Resources, Intelligence and Mortality: Making Humanity Independent

Why Aren’t Billions Starving To Death?
In the last 50 years, the world population has more or less doubled to around 7 billion people. Figure 1 shows the trend line for the last 10,000 years or so. Everything stayed on a fairly level footing for all but the last 300 years with occasional ups and downs due to famine war or disease – or a combination of these.

 

What changed around 1700? This is roughly the time of the Industrial Revolution when technology started to have a significant impact on humanity for the first time, in a short space of time. Mankind started to use its intellect in very practical ways. Ways that meant more people could be supported on the planet as health improved and crucially, so did the ability to support a growing population – the provision of food.

Figure 1 World Human Population Growth

World Population Growth

In order to keep pace with the burgeoning demand, technology needed to enable the growth of food, the storage of food and the distribution of food from growing area to centres of population.

Figure 2 World Food Price Index 1961 – 2015

World Food Price Index

To ensure that food did not become the subject of global conflict, all these elements needed to be in place, along with affordability. Figure 2 (taken from www.fao.org) shows that over the last 50-60 years, the real world price of food (the yellow line) has remained at a generally acceptable level, particularly given the doubling in demand over that period.
An FAO report goes on to state that:
“The latest estimates show that, since 1990–92, the prevalence of undernourishment has fallen from 18.7 to 11.3 percent in 2012–14 for the world as a whole, and from 23.4 to 13.5 percent for the developing regions.
Since 1990–92, the number of hungry people has fallen by over 200 million.”
That represents a massive human effort, driven and made possible largely by technological innovation. To support such a growing population, it is not just food that is required.
Energy is required to cater for 7 billion people and growing. To do this, we need to turn away from stored fuel sources like oil, gas and coal and turn our focus on true renewable energy sources such as solar, wind and tides. Energy storage systems such as batteries need to be made ‘fit for purpose’ and distribution systems modified to ensure the energy can get where it is needed.
The application of our creative minds to the development of Artificial Intelligence is already starting to provide solutions to dealing with vast amounts of data and being able to process it in novel ways at a rate that has so far not been possible for the human mind. Algorithms allow software to learn and provide better responses that better match ‘real world’ needs. Current uses of ‘AI’ in auto car parking or auto pilot car driving are new but improving rapidly. This is just one example of enormous strides being made in the application of ‘AI’ in a range of industries and applications.
The world has an aging population and is currently learning to deal with the issues of how to maintain an effective body as it grows older. Radical productive life extension is called ‘Methuselarity’. The person credited with the term, Aubrey de grey, defines it as:
“the point in our progress against aging at which our rational expectation of the age to which we can expect to live without age-related physiological and cognitive decline goes from the low three digits to infinite. And my use here of the word “point” is almost accurate: this transition will, in my view, take no longer than a few years.”
Are we ready to deal with the logical impact of using our brains for technological advancement? Can we handle the improvements in the 3 related areas of more or less infinite resources, brainpower and life?
Inspired by Nick O’Connor; Publishing Editor of ‘Exponential Investor’, a part of the Moneyweek Publishing House.

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