2015 November 30 Monday
Moore's Law CPU Power Doubling Rate Slowing

Making computer circuits smaller is essential for making them faster and more powerful. But the size of conducting lines in integrated circuits has gotten so small (14 nanometer in Intel's most advanced wafer fabs) that it is getting much harder to shrink their sizes smaller. Therefore Intel says the rate at which computer power is doubling has slowed to a 2.5 year period.

This matters a great deal for the rate of economic growth. Each doubling in computer power enables more uses of computers to boost productivity in more ways. This slow down in the rate of doubling will slow the rate of productivity increases. Eventually (likely in the next 10 years) the Moore's Law doubling rate will stop. A major driving force of rising productivity which ran for decades will come to a halt. I think

Can advances in computer hardware design still make a big difference once Moore's Law runs out of steam? Possibly quantum computing will step in to boost computing power to far higher levels. I find that hard to judge. What seems more certain: complex algorithms implemented in circuits that take the place of Von Neumann architecture CPUs for an increasing list of specialized purposes.

Another technology seems more certain to become a big source of productivity increases: CRISPR for genetic editing. The fast development of customized plants and animals will likely cause revolutions in agriculture, textiles, drug development, and cell therapy development. A biotech revolution could replace the computer revolution as the next big driver of technological advance.

By Randall Parker 2015 November 30 07:58 PM 
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2015 November 22 Sunday
Gene Therapies to have 6 and 7 figure price tags

Early gene therapies will come with serious sticker shock. Half a million dollars for one, 4 to 6 million dollars for another. On the bright side, after a 15+ year delay due to safety concerns it looks like they are really coming this time.

My advice: save a lot of money for your old age to be able to buy expensive optional therapies. Wondering whether you should go to a high work, high pay, big city, bright lights career trajectory? Yup. It might just save your life.

Medical costs for treating cancer were really low in the 1950s because most of the time all the doctor could do is tell you that you are going to check out of the Life Hotel sooner than you had planned. The totally untreatable disease is cheap to treat because it comes with no expensive therapy to pay for. Saves money. Kills you. We are starting to enter a completely different era where some therapies have incredibly high efficacy but also incredibly high price.

Growing old means having lots of body parts start to fail. You might find yourself at age 70 wanting 3 different high priced therapies for 3 different conditions. Might have a failing heart or liver or thyroids. Perhaps a bad need or bad discs in your spine. Maybe wet age-related macular degeneration in your eyes. Or maybe tinnitus due to messed up cilia in yor ears. If you max out your retirement savings every year and index in low fee index funds and choose jobs to put yourself on a higher earnings growth path then you might save enough money to get your failing parts fixed when you get older.

By Randall Parker 2015 November 22 02:09 PM 
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Last Antibiotic Falls To Resistance Mutation In China

A bacterial strain in China has now developed a resistance mutation to Colistin, the last antibiotic without a known bacterial mutation for resistance. Antibiotic use in animal feed is seen as a likely cause of this new mutation.

The human race has been very foolish for many decades in its overuse of antibiotics both in humans and in animal feed. Some of us are going to die as a result. Some already have. Surgery is becoming riskier due to chance of infection. Hospital visits for other types of treatment are becoming riskier as well. So antibiotics resistance is reducing the general effectiveness of the health care.

We need to do at least 4 things:

  • Ban most antibiotics from animal feed.
  • Stop human use of antibiotics when an infection is likely viral.
  • Develop a lot more vaccines. Strengthen the immune system.
  • Make hospitals much more sanitary. Avoid bacteria exposure.

In a nut shell: Stop doing stupid things. Start doing smart things.

By Randall Parker 2015 November 22 01:13 PM 
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2015 November 21 Saturday
American Population Not Really Shifting To Cities?

This is counter-narrative: More millennials are moving out of cities than into them. That's true for a large assortment of demographic slices in America:

Indeed, for all the talk of the rebirth of American cities, the draw of the suburbs remains powerful. Across all ages, races, incomes and education groups, more Americans are still moving out of cities than in. (Urban populations are still growing, but because of births and immigration, not internal migration.)

So why does the press paint a misleading picture? Educated people are shifting more toward cities (partially contradicting the first article I think). My guess is the educated are driving up housing costs while, at the same time, jobs for less educated are getting automated out of existence. So the poor are moving out to cheaper places to live. This is probably much more the case for the most educated than the least educated cities. The cities with high concentrations of brain power, especially workers with STEM skills, have industries that pay better and their employees can outbid the lower classes for housing (think San Francisco).

Leonid Bershidsky argues that a leisure deficit is killing suburbia as people move closer to their jobs to save time. He says the most skilled people are working longer hours and therefore have less time to commute. So they live closer to work. If the rise in incomes for the highest performers is disproportionate to the number of hours worked then the lower classes are getting pushed out of cities by the rising value of elite cognitive workers.

Well, lets jump ahead 10-15 years and assume fully autonomous vehicles are widely available and working well. What will that do to willingness to commute longer distances? Will knowledge workers let the car do the driving and work on their software, spreadsheets, presentations, and sales calls while they commute to outer suburbs? Or will they still live as close to work as possible, at least on week nights, and only go to second homes further away on weekends?

Also, will video conferencing and virtual reality ever reduce how often people work from the office? So far it is amazing how much people stay anchored to physical offices. Is that ever going to change?

Another question: will automation reduce the size of the optimal city? Suppose cities no longer need humans to work as tax drivers, bus drivers, trash collectors, cooks, and assorted other blue collar workers. Will the knowledge workers in each industry organize themselves around smaller cities surrounded by rings of suburbs?

