Whatever else you may think about Henry Ford, I think you will agree he knew what he wanted and in large part got it. I spent most of yesterday with cousins in Greenfield Village, a large historical theme park founded by Henry Ford in 1929, the year I was born. Greenfield Village, part of a Ford historical complex in Dearborn Michigan, presents the lifestyle and technology of the mid-industrial era 1880 – 1920. The artifacts are authentic and are presented in original or replica buildings of the times. What I saw set me off thinking about technology, including the technology of life extension.
Greenfield Village has numerous buildings full of the massive machines of the mid-industrial era – giant piston steam engines, a massive Edison-designed DC power generator used for the first commercial electricity production in New York City. Massive machines weighing tens of tons, giant foundation castings, 20-foot flywheels, 12-foot pistons, giant belts and man-eating gears seemed to be everywhere. Many of the machines are fully installed and still can be run.
My revelation came while I was marveling at a 160-ton locomotive built in 1908, one with 12 foot steel wheels that easily weighed 5 or 10 tons each. I had tarried and my relatives had wandered on so I pulled out my cell phone to call them. In doing so it came to me that my 1.2 ounce cell phone was vastly more complex and powerful in its own way than the locomotive which was relatively simple despite its massive scale. Besides having millions transistors on its processor chip, my phone has sophisticated software and personal information that weighs nothing.
So what happened in technology between1908 and 2009? One obvious thing is that things have gotten lighter and smaller all along – from the locomotive to the automobile to the cell phone. Second, they became more personal. The locomotive served large communities. It could connect you with relatives in another city in a few days. Henry Ford’s vision was that every family would have an automobile. It could connect you with relatives in the same city in minutes or hours. And it is now getting to where everybody has their own cell phone. It can connect you with anyone who wants to be connected with just about anywhere in seconds. Third, as weight has gone down exponentially, precision and intellectual content has shot up in the same way. The mechanical tolerances in the engine of a modern car are a hundred times more precise than they were when the locomotive was built. And the cell phone is only possible because of high-technology chip design and manufacturing which allows packing tens or hundreds of millions of elements on a half-inch chip. The precision is a thousand times finer than that found in a car engine. This in turn was only possible because of computers that used earlier-generation chips and software, etc.
I have mentioned Moore’s Law in an earlier posting, the Law states that every two years the number of transistors on a processor chip will double keeping essentially the same price point. And, led by Intel, the industry has kept that pace for nearly 40 years. This represents an intellectual accumulation of knowledge, an exponential increase in cost effectiveness. If the same were true of the locomotive you could probably buy one for a dime by now – shipping not included. Intellectual content and technology, unlike industrial-era technology, feeds on itself.
How do these trends apply to the technology of life extension? First, consider scale. Chip manufacturing technology is now getting to be precise below the 90 nanometer size range. Proteins on the other hand are typically 3 to 10 nanometers long and their interaction sites can be much smaller. So it appears that gene activation and other biomolecular events take place at a size scale an order of magnitude or more smaller than the dimensions involved in current chip manufacturing. So the shrinking size trend is continuing. Second, effective life extension interventions will be extremely personal – they will take place inside us and will eventually act in person-specific manners. Third, longevity is a field of intellectual content absolutely built on the shoulders of the computer and microprocessor revolution. We would be nowhere near where we are today with respect to our state of longevity knowledge without computers, automated gene sequencers, gene and protein chips, etc.. And, like information-age technology, longevity technology is feeds on itself and expands exponentially.
In a previous post I proposed Giuliano’s Law for longevity technology, suggesting that it behaves like Moore’s Law. That is: Starting now, every seven years will see the emergence of practical age-extension interventions (ones that have a potential of leading to extraordinary longevity) that double the power of the interventions available at the start of the 7 year period. That is, on an average basis, the practical anti-aging interventions available at the end of a seven-year period will enable twice the number of years of life extension than did the interventions available at the start of the period. Life extension is measured in years of life expectancy beyond those actuarially predicted for a given population.
With regard to the title quote by Henry Ford, I think I can live healthily and productively to the age of at least 235. And I think his quote which proved correct for him in the industrial revolution will also work for me in the longevity revolution. Henry Ford wanted people to have cars. I want the availability of great longevity to be there for everybody who wants it. One final Henry Ford quote is: “Anyone who stops learning is old, whether at twenty or eighty. Anyone who keeps learning stays young. The greatest thing in life is to keep your mind young.”