The Roaring Twenties in Technology
January 21, 2020
If you listen to commentators like Catherine Wood, the CEO of ETF management firm ARK Invest, you come away with the impression that we're sitting on the precipice of a new era in technology. She outlines several areas of the economy, such as energy, biology, and transportation, in which new technologies will utterly transform the way we live, just like mass production, the telephone and electricity did at the end of the nineteenth century. In her view - and that of many others - we're in for a wild ride in the decade ahead.
While most people are aware of the promise of solar panels, electric vehicles, and artificial intelligence, there are a host of other technologies only now coming through that could change life forever. If they succeed, by the end of the decade we could be looking forward to a future that is beyond our wildest dreams today.
Radical Life Extension
Take the technology behind life extension, for instance. Researchers all over the world are looking at why we age. What they're discovering is that aging isn't so much an inevitable consequence of entropy - the random chaos of the universe - but instead something that you can slow down, stop and even reverse with gene therapy and chemicals.
Harvard's professor of gerontology, David Sinclair, for instance, recently announced that he and his post-doc team had successfully reversed aging in select tissues in mice, including the optic nerve. He and colleague Kenneth Horvath also discovered a molecular clock that they can use to predict the age of organisms accurately. They believe that with the right therapies, they can reverse this biological clock, making old animals young again.
These advances aren't pie-in-the-sky stuff, either. Sinclair and others have already demonstrated that you can significantly extend the lives of animals by feeding them specific molecules that boost NAD in cells. With human trials ongoing, we may all be looking forward to living significantly longer by the end of the decade.
Another promising area is that of quantum computing. At present, the applications of quantum technology are mostly unknown. Researchers have a feeling that it might be useful (in the same way the Department of Defense thought that the internet might have applications), but they're not quite sure how yet.
Quantum computers can perform calculations that would take classical computers millions or billions of years. If researchers at Google, Microsoft, and D-Wave Technologies can perfect the engineering, they may be able to accurately simulate individual molecules, opening up potential applications such as drug development, new material development, and better cognitive systems.
Again, it is a massive unknown. Like life extension, it could dramatically improve the quality of existence on planet Earth and balloon the size of the economy. But it could also lead to new problems we can't yet anticipate.
The roaring 1920s followed technological developments in energy, productive organization, and communication. Today, we're looking at a slew of technologies that could enable a new industrial revolution. Just as before, these latest innovations will change what it means to live a human life. Future historians might look back at the 2020s as the era when everything changed for the better.
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