom that we are all told as children is that technological change is constantly accelerating.
    But looking at how people’s lives changed, the lifetime from say 1880s to 1940s saw vastly more change than the same time from 1940s to 2020s.
    My current position is that tech change is moving at least as fast, but that most of the gains are now being captured by society rather than as individuals.
    The improvements in pollution, safety, resource usage, and equality of opportunity have been enormous in recent years. But most of these are invisible. Whereas back pre-WWII, you were seeing with your own eyes the change from horse drawn ploughs to tractors to combine harvesters, the change from horses to cars, from kites to aeroplanes to airliners.

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  13. Major nations were experimenting with entirely different forms of government while most major nations are remarkably stable today.

    Well that’s one thing that has improved. Those entirely different forms of government turned out to be catastrophes.

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  14. You can go from 60 to 90 and have a 50% increase of 30. And again 90 to 126 for a 40% increase of 36. In my opinion the rate of progress on previous is slowing down in percentage terms (low hanging fruit is picked). So the anti-singularity. Now another dimension to progress is you can still power through with some more economic expenditures/improvements, but bringing poor countries to parity is basically a one-off increase. However keep in mind progress is still geometrically improving although slowing in percentage terms of gains on previous.

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  15. There’s a real likelihood of countries at US/Europe levels of wealth hitting anti-aging “escape velocity” around 2040-50. The rest of the world not too long after that. In that scenario yes big population increase by 2100.

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  16. Fission is better than fusion in many ways. I think it’s almost certain we’ll get fusion working as a usable source of energy this century. The irony is aneutronic fusion which requires higher temperatures may be easier to achieve than the big tokamak reactors that encapsulate most fusion funding.

    I think we can go quite a bit higher than 7 billion and be just fine. If we have another type of green revolution in more areas of the world, we can probably go to 20 billion. If lab grown meat becomes as cheap as regular meat, then we can go even higher, perhaps as high as 100 billion.

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  17. There was a rather telling quote from the somewhat self-absorbed villain in the move Bladerunner 2049

    “Every leap of civilization was built off the back of a disposable work force. We lost our stomach for
    slaves, unless engineered. But I can only make so many.”

    Serious progress in various eras of civilization were built on foundations laid by slaves (usually directly, though in the US it was a bit more indirect at the late 19th/20th century) and serious exploitation allowing for time to be freed for the privileged for research opportunities. 20th century we had global capitalism exploiting the labor arbitrage, fueling public and private research in the first world. Until another step change in labor costs allow resource reallocation to more research to occur, we aren’t going to see explosive change.

    That labor change may happen when the mix of robotics, batteries, and AI create approximate analogs of general laborers (in the context of direct replacement of humans in a world of interfaces designed for humans, by coexisting with humans using those same interfaces). Thus the new “slave” era. That’s separate from whether or not we being to change our world to acommodate robots more than humans (lights out facilities with few human accoutrements, nitrogen purged environments, high ambient heat, tunnel systems for UGV’s without human life support/safety measures, etc). We keep looking forward to our new slaves, rather than our new overlords…

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  18. Are those technologies that took off and had a major impact on society from 2000-2020? No they are not. I’ve said numerous times on this site that artificial intelligence will be the greatest innovation in all of human history. Is it there yet? Not quite. Robotics, AI, and 5G networks are all technologies that will take off in the 2020’s-2030’s. This article was about comparing 2000-2020 and 1900-1920.

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  19. I can’t edit, so I will write here, to avoid potential confusion
    “Before 2020 China was 3rd world country, now in 2020 it’s basically developed country’
    It should be before 2000, not 2020

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  20. Let’s assume technology is growing exponentially and that scientific output in terms of published papers is a good proxy for technology growth. This means we’re having diminishing returns from technology as the technologies from the 20th century were far more impactful, even if they weren’t as advanced as today’s technologies.

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  21. If you just combine Robotics, artificial intelligence and 5G, you can easily have a new industrial revolution that will reshape the entire society in just 20 to 30 years. You just don’t know what you are talking about.

