The upward curve of technological progress is steepening, and this is particularly the case for the development of medical biotechnologies capable of meaningfully addressing the causes of aging. These are the acceleration years, in which the first rejuvenation therapies exist in prototype form, commercial development begins in earnest, and funding starts to pour into the field. That in turn drives funding into many neighboring areas of fundamental research that have previously struggled, bringing further rejuvenation therapies closer to viability. If you look at the outset of past fields of human scientific endeavor, most are stories of decades, sometimes generations, of painfully slow, unsupported attempts to make progress. Then all of of a sudden, in the course of a decade, the tipping point is reached and an entire industry blossoms into being. We are just about there for rejuvenation biotechnology; it is the end of the lengthy beginning, and the start of a great and energetic new phase of development.
It is customary, in techno-visionary circles, to base one’s expectations of the future on the principle of exponentially accelerating change. The often uncannily accurate timeframe predictions of Ray Kurzweil have engendered a culture of thinking and talking in exponential terms, even when it comes to the names of conferences. Like any one-word meme, this does not tell the whole story: some aspects of technological progress pretty clearly don’t proceed exponentially, and indeed some (which, mercifully, include the rate of progress necessary to maintain longevity escape velocity once we reach it) don’t need to be exponential in order to achieve needed goals. But today I want to highlight the opposite phenomenon: phases during a technology’s development when progress is genuinely superexponential, as with the sudden acceleration in 2007 or so in the amount of DNA that could be sequenced for a given price.
Inevitably, my sense that rejuvenation biotechnology has had a bona fide superexponential year is to a large extent subjective. However, my location at the eye of this storm gives me some basis for feeling that I’m probably basing it on good information. What is that information?
The single biggest item is the truly breathtaking rate of proliferation of private-sector involvement in this space. That proliferation has been manifest on both sides of the fence – in the number of startups seeking investment, and equally in the number of investors seeking opportunities to get involved. A comparison with the situation just twelve months ago can be made in many ways, but for me the most straightforward is the task of organizing a one-day investor-facing event in early January in San Francisco on behalf of my friends at Juvenescence. In 2018, the task of identifying a dozen companies to showcase was easy for me – that was pretty much the total number of startups I knew of in the rejuvenation space that were in a fundraising mode, and I was pretty sure that not many others existed below my radar. But I’m engaged right now in organizing the same thing for January 2019, and the situation could not be more different. Even when restricting my attention to companies located in this part of the world, I am swamped with high-quality options; and literally not a week goes by any more when I don’t become aware of another one. The takeoff has been as spectacular as for the dotcom boom.
What of the other side of the fence, the investors? There the story is just as bright. A year ago, I could count the investors who were overtly focusing much, and in some cases most, of their attention on the rejuvenation space on the fingers of two hands. Now, it is no exaggeration to say that I have lost count: every single conference I speak at (and that’s more than one a week on average) I am approached by an investor who is eager to learn more about how to get involved. The acceleration is staggering. The dotcom boom is again the natural comparison, and again I think the trajectory is similar.