January 31, 2016
Does It Matter Whether Productivity Growth Stalls?

The debate on whether we've eaten all the low-hanging fruit of technological innovation shows no sign of ending any time soon. While I've got opinions on this subject it occurs to me that if you want to look at the future and ponder what's important then rising labor productivity isn't the most important thing to think about.

What I want out of the future that I think will be possible some time in the 21 century:

Radically better health. This is by far the biggest. Suppose I offer you a choice between two futures and you could get one or the other. The first one is one where productivity and living standards go up about 3% per year, the environment gets cleaner, world peace breaks out, and there is no mass unemployment. Sound great? One catch: We still grow old and die. Maybe we make it to 90 rather than 80. But we grow old and die.

Okay, here's your other choice: Our houses don't get any bigger, Moore's Law for faster computers hits the wall of small device types, we don't find a way to get productivity to keep rising indefinitely. Byut we have mass unemployment of manual laborers because manual laborers get their jobs automated. The rest of us keep working. Plus, world peace does not break out. There's still the threat of war. But here's the biggie in your second choice: We get full body and brain rejuvenation. I'm taking that choice in a heart beat.

Suppose in 20 years time full body rejuv becomes possible. But your job is kinda lousy and your wages stagnate for the next 20 years while you wait for biotech to advance. The reward is great. Rejuvenation is better than flying cars. Rejuvenation is better than L5 colonies or Mars colonies. Rejuvenation lets you live long enough to see the more conventional science fiction future happen.

Higher functioning humans: Another great thing is in store for the future: genetic re-engineering of humans that will make the average human of 100 years from now higher functioning than someone 3 standard deviations above average intelligence of today. Humans will all be beautiful (which is so not the case today - all feel-good nonsense to the contrary). Genetic tinkering will make future humans be born with great intelligence, beauty, high energy, great immune systems, and very robust in the face of stress and challenges.

Enhancing humans will be way more rewarding than bigger houses or bigger cars or longer distance vacation trips.

Granted, none of this stuff is happening now. I can understand why someone can focus on all sorts of short term trends and find all sorts of problems. I sometimes do this myself. But if I'm still alive 30 years from now I'm expecting I'll be getting rejuvenation therapies as well as cognitive enhancement therapies. That's the future I want to live in.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2016 January 31 02:50 PM 

jp straley said at February 4, 2016 6:56 AM:

Metformin, NAD+, pterostilbene, NeuroPhage, CRISPR.....and more in the pipeline.

Maybe you will still be with us 30 years from now!

dan! said at February 4, 2016 7:21 AM:

So productivity growth falls, but "manual laborers get their jobs automated". Isn't this growing productivity?

th said at February 5, 2016 4:16 PM:

Some of the loss is probably due to millennial flakes' inability to go 5 minutes without texting and being lectured and hectored their entire worthless little existences from the govt flakes they vote for that they all have ADHD.

Eric said at February 6, 2016 1:45 PM:

So people live longer and longer, the population goes up and up because people are not dying, resources become more and more limited, war becomes more and more likely, and the use of double adjectives increases until our brains explode. Sorry, longevity only works if reproduction slows down, and we know that's not going to happen.

Jimbo said at February 13, 2016 6:32 AM:

In the science fiction novel "Robots of Dawn" author Isaac Asimov tells the story of how human settlers of a planet develop advanced longevity and have robot servants do all the work. The people become narcissistic, avoid taking risks and stop collaborating and innovating. They become too selfish to have kids even though robot nurses do the child-rearing. They eventually die out and later human visitors find a planet well maintained by robots but no people. This may very well be our future. Robots won't take over, we will just allow ourselves to die out voluntarily rather than do the hard work of advancing civilization.

Randall Parker said at February 13, 2016 6:49 PM:


There are not so many manual laborers left and they do not get paid much. So boosting their productivity doesn't impact national productivity stats as much as it used to.


I'm amazed at how much some people text. I look at my phone while walking only to choose a different album.

Crocodile Chuck said at February 15, 2016 5:29 PM:

The blogger is truly unhinged-and evinces a total lack of understanding of how little we know about biology at the molecular level.

gejala stroke said at August 29, 2016 9:10 PM:

gejala stroke ringan dan cara menanganinya secara alami harus diperhatikan selalu secara serius , karena saat ini kasus penyakit stroke banyak terjadi dikalangan masyarakat dari mulai stroke ringan hingga stroke berat.
Meski yang dialami masih gejala stroke ringan tapi penanganannya harus secara tepat karena bisa berakibat fatal jika tidak diatasi dengan obat stroke yang ampuh. Sebelum kita membahas lebih lanjut mengenai pengobatan stroke, maka kita harus mempelajari dulu tentang apa itu penyakit stroke, penyebab penyakit stroke, gejala stroke,
serta bahaya apa yang bisa muncul? Setelah itu baru kita bisa memilih obat stroke yang tepat yang akan kita gunakan.

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