Obsolescence and aging
In the future, a force which has previously not been very
significant looks as though it will contribute to the
aging process - technological obsolescence.
As organisms become
engineered, designs of whole organisms look set to
become obsolete, due to the rapid pace of technological
In the past, technological change has typically happend
too slowly for it to make much difference within the
lifespan of individual organisms. However, technological
change is now happening so fast, that many organisms will
be out-of-date before they die naturally.
Since the pace of change is increasing, this effect is
also likely to accelerate.
Hardware and software
Hardware tends to become obsolete - what about software?
Software also suffers from obsolescence. Software can
easily go out of date if it is not vigorously maintained.
It can lag in its ability to read file types. It can suffer
from security problems as a result of accumulating knowledge
by attackers about its vulnerabilities. Alternatively it
can be overtaken by other software products with more
Software is potentially immortal - and we
do have a few examples of very old programs. However,
network-aware software can sometimes date much more rapidly
than most hardware does, if there are security issues and
In the past, disease genes have been subject to a type of
rapid obsolescence - as pathogens tune into individual
The engineering world also has its share of pathogens -
computer viruses and the like.
However, there is another, related effect: makers of
protocols and file formats sometimes find it necessary to
"twist and turn" - by making changes to their formats.
This helps avoid prospective cloners (who act like
parasites) making copyies of their products. It
also gets consumers to perform regular upgrades - so
that they can read the latest files.
This "churning" generates its own type of rapid
obsolescence, not necessarily connected with technological
As well as becoming technologically obsolete, organisms
may also simply go out of style.
Organisms going out of fashion is not really a new phenomenon.
Sexual selection and female choice have always involved
fashion - and the fashions have changed over time.
However the rate of change as fashion has
accelerated dramatically, to the point where
it is clearly visible detectable within
individual lifespans - making senescence due to
going out of fashion a more significant factor.
Longevity via modularity
These days, your computer becomes obsolete within a few
years of purchase. A lifespan of only a few years
represents quite rapid aging.
However rather than throwing the whole system out,
if it is sufficiently modular, it may be possible to
replace individual components, one at a time. A
sufficiently modular system could conceivably conceivably
be maintained for an extended period of time by replacing
its individual components.
However the chances are still high that the system will
wind up being completely replaced at some stage.
This might happen if you got a laptop instead -
or decided to go for different form factor. Or
if the system needs so much maintenance, that it's
simply cheaper to get a new one.
Modularity can save money by increasing lifespan - but it
has its drawbacks. It costs money, and introduces
interfaces (which reduce performance and decrease
reliability). It typically only makes sense in complex,
expensive systems. In smaller systems - such as wrist
watches - the only modular component is often the battery.
The end of technological evolution?
Will obsolescence due to technological progress come to an
end as technological maturity is reached?
Technological progress is unlikely to last for ever. At
some point the rate of development will probably slow down
- perhaps dramatically.
Will this mean the end of obsolescence due to
Probably, but perhaps obsolescence due to
protocol churning and fashion will still continue.
Effect on the rate of aging
The additional causes of senescence described
here will probably combine with the existing
known causes of senescence - and act to accelerate
the rate of aging in populations.
However, other factors are also involved. Dominant
organisms seem likely to become larger, more modular,
easier to maintain, and with better immune systems - so
the lifespans of the dominant organisms will probably
- Tim Tyler - Future senescence