Holding on in an Innovative StormBy
Development of new technologies is happening at a faster pace than ever before. Peter Diamandis and Steven Kotler explain in their book The Future Is Faster Than You Think that the primary accelerant for our exponential technologies is convergence—what Ray Kurzweil, director of engineering at Google, calls the basis of his new Law of Accelerating Returns.
Previously, computers could design new, even faster computers, but now “formerly independent waves of exponentially accelerating technologies are beginning to converge with other independent waves of exponentially accelerating technology.” The waves now overlap, and the result is an uncontrolled acceleration. Powerful computers have AI tools that learn on their own and can use massive data sets and sensors, both previously unavailable, to understand human language to see, hear, and process information in ways that before were the exclusive domain of sentient creatures. These machines can “wash away products, services, and markets, as well as structures that support them” as with single entities like Blockbuster, or even entire ecosystems with footprints more than a century old like conventional still photography. And how fast is this happening? For his Law of Accelerating Returns, Kurzweil worked out the math that estimates we’ll be experiencing 20,000 years of technological change over the next 100 years.
Diamandis and Kotler offer a wide variety of examples from developing tech, including the transistor-based computers processing bits to quantum machines developing now on a scale that’s replaced Moore’s Law with Rose’s Law, which tracks qubits in quantum computers as they double each year. If you think quantum is still remote, visit www.rigetti.com. There you can download a quantum developer’s kit called Forest that enables almost anyone to write programs that can be run on Rigetti’s 32-qubit computer. More than 120 million programs have been run.
SIX Ds OF EXPONENTIALS
Referring back to their previous book, Bold, the authors describe the stages of the growth cycle of exponential technologies. They call these steps the six Ds:
Digitalization. The point at which a technology becomes digital, “it jumps on the back of Moore’s Law and begins accelerating exponentially.” That soon will be supplemented by quantum and Rose’s Law.
Deception. Because exponentials generate a lot of hype and early progress is likely to be slow and disappointing, this second phase is “deceptive.” Think of the disappointing starts and stops of AI and the “winters” it generated, or bitcoin and the early notorious users on the dark web. Now consider bitcoin and its blockchain today and how they’re reinventing financial markets.
Disruption. This is the stage that shakes monoliths like Kodak. The authors point to 3D printing and its beginning as a very expensive and very limited technology. Today, it “threatens the entire $10 trillion manufacturing sector.” Current 3D printers can sculpt in plastic, metals, glass, concrete (printing buildings), and organic materials such as human cells and leather. The printer on the space station, for example, has eliminated the need for an inventory of spare parts.
Demonetization. The removal of money from the equation can be seen in the hundreds of photos on your phone, all free of processing and printing costs. That same phone is a supercomputer that would have been worth millions during the early stages of the space program when its capabilities would have been transformative for the engineers. Today, it’s affordable for many.
Dematerialization. The list of independent products that are now incorporated into your phone—cameras, stereos, TVs, GPS—have disappeared many earlier counterparts. The phone also has dematerialized the hundreds of photos, music albums, and scores of magazines and novels you can carry with you now that they don’t weigh anything.
Democratization. This stage is reached when the technology scales and becomes inexpensive and widespread.
Examples of exponential technologies in the book range from 3D printed human organs to “smart objects,” besides the cybercurrencies that have a blockchain layer sitting beneath them enabling “a new kind of asset class and a way to move value between the virtual world and the actual world.” Materials science is using AI to map hundreds of millions of different possible configurations of elements for combining elements faster than ever before and even creating elements we’ve never seen.
For those interested in the faster future for shopping, education, advertising, healthcare, insurance, and finance, the book includes chapters devoted to these and other commercial sectors. The time to think about either a storm shelter or harnessing the power yourself is now.