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  22. The major advancements of the early 20th Century were molecular in nature, except for the gross manipulations of atomic processes represented by fission/fusion. The ability to manipulate & produce at the atomic level will be several orders of magnitude more significant in the middle of the 21st Century. Then add the unlimited free resources & energy of space, & the future looks bright.

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  23. There were easily more sci-tech papers, discoveries, tech developments
    between 2000-2020 than in entire XX century. We’re speeding up. China’s
    contribution alone after 2000 is like we have another USA worth of
    papers, sci-tech developments output. Not so cutting edge and
    groundbreaking like from US/EU, but in sheer output, they caught up. Now
    they must work on quality = more papers in Nature/Science/Cell + some
    original breakthroughs from time to time.
    Before 2020 China was 3rd world country, now in 2020 it’s basically developed country.
    If we add EU + USA + China + Japan/Korea/Singapore, few other smaller
    players(Russia,Israel) output we can clearly see that we’ve never had
    such dynamics, and we’re speeding up each passing year because
    developing countries are getting developed/richer and are contributing
    more quality/impactful science each year

    I actually agree with Kurzweil that we will have more progress between 2014-21, than in XX century
    Just browse nextbigfuture article history since early 2000’s, see how
    much happened in less than 20 years. Most of these achievements would be
    SF in XX century

    Waiting for South America, South East Asia starting to punch in science according to their weight/populations/GDP, next India/South Asia, wake up of Arab science/tech and finally Africa starting to develop fast and start contributing in science and tech

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  24. Technology growth is linear, not exponential. When you go back 40 years or a 100 years, there’s a lot of knowledge that gets lost in how we used to make things. Even some weapons and tools from thousands of years ago, we have no idea how they were made.

    Technology’s impact on society has definitely not been exponential in recent decades and is likely slower than the beginning of the 20th century. From 1900-1920, there was a much greater impact that technology had on the fabric of society than there is today. Major nations were experimenting with entirely different forms of government while most major nations are remarkably stable today.

    The beginning of the 20th century saw the rise of the car, the plane, and the tank. Household appliances and electricity were introduced that made life easier. Industrial innovations made work more productive. The major change in society today is 4g networks and phones. Basically now you can look at and share cat videos on your phone all day when you couldn’t do that 20 years ago.

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  25. There were easily more sci-tech papers, discoveries, tech developments between 2000-2020 than in entire XX century. We’re speeding up. China’s contribution alone after 2000 is like we have another USA worth of papers, sci-tech developments output. Not so cutting edge and groundbreaking like from US/EU, but in sheer output, they caught up. Now they must work on quality = more papers in Nature/Science/Cell + some original breakthroughs from time to time.
    Before 2020 China was 3rd world country, now in 2020 it’s basically developed country.
    If we add EU + USA + China + Japan/Korea/Singapore, few other smaller players(Russia,Israel) output we can clearly see that we’ve never had such dynamics, and we’re speeding up each passing year because developing countries are getting developed/richer and are contributing more quality/impactful science each year

    I actually agree with his prediction for 2014-21, 2022-2025 – we will see
    Just browse nextbigfuture article history since early 2000’s, see how much happend in less than 20 years. Most of these achievements would be SF in XX century

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  26. Several thousand Gigawatt scale nuclear reactors would be enough to replace most fossil fuel use worldwide. France certainly didn’t plan to have a billion reactors. Can you say anything intelligent?

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  27. We are seeing incremental improvements of 20th century discoveries. That is mostly what we will continue to see. The problem is not in the stars, Horatio.

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  28. I disagree. That’s farless an advancement than it’s a subsidy… There haven’t been any huge advancements in solar. Efficiency rates are still below 30%, so at ground level, a solar power generation system uses only a fraction of the 1.3 kw /sq² m of the Solar Constant.

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  29. Make practical fusion – disagree; fission works today and is easier
    Maintain population – prosperity appears to reduce fecundity
    Reforest and stop extinction – agree; forests seem to plant themselves.
    Cool the planet – not too much please.
    Clean the rivers – most definitely agree, but whattabout toilets and farms?

