Into An Exponential Future

Into An Exponential Future
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Over three days in the heart of San Francisco, I immersed myself in Singularity University’s Global Summit, learning about the future of technology and the world. Indeed technology is everywhere. It is steadily moving from a vertical towards a horizontal in society.

We are standing at another turning point in history. Listening to the world’s experts from all industries made me more optimistic about the future. Over the following decades, the world is going to change at a pace that we have never experienced in history. Preparing yourself for the perils and opportunities that this revolution brings is crucial.

In a world that is constantly changing, it is important to think about the big picture. Deloitte, platinum partner of Singularity University, has identified two main drivers behind this wave of fundamental changes that we are witnessing. First, the adoption of new digital infrastructures is accelerating. For example, while the adoption of the telephone took 100 years, mobile only required 20 years. It is estimated that in the next five years there will be 50 billion wireless devices connected to the internet. Second, the liberalization of economic policy means the decrease of movement of people, products, money and ideas.

What makes this revolution different from many others in the past is that it is hard to keep up with. If you keep adapting, however, you can leverage this revolution and turn threats into opportunities. This requires unlearning assumptions of the old world, and your imagination for a new world. Instead of living in a world of scarcity, we are beginning to live in a world of abundance. It’s a new world with new rules.

This is why Singularity University’s Global Summit was so good because for three days it created a platform to foster communication and exchanges on this dialog. Talking to people who are moving the world forward is the best way to keep your knowledge up to date. The media is not always reporting on these things, as they carry a negative bias. They appeal to our emotions, and highlight the negative changes instead of focusing on all the great things that are being built right now.

For example, in May Bloomberg reported that clean energy jobs have surpassed oil drilling jobs for the first time in the US. This year Portugal ran for four days straight on renewable energy alone. The world is improving every day. CNN’s Fareed Zakaria estimates that global terrorism has declined by a factor of 3.

In the future, your success will depend on the quality of questions that you ask. Ray Kurzweil, co-founder of Singularity University, highlighted the promises and perils of exponential technologies, and our need to move away from linear thinking. We can’t be scared of machines replacing our jobs, he said.

Something similar has happened in the past. When the workers weaved cloth it was a business models that was handed down for a generations and then suddenly new machines were replacing those workers. Yet as a society we moved on and found new jobs. Who could anticipate a hundred years ago the many jobs that we have invented since the beginning of the 21st century?

Today 65% of jobs are information jobs, but it hasn’t always been like that. In the future many jobs will be automated but we have done it before. The rapid disruption and dematerialization of technology has a negative and positive effect on many jobs that will be replaced, depending on what stakeholder in society you consider. That’s why having a dialog on the promises and perils of this revolution is important.

On balance we have created more jobs than we have eliminated and we are slowly moving upwards on Maslow’s pyramid. Kurzweil explained how quickly people get used to technology. It wasn’t that long ago that we lived in a world without social media and search engines, yet it seems hard to imagine how we were ever able to live without them.

Economists don’t really account for many of these positive changes. For example, when a kid buys a phone in Africa for $30 that doesn’t factor into economic growth as much as it should. He also explained how we are going to merge with the machines. Indeed this is what we have done for a long time. We use technology as a way to leverage our capabilities.

Cities will be re-imagined. There is no longer the need to crowd ourselves in a few cities when we can live and work from anywhere. At the same time there are many people that are scared of the technological changes that will re-define the world. The status quo is holding onto the old world. Salim Ismail says that when you try to change big organizations the immune system comes into effect which makes change difficult. For example, Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan likened social media to a menace to society.

Our ability to experiment has increased enormously. That’s why we need a new narrative that will open this new world to everyone on this planet. We need to create a dialog that highlights these exponential technologies and helps us to re-imagine the world.

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