All change


Look at the chart above, showing human population over time. Take a few seconds. Just bananas, right? Something has changed.

Homo sapiens go back 300,000 years, there or thereabouts. It took us almost all of that 300,000 years to reach the first billion people. The second billion? Just 130 years. The third? 30. The fourth? 15. The fifth, sixth and seventh? Around 12 years each! In the time it takes for that annoying little kid down the street to hit puberty, we will have added another billion people to the earth. It is truly astounding. Well, it is for me.

Much of the development of humanity has happened in a short space of time. If the entire history of homo sapiens was a 300-page book then the agricultural revolution, when humans began the switch from hunter-gatherers to living in settlements with domesticated farm animals and crops, would have happened on page 290, somewhere in the last chapter. The first 290 pages would have been a rather dull and repetitive story of homo sapiens walking around, picking berries and hunting in packs (with the odd tool thrown in). We’d be approaching the end of the book, and finally, something new had happened.

The last ten pages would be broadly the same, with the odd little bit of interest- a new religion here and a pyramid there.

But wait! We are now on the very last page, about two-thirds of the way down. There’s one paragraph left, and something is happening (around the elbow point on the chart above were it all goes crazy). Something outlandish is happening. These humans, who basically did nothing for 99.9% of the book, have now finally got off their backsides and started to make things! Modern science, medicine, electricity, planes, skyscrapers, communications, banking and more are all crammed into this third of a page. Change has happened at a pace that Usain Bolt would be proud of.

The book isn’t finished. Page 301 is being written, and we are about to enter a new era.

The information revolution is underway. Computers are everywhere. Artificial Intelligence is getting smarter every day. Maybe not today or tomorrow. Maybe not even the day after. But one day, the singularity will be upon us. AI will look at us like we look at chimps. What happens when machines are better than us at everything?

The first time we sequenced the human genome it cost $2.7 billion. It now costs £119 from 23andMe. CRISPR and other tools are taking us down the path of being able to meddle with our DNA. What happens when we can fundamentally change everything about ourselves?

I read somewhere there has been more change in medicine in the last ten years than there has been in the previous hundred.

The pace of change will not abate. The question is will we keep up?

This post owes everything to a conversation that Tim Urban had with Tim Ferriss, to Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari. No new insight here, only regurgitation. 

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