Exponential technologies

Exponential technologies are characterized by the fact that their performance improvements typically double with each evolutionary step. Unfortunately, we as human beings cannot conceptually understand this. As linear thinkers we understand very well, where we get if we add up a number of literal steps. Which means that with each step we cover the same distance we have with the step before. We can perfectly predict how far we get with e.g. 30 linear steps. With exponential steps this is very different: with each step we double the amount of the covered distance (1,2,4,8,16, 32 …) Adding up 30 exponential steps leads to about 1 billion kilometers (equals 26 times around the world).

Today we see many technologies that develop with a similar exponential pace, some of them more obvious than others: The performance of digital products increases almost every day. Mobile phones become significantly more powerful with each. IBMs artificial intelligence computer program Watson was specially developed to answer questions posed in natural language. In 2011 it won the game Jeopardy against the former human winners Brad Rutter and Ken Jennings.

Other technologies follow the same path: Nowadays, 3D printing can be done with more than 300 materials and drones – three years ago considered as fun little toys – are used in many applications today, ranging from carrying cameras for film productions to delivering medicine to people in disaster areas when roads are blocked.

Singularity University - Výzkumný park NASA Kalifornie

Singularity University: Located in the NASA Research Park in California.

Positive impacts

The team of the Singularity University (short SU) collects all these developments and researches their implications on our future. Exponential technologies are the tools that can empower a passionate entrepreneur to positively impact the life of 1 billion people within 10 years. It is no longer only nations or very big corporations that have the deep pockets and access to powerful resources to drive world-wide change.

SU believes in the potential of entrepreneurship and that by leveraging exponential technologies every problem can be solved even by a very small group of people. With their approach of supporting especially entrepreneurs, Peter Diamandis and Ray Kurzweil want to tackle what they call the 12 grand world challenges. They group them in two categories: Firstly, the resource needs, which are energy, environment, food, shelter, space and water and secondly the societal needs, like disaster resilience, governance, health, learning, prosperity and security. Currently SU supports about ten start-ups that have that potential of change impact.

What is next?

The SU is different from most other universities in the world. It is not a degree granting institution. It offers educational programs that fully focus on the future and the unbelievable possibilities that lay ahead of us, due to the rapid development and convergence of exponential technologies. We can expect some dramatic changes in the coming years, some even predict that in about 50 years from now we have overcome death. All these developments will also put some pressure on those that hope to linearly extrapolate their currently – often – comfortable situation. Following the arguments of SU this will not work, because we live in very volatile and uncertain times. For those who embrace this as times full of opportunities, currently the tools are being developed that allow to solve the world’s grand challenges.

Author: Stefan Posch

Source: ICG Change Magazine – Magazine for high impact change