By Randall Parker 2015 November 21 05:15 PM 
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2015 November 14 Saturday
Anti-Alzheimer's Drug Slows General Mouse Aging

Anti-plaque drugs did not work to block Alzheimer's disease development. So Salk Institute researchers decided to screen for drugs that reduce aging. They found a drug that seems slow the aging process in mice.

LA JOLLA--Salk Institute researchers have found that an experimental drug candidate aimed at combating Alzheimer's disease has a host of unexpected anti-aging effects in animals.


When these mice were treated with J147, they had better memory and cognition, healthier blood vessels in the brain and other improved physiological features, as detailed November 12, 2015 in the journal Aging.

The process of aging causes many degenerative diseases. So it makes sense to try to slow aging as a way to prevent the diseases of old age.

Several years ago, Schubert and his colleagues began to approach the treatment of the disease from a new angle. Rather than target amyloid, the lab decided to zero in on the major risk factor for the disease--old age. Using cell-based screens against old age-associated brain toxicities, they synthesized J147.

What's amazing: they found a drug that works. The researchers used a breed of mice that ages more rapidly. This breed aged more slowly while fed the experimental drug J147.

The team wanted to explore the effects of the drug candidate on a breed of mice that age rapidly and experience a version of dementia that more closely resembles the age-related human disorder.

In this latest work, the researchers used a comprehensive set of assays to measure the expression of all genes in the brain, as well as over 500 small molecules involved with metabolism in the brains and blood of three groups of the rapidly aging mice. The three groups of rapidly aging mice included one set that was young, one set that was old and one set that was old but fed J147 as they aged.

The old mice that received J147 performed better on memory and other tests for cognition and also displayed more robust motor movements. The mice treated with J147 also had fewer pathological signs of Alzheimer's in their brains. Importantly, because of the large amount of data collected on the three groups of mice, it was possible to demonstrate that many aspects of gene expression and metabolism in the old mice fed J147 were very similar to those of the young animals. These included markers for increased energy metabolism, reduced brain inflammation and reduced levels of oxidized fatty acids in the brain.

Another notable effect was that J147 prevented the leakage of blood from the microvessels in the brains of old mice. "Damaged blood vessels are a common feature of aging in general, and in Alzheimer's, it is frequently much worse," says Currais.

Can a drug developed with this approach help humans? I'd take it if it did.

By Randall Parker 2015 November 14 07:22 PM 
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2015 November 12 Thursday
Cleveland Clinic To Do Uterus Transplants

Occasionally the scientific future comes sooner than I expected. This is one of those times. We are within a few months of the first attempts at uterus transplants.

What's surprising to me: The transplant recipients will use immuno-suppressive (anti-rejection) drugs to retain their uteruses only long enough to make babies. Then their uteruses will be removed in order to enable the end of the use of anti-rejection drugs.

This seems potentially harmful to fetuses. Will the anti-rejection drugs alter fetal development?

By Randall Parker 2015 November 12 09:34 PM 
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2015 November 01 Sunday
Sharp Drop In DNA Sequencing Prices In 2015

The cost of sequencing a human genome has taken a sharp dive in 2015. Getting close to $1000.


You will notice the rate of change has varied. The decline sped up sharply in 2008, falling one and a half orders of magnitude in a single year. As measured logarithmically 2008 was the year of sharpest price decline. The rate of decline in 2012, 2013, and 2014 was pretty slow. I'm happy to see the decline has sped up again.

What is the current price of full genome sequencing? That depends. A genome normally gets sequenced multiple times because a single pass through it will have errors. 30x times is considered medical grade and costs $1850 right now. Today spending that money isn't going to help you much because the sequence requires interpretation to make sense of it.

Today the main benefit of cheaper DNA sequencing is scientific: lower cost allows collection of large numbers of genomes to compare genomes and attributes of people (e.g. many details of physical shape, physical abilities, mental abilities, health histories) to identify which genetic variants contribute to all of those attributes. If the impacts of large numbers of genetic variants were known only then would we each individually derive a substantial advantage from getting our genomes sequenced.

With $1000 genomes a few million people could be sequenced and a great deal of information about each person could be collected. Then their DNA sequences could be analyzed and compared to identify genetic variants that play a role in physical and mental abilities, health risks, personality types, and other attributes.

Another big future benefit from cheap DNA sequencing: the ability to compare cancer genomes from different cancers to identify which genetic mutations contribute to the formation and spread of cancers.

What the present much lower cost of sequencing tells us: the number of genetic variants with known impact is going to soar in the next 5 years and soar even more in the next 10 years. By the year 2025 the number of pieces of useful information you can get from getting yourself sequenced is going to be large. It is going to be especially large for people who are thinking about having kids. Embryo selection with IVF and genetic testing will take off once people can select between embryos to get offspring more to their liking.

By Randall Parker 2015 November 01 08:38 PM 
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Death Rate Decline In USA Flattens

In the last few years the long term decline in death rates has flattened out. The speculation is that this is a delayed effect of the rise in obesity.

What's interesting: the death rates from stroke and heart disease have declined faster than the death rate from cancer. Well, cancer is a much harder problem to solve. So as cancer becomes a larger fraction of total deaths it becomes harder to increase life expectancy.

Obesity is probably an easier problem to solve than cancer. Eventually drugs that suppress appetite will be found. When will we have cures for most of the currently fatal cancers?

By Randall Parker 2015 November 01 12:07 PM 
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