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Your Ridiculous Future: From the Genome to Outer Space

Posted in Future, Futurist

The picture to the right is one of my favorite science photographs.

The reason is because the similarity between a tiny brain cell (only micrometers wide) and a massive galaxy in the universe (billions of light years wide) is remarkable.

Perhaps this is just a cosmological coincidence but I prefer to believe there is a broader and more profound pattern at work.

One pattern which I know is at work in today’s world is the idea of exponential growth. It is a theme I have written about extensively (here and here) yet most people still find difficult to grasp.

Let’s consider the exponential advances taking place in the field of gene sequencing. The technology is doubling in capacity every four months.

So what does this mean?

Well, for one thing, it implies that the cost of sequencing the human genome will drop from a price of $150,000,000 (the cost in 2007) to less than a penny by the end of the decade.

That’s extraordinary. In other words, by 2020, it’ll be more expensive for you to flush your toilet than to sequence your genome!

Once you understand the power of an exponential technology to decrease costs, however, it makes sense.

In fact, I’ll spell out for you how this extraordinary transformation unfolds. Remember, every four months the price of sequencing a human genome will be cut in half, so here’s what will happen by price:

January 2007: $150,000,000
May 2007: $75,000,000
September 2007: $37,500,000
January 2008:$18,750,000
May 2008:$9,375,000
September 2008:$4,687,500
January 2009: $2,343,750
May 2009:$1,171,875
January 2010:$585,937
May 2010:$292,968
September 2010:$146,484
January 2011:$73,242
May 2011:$36,621
September 2011:$18,310
January 2012:$9,155
May 2012:$4,577
September 2012:$2,288
January 2013:$1,144
May 2013:$572
September 2013:$286
January 2014:$143
May 2014:$71.50
September 2014:35.75
January 2015:17.87
May 2015:$8.94
September 2015:$4.47
January 2016: $2.23
May 2016:$1.12
September 2016:56 cents
January 2017: 28 cents
May 2017: 14 cents
September 2017: 7 cents
January 2018: 3.5 cents
May 2018: 1.75 cents
September 2018:.8 cents
January 2019: .4 cents
May 2019: .2 cents
September 2019: .1 cent

I share this example with you because it was recently reported that a company hopes to fly people to the moon by 2020 for the cost of $1.5 billion per person.

At this price, the cost is obviously prohibitive. The question we must ask ourselves, though, is: Will the price remain constant?

Unlikely.

This is not to imply the cost of space travel will decrease exponentially like gene sequencing technology but if certain advances in computing processing power; material science; nanotechnology; 3D printing; and energy can scale at a compounding rate the price could become more affordable faster than most people appreciate.

The broader lesson I take from the power of exponential growth is this: The problem is not so much that dreamers dream ridiculous dreams but rather too many people ignore the ridiculous opportunities within our grasp.

Related posts by futurist Jack Uldrich

A Futurist’s First Lesson
Take a Swim in the Lake of Tomorrow



2 thoughts on “Your Ridiculous Future: From the Genome to Outer Space”

  1. John Rogers says:

    Just FYI, Jack, the cosmological image on the right is not a galaxy, but actually an enormous cluster of billions of galaxies, which is even more amazing.

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