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  30. Yep, that and battery improvements. Storing solar power for usage at night hasn’t really been an option until very recently, when batteries became good enough.

    It is still a expensive proposition for most people and places, though. But it’s becoming possible to live off the electrical grid.

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  31. I am not concerned about feeding the US. There are only 328 million Americans. The rest of the world doesn’t have as much leeway as the US. Remember, the US is the world’s food super power and we get fed first.

    Countries Who Are Unable to Produce Their Own Food
    Rank / Countries Without Sufficient Food Supply
    1 Afghanistan
    2 Burkina Faso
    3 Burundi
    4 Cameroon
    5 Central African Republic
    6 Chad
    7 Democratic Republic of the Congo
    8 Djibouti
    9 Eritrea
    10 Ethiopia
    11 Guinea
    12 Iraq
    13 Kenya
    14 Lesotho
    15 Liberia
    16 Madagascar
    17 Malawi
    18 Mali
    19 Mauritania
    20 Mozambique
    21 Myanmar
    22 Nepal
    23 Niger
    24 North Korea
    25 Republic of the Congo
    26 Sierra Leone
    27 Somalia
    28 South Sudan
    29 Sudan
    30 Swaziland
    31 Syria
    32 Uganda
    33 Yemen
    34 Zimbabwe

    from https://www.worldatlas.com/articles/the-countries-importing-the-most-food-in-the-world.html

    I would also include Venezuela on this list. They are starving right now.

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  32. The big one this century has been the cost of renewable energy becoming competitive. It’s going to force fossil fuel burning out of business. Solar cells and wind turbines were around in the last century, but in small amounts. Now they are taking over.

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  33. Of course. In terms of research, intellectual property output, inventions and reach of those into a wide population, the 21th century has already surpassed the 20th century.

    But the 20th century had a lot more noticeable first time events. Nuclear energy, airplanes, space launches, commercial airflight, antibiotics, domestic computers, the Internet and a lot more big, important things were invented in the past century.

    The 21th century has had less such new big things, but it has had a lot of S-curves taking 20th century technologies to previously unimaginable extremes, and a few really new things on its own (deep learning -albeit that comes from 20th century neural nets-, CRISPR, slate portable devices, etc). But in general, we are building upon already discovered or invented things, and making them cheaper and more accessible for people around the world.

    For me, that’s the main theme of the 21th century: the future will be more evenly distributed than it was in the previous century.

    For example, space travel and utilization can be expected to explode this century, and that will be a very substantial change for our civilization, a 21th century big thing, even if space launchers were invented in the 20th century.

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  34. https://www.nextbigfuture.com/2020/06/population-projections-out-to-2100-and-adjusting-for-longevity.html

    Famines were predicted but did not happen. Why? The world food production can drop by ten times in terms of calorie levels and we would still be fine. We are not barely getting by. UK rationed to 1 ounce of meat per day for years during WW2 and no mass starvation. People in the US are eating 10 ounces of meat per day. Cow meat uses over 10 times the water and grain to produce it.

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  35. “Population is going from 7.7 billion to about 12-16 billion. The higher number is based upon antiaging going to 150-200 years.”
    Anti aging will have an effect on the population, sure, I can buy that depending on how they pan out. However, considering the low birth rates being experienced in most countries, now African as well, I suspect population drops by the end of this century instead of wild uncontrollable population increases.

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  36. https://www.nextbigfuture.com/2015/08/world-population-will-be-around-15-25.html

    If world population had or was able to mimick the health of asian americans and had increased wealth and education levels to match asian americans in the USA (current life expectancy 87) then life expectancy goes from 72.6 to 87. 15 year life expectancy boost for 12 billion people. 12 billion is the latest UN projection to 2100. But the assumption is world life expectancy goes from 72.6 to 81.6. Life goes from 87 and not 81.6. 12 billion divided by 70 about 170 million people at each age with roughly even distribution. This means 900 million more people. 13 billion just from getting to an achievable and proven level of lifestyle health. Add in metformin, senolytic drugs (get rid of badly functioning older cells).
    Add 10 more years to 97 life expectancy with better drugs, medicine then that is 1.7 billion more people. This would be 14.7 billion.
    https://www.nextbigfuture.com/2019/02/true-antiaging-believers-are-early-adopters-of-the-latest-treatment-possibilities.html

