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Exponential change applies to everything — not just technology

We keep talking about exponential change in technological terms. Turns out that’s just the beginning. Exponential change goes far beyond technology and is impacting nearly every aspect of our lives.

Don’t get me wrong. Technologically speaking, we’re still playing an exponential game.

Moore’s Law — which states computing power doubles every 18 to 24 months — has been the gold standard for exponential change for more than 50 years, but experts argue that its exponential curve is starting to flatten. They’re right because, let’s face it, there are only so many transistors you can jam onto a silicon chip. 

Enter quantum computing. Unlike traditional computing, whose binary bits exist in only one state, quantum computing utilizes qubits (or quantum bits), which can exist in multiple states at once. The result is “Moore’s Law on steroids,” Peter Diamandis and Steven Kotler explain in The Future Is Faster Than You Think.

“To put this in perspective,” the authors write, “IBM’s Deep Blue computer that beat Gary Kasparov at chess examined 200 million moves a second. A quantum machine can bump that up to a trillion or more.”

So exponential technological change will be with us for the foreseeable future because, as Diamandis and Kotler write, “every time an exponential technology reaches the end of its usefulness, another arises to take its place.”

7 exponential forces at work
What we might not realize is the impact that rule has on nearly every corner of our world. It’s not just technology that’s increasing exponentially. Diamandis and Kotler argue there are currently seven forces, each of which is “a byproduct of converging exponentials, a ‘second-order effect’ in technical parlance, that acts as an additional innovation accelerate.”

What that comes down to is this: As technology increases exponentially, it forces other areas of our world to increase exponentially. And that changes everything.

According to the authors, those seven forces are these:

1. Saved time
“Innovation demands free time,” Diamandis and Kotler write. The more free time that advancing technologies give us, the more we can innovate. “Buying a watch used to require, you know, going to the store,” they write. “Watching a movie meant riding in a car to a theater. Booking a plane ticket once included telephone calls, hold times, and sometimes, flesh-and-blood humans. Not anymore, and this has consequences. … Saved time isn’t just a benefit of technology, it’s also a driver of innovation. And the time we’re saving today pales in comparison to what tomorrow will bring.”

2. Availability of capital
Creating new technologies requires money, and lots of it. The paradox, according to Diamandis and Kotler, is that new technologies have given us countless new ways to raise money —think crowdfunding, venture capital, and initial coin offerings. “It’s a technology turboboost that’s turning dollars and cents into ideas and innovation at a record-setting pace,” the authors write.

3. Demonetization
Look at it this way. “In 2001,” Diamandis and Kotler write, “sequencing the entire human genome took nine months to complete and cost $100 million. Today, Ilumina’s latest generation sequencer can do that in an hour and for $100 — or 6,480 times faster and a million times cheaper. As a result, if you’re working in genomics, then your government research grants now go much further than ever before, accelerating insights and catalyzing breakthroughs.” If you’ve got a million dollars in research money in your hands, you can get a million times more done today than ever before.

4. More genius
In decades and centuries past, discovering a true genius was like finding the proverbial needle in a haystack. With today’s “interconnectivity and the exponential explosion of networks” and the fact that all of those people can work together, the authors argue that “all of these barriers to discovering genius are starting to fall. The results will be more breakthrough ideas, faster innovation, and greater acceleration.”

5. Communications abundance
The more networks we have and the more people who are connected, the more innovation that takes place. Consider this: “In 2010, roughly one-quarter of the Earth’s population, some 1.8 billion people, were connected to the Internet,” Diamandis and Kotler write. “By 2017, that penetration had reached 3.8 billion people, or about half the globe. And over the next half-dozen years, we are going to wire up the rest of humanity, adding 4.2 billion new minds to the global conversation.” That’s a lot of potential innovation.

6. New business models
Accelerating and converging technologies are creating new ways of doing business, which in turn are creating new innovations. For instance, thanks to automation and A.I., Diamandis and Kotler are starting to see the emergence of “decentralized autonomous organizations” — those with no employees, no bosses, and non-stop production. “A set of pre-programmed rules determines how the company operates, and computers do the rest,” they write. We’re already ordering via Alexa, and 3-D printers are manufacturing those orders, and drones or autonomous delivery services will soon deliver those orders. It’s an autonomous business model. And the authors say there are six other similarly disruptive business models in the works as we speak.

7. Longer lives
This is the long-sought-after Fountain of Youth, and it’s closer than we think. In 2015, David Sinclair, co-director of an anti-aging lab at Harvard Medical School, said, “The first person to live to 150 has already been born.” And Diamandis and Kotler quote inventor and futurist Ray Kurzeil, who “often discusses the concept of ‘longevity escape velocity,’ or the point at which science can extend your life for more than a year for every year that you are alive. As far future as this sounds, according to Kurzweil, we are a lot closer than you might expect. ‘It’s likely (that we’re) just another 10 to 12 years away from the point that the general public will hit longevity escape velocity,’ Kerzweil said.”

The implications of each of these are enormous and far-reaching. Using just longer life as an example: Do you have enough money saved to live to be 150? What would your financial planner have to do to help you with that?

That’s the power of these converging exponentials — each impacts the other. And that means every corner of our lives are at stake.

It’s not just technology we have to pay attention to. It’s almost literally everything.

And as mind-numbing as that sounds, consider this: If all of this is increasing exponentially, then so are our opportunities.

From an optimist’s mindset, that’s reassuring.

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