The pharma Singularity is near

The concept of singularity has a number of definitions, including those deriving from astrophysics and mathematics.

However, it is now most commonly used in the sense popularised by Ray Kurzweil, namely to denote ‘a unique event with singular implications’.

As a proper noun, Kurzweil’s Singularity reflects on the numerous ‘implications of the fact that the rate of [technological] change itself is accelerating’:

We won’t experience one hundred years of technological advance in the twenty-first century; we will witness in the order of twenty thousand years of progress when measured by today’s [2005] progress, or about one thousand times greater than that which was achieved in the twentieth century.

The implications of the fifth epoch of evolution Kurzweil envisages wherein technology and human intelligence merge are both monumental and, value judgments aside, apparently inevitable.

It seems inadequate to address these impacts in terms of the effect that they will have on our existing state of economic arrangements on the basis that the latter have never appeared more likely to prove unsustainable and self-destructive.

In an era in which such superlatives as ‘game-changing’, ‘disruptive’, and ‘revolutionary’ are wantonly abused and in reality seldom signify anything other than ‘accretion described excitedly’, it  is hardly appropriate to attempt to further categorise the impact of the technological determinism Kurzweil identifies so compellingly.

Whilst it now appears self-evident that primary care will be first supplemented then replaced by an omniscient AI, before and after the Singularity arrives in 2045 (according to a surprisingly confident Kurzweil) we are all going to need medicines.

Who will be providing them?

A legacy pharmaceutical industry that is compelled to submit to the punctilious will of regulators in environments that cannot be regulated?

A legacy pharmaceutical industry that can neither anticipate nor adequately respond to the challenges posed by new entrants?

A legacy pharmaceutical industry that remains wary of communicating with the people who use its products?

The very survival in its legacy form of an industry so slow to reform itself may be in doubt.

The pharma Singularity is near, and on the basis of the evidence that we have to hand, it appears it will be arriving a good deal sooner than 2045.

5 thoughts on “The pharma Singularity is near

  1. Mindstakingly (is that a word?) written Andrew! 😉
    And, it looks like the point you make is clear to me. that is: when I focus on your last paragraph.
    But it keeps puzzling me: what is exactly the state of pharma industry when it is “singular” ?..
    In reflection, it intermixes to me with “monopolism” and then I’m stuck in grasping the overarching meaning of your piece.. Please help?

  2. Hi Rob

    Thanks for stopping by, and for your comment. Don’t get too hung up on the idea of single vs. multiple, as this isn’t the definition in use here 🙂

    Rather, the Kurzweilian Singularity refers to a sequence of epoch-defining events that will have transformative effects; in the case of the fifth epoch, the merger of machine and human intelligence.

    However, the point I’m making here is that for pharma, the Singularity defined more generally as ‘a unique event with epoch-changing consequences’ will come a lot sooner that Kurzweil’s fifth epoch in 2045.

    Arguably, it’s already here — or at least we can see elements of its shape, and form.

    I identify just three in the post, but I’m sure you could count off another ten on your fingers without pausing for thought.

    My overarching point is a familiar one: whilst the industry continues to occupy itself with the comfortable delusion that the inconsequential ‘marketing’ trivia it for the most part occupies itself with is in fact relevant, the precursors of the coming healthcare Singularity have the potential to swamp the pharma boat and sink it before the storm even hits…

    • Thanks for informing me Andrew, I thought some like that. Of course, there’s more to say to it. We both know that and I guess I, with you, will get back to this in the foreseeable future. ..

  3. Pingback: The pharma Singularity is near | Chaos Theory and Human Pharmacology

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