There is a dawning awareness that recent advances in state of the art healthcare may soon start to cause actual human species change. You can feel it slipping into discussions at the highest levels of the medical community. What’s happening? Profound breakthroughs are becoming routine and they’re compounding.
At the highest levels of medicine, the exponential improvements coming from things like brain computing interfaces, genomics, the microbiome and more are feeding Artificial Intelligence. It’s changing our collective thoughts on what is possible and even probable in the field of human longevity.
How much so?
It’s become apparent that someone in their 20s, (or perhaps shortly even 30’s, 40’s or 50’s), now has a realistic shot at living well past 100 – perhaps dare we say, maybe one day even forever. And while mankind has likely talked about this potential since the dawn of time, the difference now is that this is actually happening.
That’s a feeling one was left with after attending this year’s Exponential Medicine Conference. It’s one of the things some of our team members watch parts of – largely because health, and it’s ramifications on society, affect us all at some point.
The event is live-streamed for free, every year from Coronado Island off the coast of San Diego the 4th-7th of November. If you’re interested in healthcare (and by extension the future of society), mark it on your calendars. It’s a four day exhaustive deep dive into what’s going on at the bleeding edge (pun intended) in the medical community.
For those of you who have neither the time or interest to sit through it, let’s jump to the point (or what’s today called the tldr). Suddenly, someone in their 20s, (or perhaps even 30’s, 40’s or 50’s), now has a realistic shot at living well past 100 – perhaps dare we say, maybe one day even forever?
How is that even possible?
Machine learning and artificial intelligence have (in the last two years) taken on such capability and importance, that it has flipped conventional medical thinking on its head. The talk at the top is turning from perpetual management of chronic disease to its actual elimination, through proactive digital means.
That possibility has significant ramifications on multiple levels. In some ways changes the playing field. As difficult as that is to comprehend, today perhaps we should consider changing our mindset from
“At my age I can eat, drink and do what I like” to “Just don’t do anything stupid for the next 10 years.” (Dr. Peter Diamandis)
Ramifications on Retirement
The wealth management industry as an example has always seen things in neat easy to understand phases. From the accumulation and protection phases of life to the subsequent one of gradual depletion of assets.
We’ve always worked from our early twenties until our mid-sixties and then, if we’ve done well enough, we got to spend the rest of our ‘golden years’ doing what we like as we gradually depleted our retirement savings.
But what if the playing field changed due to exponential technology? What if our kids lived until 150?
Indications are today however that we’re entering a stage in human longevity which may extend life considerably – perhaps to 50 – 75 years of retirement instead of 25. There is strong evidence to indicate that digitally-based genetic therapies will likely eradicate chronic disease over the next 20 years. So in other words, just like polio disappeared, so could cancer, heart disease. Alzheimer’s etc.
But really how realistic are these changes to widely benefit humanity?
Let’s face it. In today’s world, there are multitudes of things that can and will go wrong. So it’s a fair question to ask whether regular people will actually gain access to these therapies?
The breakthroughs are digital
Many of these advances are being made with a combination and variants of the gene-editing tool CRISPER and immunotherapy. These are both digitally based therapeutics and prices are falling across the board specifically because they are digital in nature.
This is an important point. Because the breakthroughs are digital in format they behave differently from traditional analogue healthcare (think a surgeon and most of today’s medications).
This is based on DNA. DNA is digital and digital assets are different from analog processes. Over time digital things get both exponentially cheaper and better – which is why there is several thousand times the computing power in a smartphone there was on the Apollo mission.
It is a challenging concept for those of us that grew up in a linear world. But it’s similar to how compound interest works dramatically over the long haul. Simply put, once technologies hop on the digital train, (as they’ve now done with affordable full genome sequencing) they turn exponential and compound vs growing linearly. Add AI and it literally changes the game. That’s what is happening right now.
And what most of us don’t grasp is the speed that Artificial Intelligence is growing. Compared to Moore’s Law, which has seen microprocessor speed double every 18 months – 2 years, AI is currently doubling every 3.4 months. That means the total knowledge in the healthcare space being studied could grow by somewhere in the 1000x range over the next 5 years alone should its growth keep up its pace. That’s not a guarantee that it will continue to double this quickly but is also not a typo. At AI’s current pace of doubling, in 5 years our knowledgebase will be not twice as much, 10x as much, or 100x, but closer to 1000x. And that has the power to change everything.
And it better, because right now AI and its energy use is actually a significant net contributor to the world’s climate challenges. And while that is both scary and fascinating at the same time, there is certainty in scientific communities that there’s no turning back at this stage.
While there are lots of questions here that we’re going to be unpacking for some time, a few things are becoming clear. One is that the future will no doubt be different than we thought it was going to be when we were young. That thought, while somewhat unsettling, is probably a good thing given all of the other problems we have in the world today.
So despite the challenges our generation(s) are living with, we are fortunate that there is a sea change happening in medicine right now. It may have not reached most people yet, (and most people will not recognize it even as it approaches) but it will.
Famed writer William Gibson once said, “the future is already here, it’s just not evenly distributed.” I’ll add, ‘perhaps it’s our job to make sure we get distributed while not doing anything stupid over the next 10 years.”