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I wrote this when a question popped into my mind: What if all of human history occurred during my life so far? What would it have been like to wake up this morning—how different would things be than when I fell asleep?

If you only care about interesting data on the current unprecedented pace of change, skip to “Takeaways.” However, I think this thought experiment is more profound in narrative form.

The observer

You open your eyes upon hearing your alarm. The clock says it’s 2024.30. You’re an observer of a reality in which all 300,000 years of human history—from the first recorded appearance of Homo sapiens until now—have occurred during your life so far[1]. Things are pretty different than when you went to bed last night[2]. In the minutes before you fell into your slumber, you mainly remember being shocked by the victorious election of Donald Trump and Britain’s successful referendum to leave the EU. Although, for the last 22 days, you’ve started getting used to a lot of changes happening overnight[3].

As usual, you try to catch up with what you missed as you slept: Hamas attacked Israel 18 minutes ago; Russia invaded Ukraine 2 hours ago; COVID-19 originated five and a half hours ago; the first image of a black hole was taken five and a half hours ago; 9.5 billion fewer animals were slaughtered for meat every hour[4] when you fell asleep[2]; and AI changed considerably. For instance, the current largest model was trained on over 47,000 times more computation than the largest model when you fell asleep[5]; transformers were introduced seven and a half hours ago; GPT-2 was released five and a half hours ago; GPT-3 was four hours ago. And GPT-4? 55 minutes ago.

In many ways, things feel quite tumultuous this morning, but yesterday morning felt similarly intense—you chiefly remember the September 11 terrorist attacks and the dot-com bubble burst. Still, as scary as things may feel, you’re grateful for how much things have improved lately. Just last week, 1872, people’s lives were dramatically worse: Their life expectancy was 29.7 years, 81% were illiterate, 76% lacked formal education, their human rights were 20% less protected, the world economy was 60 times smaller, and only 3% of countries were democracies.

The Second Industrial Revolution was in full swing. People were about to invent the typewriter, just discovered why the sky is blue, Charles Darwin just published The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals, and Dmitri Mendeleev recently created the periodic table. Since then, science and technology have far exceeded your past self’s expectations—there are far too many advancements to list off, but given the current zeitgeist about AI, you think it’s profound the term “artificial intelligence was coined three days and five hours ago, the term “machine learning” was established only three days ago, and deep learning was first proposed only a day and 18 hours ago.

You find it chilling that nuclear weapons were first tested and used only three days and 16 hours ago, the deadliest bioweapon accident (the Soviet anthrax leak in the city of Sverdlovsk that killed ~100 people) occurred two days ago, and the term “gain-of-function” research was first used just 13 hours ago.

Unfortunately, humanity's scientific and technological progress came at a cost to non-human animals: Factory farming began four days ago[6], allowing the number of animals slaughtered for meat every hour[7] to balloon to 83.6 billion—at least 10 times more than it was before[8]


And last month?[9] Well, because so much has happened since then, it’s harder to remember—and people documented little at the time. The scientific revolution was still 8 days away—astronomers and philosophers generally accepted that the Sun orbited the Earth, and people hadn’t yet agreed on a universal equals sign, nor did they use parentheses. There also isn’t much to say about last year; people were still hunter-gatherers.

You feel sure the pace of change has dramatically accelerated, though its fruits have varied—some have been beneficial developments, while others have been terrifyingly dangerous or tragically exploitative. As you sit down in your armchair on your front porch, a cup of tea in hand, you wonder… Can this continue? Should it? Does it threaten to make shreds and shrapnel of everything we’ve built, as though humanity’s fate matches that of Icarus? Or does it mean we could achieve Utopia? Or, maybe, it’ll bring us immense satisfaction at the expense of other sentient beings…

Credit to Nighthawk Shoots

The Sun is just beginning to peer out over the horizon, painting the sky a pensive gradient of orange and black. Facing such difficult, important questions, you sip some Earl Grey, sit your cup down, stand up, and walk toward the horizon. You faintly smile, feeling profoundly grateful that you’re merely an observer.


Here are my key takeaways from scaling human history, from the first recorded appearance of Homo Sapiens (300,000 years ago) until now, down to 38.1 years (the median American’s age).

Last night, week, month, and year

Amount of time since major advancements


Other existential risks

  • Nuclear weapons were first tested and used 3 days and 16 hours ago
  • The deadliest bioweapon accident (the Soviet anthrax leak in the city of Sverdlovsk that killed ~100 people) was 2 days ago
  • The term “gain-of-function” research was first used 13 hours ago
  • Factory farming began four days ago (in 1930)
  • The number of animals slaughtered for meat annually is at least 10 times more than four days ago (when factory farming began)[8]

Animal welfare

World events

  1. ^

     Assuming you're 38.1 years old (the age of the median American).

  2. ^

     Assuming you slept 8 hours (which equals 7.2 real years).

  3. ^

     This is admittedly kind of arbitrary. I've defined "a lot of changes happening overnight" as beginning at the start of the scientific revolution (which was 22 days ago).

  4. ^

     Each hour equals ~1 real year, so that's 9.5 billion fewer animals slaughtered for meat every real year.

  5. ^

     When you fell asleep 8 hours ago (7.2 real years ago), the largest model (as measured by computation used to train it) was the version of AlphaGo that beat Lee Sedol in 2016, trained on 1.9 million petaFLOPs. Now, the largest model is Gemini Ultra, trained on 90 billion petaFLOPs.

  6. ^

     In 1930.

  7. ^

     Again, each hour equals ~1 real year, so that's 83.6 billion animals slaughtered for meat every real year.

  8. ^

     This growth by a factor of 10 is likely a severe underestimate, as Our World in Data's figures only go back to 1961, meaning this ignores 31 years of growth for the industry.

  9. ^

     Assuming the month lasted 30 days (which equals 647 real years).





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