“People evolved during times when the world was local and linear. The only things that affected you were all in a day’s walk. It remained that way for thousands of years. Now the world has become exponential instead of linear, and global instead of local,” explains Peter Diamandis, one of the 15 most influential people of the planet according to at a special event in Theater Carré in Amsterdam.
Thirty exponential steps
The world no longer changes in a linear pace, but exponentially. The rate of change is accelerating. Sadly, people are not good in grasping the mere idea of exponential growth. “People understand how far 30 steps will take them, but it is a lot harder to understand how far 30 exponential steps will take them. Instead of 30 meters it will take you 26 times around the Earth,” Diamandis explains.
This accelerating change has enormous consequences for people, businesses and society. It is predicted that in the next ten years 40 percent of the Future 500 companies are put out of business. The first business casualties are already recorded.
“In 1996 Kodak had a market capitalization of $28 billion and 140.000 employees. That year people at Kodak invented the digital camera, but the top management didn’t recognize the digital camera as the future of photography. The quality was still poor, but it was improving at an exponential rate. In 10 years the quality of digital camera’s rivaled that of analog and Kodak was put out of business by their own invention. Meanwhile, companies like Instagram with a market cap of $1 billion and only 13 employees use the full potential of this invention,” says Diamandis.
Diamandis is recording these “Kodak moments”, moments when large companies are put out of business by a ‘group of guys in a garage’ that dare to bet on the exponential growth of a technology. “Exponential growth looks deceptive. The technology of 3D printing exists for 30 years, but only recently it hit the ‘knee of the curve’, the point when change starts rocketing.”
In 1999 people were rather skeptic about mobile phones. People said that they could be called at home; that they didn’t need to be in contact with others 24/7. Fourteen years later, not only our opinion but also the technology has changed radically. “You might expect the same shift in the attitude to 3D printers and drones,” Diamandis predicts.
Everything will be lit
“Nowadays, your phone helps you to ‘remember’ phone numbers and ‘Word’ helps you with spelling. This is just the first, small step. According to Moore’s law, computers will get twice as ‘smart’ every two years. This means that your $1000 laptop has more computational power than that was used to put people on the moon. When this trend is extrapolated, it means that in 2060 a $1000 laptop will be smarter than a person, and in 2100 smarter than the human race,” Diamandis says.
With these smarter computers, some fundamental changes in society will take place. “The notion that we still have privacy might be a fallacy. We quickly move into a world where everything at any time will be known. When everything will be captured people will become responsible for all their actions, not only normal citizens but also dictators. Everything will be lit,” Diamandis predicts.
Utopia or Dystopia
It will be more or less the world of Dave Egger’s latest book ‘The Circle’, a world where techno-totalitarianism lures. Diamandis underwrites these treats and states that now is the time to make important, binding agreements about privacy. “The longer we wait, the worse the deal will be for normal citizens.”
Diamandis understands that a lot of people are afraid about the future, and he has biological explanation for it. “We’re fed bad news constantly. ’Teenager killed in Houston’ and ‘deaths rise in Latvia store collapse’, are normal, everyday headlines. Is that really the way the world is? The reason is that we evolved during dangerous times. Missing good news was too bad, but missing bad news was potentially fatal. When you didn’t know that there was a tiger near your village you might not survive the day.”
“The Amygdala in the brain is responsible for this, it scans everything for bad news. Our brain pays 10 times more attention to bad news than to good news. We are addicted to bad news, that is the reason why all ‘Good News Networks’ fail. And the information that people absorb, forms them and the way they see the world. The reality is that we live in the most peaceful time ever. Life expectancy has risen strongly while poverty has greatly been reduced, but due to all the bad news we don’t recognize this.”
A bumpy ride
According to Diamandis, great times lie ahead of us. Genius can be crowdsourced to tackle the major challenges of our time. Great innovations can come from unexpected people, like the 15-year old Jack Andraka that invented a sensor test for pancreatic cancer that out competed the entire medical community. To stimulate these breakthroughs Peter Diamandis founded the X-prize. “A great problem can be a great potential goldmine.”
In 2004 this resulted in the first commercial spacecraft capable of carrying three people to 100 kilometers above the earth’s surface, twice within two weeks. Later a price for doubling the speed of oil-spill cleanup was awarded. Among the finalists was a former tattoo-artist from Las Vegas that did his test runs in his Jacuzzi. Now Diamandis wants people back on the moon, and he wants a sensor test for all common diseases, the Star Trek Tricorder.
When Diamandis is right, the world is going to change beyond recognition. Three billion ‘new minds’ will come online in the next years. This means that new innovations will spur everywhere. “We haven’t seen 1 percent of the changes that will come to us in the next decade. It will be a road to the abundance of technology, clean water, knowledge and energy. However, it might be a bumpy ride.”
The event at which Peter Diamandis spoke was organized by Singularity University Nederland with the support of: Deloitte Center for the Edge, The Executive Network, Decos, AEB, FreedomLab, Vodafone, Cisco and KLM
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