    Drug and treatment candidates for all categories of aging damage
    https://www.nextbigfuture.com/2020/06/technological-singularity-will-be-late-but-antiaging-and-advanced-biotech-is-near.html

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  37. Make practical fusion and call it a win for the 21st Century. Maintain a prosperous population at 7 Billion and I’ll call that progress. Reforest, stop the extinction event, cool the planet, clean the rivers and that’ll be progress over the the trends of the 20th century. Colonize Mars and get a meaningful start on terraforming. Hyperloops. Get signal back from Alpha Centauri.

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  38. https://u.demog.berkeley.edu/~andrew/1918/figure2.html
    Life expectancy by year from 1900 to 2000 in the US
    From 1900 to 1920 life expectancy went from 47 to 54.
    From 1918 to 1921 life expectancy went from 39 to 60
    WW1 and spanish flu had a lot of youthful deaths that drove down the average age of death in 1918. But the trend was actually going from 47 to 60.

    I have the separate articles discussing the antiaging technology and longevity lifestyle.
    Metformin, DHEA
    https://www.nextbigfuture.com/2019/09/2-5-years-of-aging-reversal-from-metformin-and-dhea.html
    Intermittent fasting, KETO and low-carb diets better
    https://www.nextbigfuture.com/2019/02/anti-aging-researcher-david-sinclair-takes-metformin-nmn-nad-for-longevity.html

    Life expectancy increased 2 years from 2000 to 2020 (76.5 to78.5) in USA
    https://www.macrotrends.net/countries/USA/united-states/life-expectancy#:~:text=The%20current%20life%20expectancy%20for,a%200.08%25%20increase%20from%202018.
    Today, Asian Americans live the longest (87.1 years), followed by Latinos (83.3 years), whites (78.9 years), Native Americans (76.9 years), and African Americans (75.4 years).

    Some education, lifestyle and socioeconomic factors
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4567918/

    Life Expectancy increased 4.5 years from 2000 to 2020 (80.5 to 84.9) in Hong Kong
    https://www.macrotrends.net/countries/HKG/hong-kong/life-expectancy

    About 400 million people (mostly Japan, Spain, Italy) have life expectancy over 83 or 84.)

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  39. 12-16 billion people living on Earth? I would like some more details. What country or countries are going to birth these people and how will they be fed? Or is this just another example of up and to the right linear extrapolation?

    Sad to say we are in an energy/everything crisis at the moment. There is a good chance that billions could die in the coming years. Not from war but famine.

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  40. Yes, and already have, but the advances aren’t so big and in your face as, say, an airplane.

    But just since the turn of the century, the biggest point of progress has been in biomedical, especially in the realm of genetics and senescence research.

    As well, a lot of progress is being seen in refining and improving technologies developed in the 20th Century, such as the advances brought about by SpaceX.

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  41. According to Kurzweil we already achieved XX century worth of sci-tech progress between 2000-2013, and we will achieve another such jump between 2014-2021, then 2022-2025, 2026-27,5 after that (in late 2020’s) I guess in around one year and as time pass (2030’s) in a matter of months. After 2040/2050 in weeks

    This is how he presents it in a paper Law of accelerating returns

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  42. The first two decades of this century haven’t been real impressive in terms of technology’s impact on society. However I think things will really start to pick up in these next 2 decades and will probably continue throughout the rest of this century. Although I am not a believer in exponential technology growth, I think more people will start to feel that way in the coming decades.

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  43. Janov first published in 1970, but will have to wait to get on the list, apparently. Too important? As he said, cancer and heart disease are not the major killers they are thought to be. Repression is. Perhaps an epigenetic researcher will notice his epigenetic manipulations someday! He would be famous.

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  44. How about you compare 1900 to 1920 to 2000 to 2020 and including only actual real things rather than speculation. “Antiaging technology is starting to be deployed.” … in venture capital bid slideshows.

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