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Peter Diamandis: Harnessing exponential technology to change the world

May 23, 2017

The world seemed convinced that 2016 was the worst year in history, a theme that media outlets from The New York Times (“2016: Worst. Year. Ever?”) to The New Yorker (“The Worst Year Ever, Until Next Year”) featured profusely at the end of the year. John Oliver, host of HBO’s “Last Week Tonight,” even blew up a giant “2016” during his season finale.

When we take a closer look at the overwhelmingly negative stories filling the news — from war and disease to poverty and inequality — it’s not hard to understand why we feel so pessimistic about where the world is heading, because it’s all we seem to hear.

Peter Diamandis, however, couldn’t disagree with this paradigm more, pointing out that the technology currently in the hands of billions of individuals today illustrates a power that only countries and governments possessed 20 years ago.

“I want to give you a view of the world that impassions me,” Diamandis, founder of the XPRIZE Foundation and co-founder of Singularity University, said at ONE: The Alltech Ideas Conference (ONE17). “It’s clear that the world is getting better at an extraordinary rate.”

What’s the key thing driving this lightning-fast change? Exponential technology.

Below are the five exponential trends that Diamandis says will change the world (and you).

1. The world is going linear

While humans have evolved to think and live in a local and linear fashion, putting one foot in front of the other in measured, baby steps, Diamandis said that today the world is global and exponential.

“Things are changing year to year, not century to decade,” he explained. “This can be disruptive stress or a disruptive opportunity, depending on your point of view.”

He pointed to the example of Facebook buying Instagram in 2012, the same year that Kodak, ignoring the digital photography trend, went bankrupt. Technologies are doubling in power every year, giving rise to increasingly powerful exponential technology. In fact, the rate of disruption is so fast today that the average life of the company has dropped to 15 years.

“The question is, as you’re starting companies and solving problems: Are you basing these on exponential trends?” asked Diamandis.

The technologies that are evolving today and changing the world are riding Moore’s Law, he said. In 1965, Intel co-founder Gordon Moore noticed that the number of transistors per square inch on circuits had doubled every year since they were invented. This trend is continuing and can be applied to all technology. In fact, it’s right on schedule and is enabling us to innovate and make progress at increasingly faster rates. 

2. 6Ds of exponentials

Diamandis described the way that exponential technology follows Moore’s Law and explodes onto the scene, much as apps such as Snapchat have done in recent years, in six steps, or the “6Ds of exponentials.”

He explained the first three steps in the following way:

 “In the early days of digitization, that growth is rather deceptive,” he said. “But all of a sudden, 30 doublings later, it’s a billion times better, and it becomes disruptive.”

After the initial three steps, technology reaches the last three critical steps:

  • Demonetized. Think Uber and Airbnb, which don’t have to create products from scratch.
  • Dematerialized: Technology that once filled entire rooms can now fit into your pocket, such as iPhones.
  • Democratized: Demonetization and dematerialization enable you to offer your products to billions of people around the world.

Importantly, Diamandis noted that by 2022, 3 billion new consumers will be online and consuming those products, representing tens of trillions of dollars flowing into the global economy. They will buy technologies that continue to connect the entire planet digitally via ventures such as Google’s Project Loon, further increasing the rate of exponential technology.

3. An explosion of sensors and networks

A key element driving exponential technology to new heights includes the sensors and networks connecting people, places and things globally, from drones and satellites to the smartwatch on your wrist, taking images and collecting data on everything imaginable. This connectivity is propelling us from a period of time when we’ve virtually been “blind” to one in which we have an unlimited supply of information.

“This, for me, blows my mind,” said Diamandis. “It means that these sensors will allow us to know anything we want, anytime, anywhere.”

Furthermore, this technology is experiencing massive price reductions. Huge sensors that were millions of dollars in the 1960s are only $1 today and are molecular in size. This trend is showing no signs of slowing down, and Diamandis predicts that soon we’ll all be proud owners of such tech, such as augmented reality glasses we simply can’t live without.

4. Exponential technology will transform every industry

Faster, cheaper computing power is leading to unexpected consequences, Diamandis said, in which technologies such as robotics, 3D applications, virtual reality and artificial intelligence are combining to produce even more groundbreaking products. This is causing a paradigm shift in which every industry will soon be revolutionized by more efficient technology, such as self-driving cars and Watson, an artificial intelligence (AI) program that won an episode of “Jeopardy!” in 2011.

Some skeptics are worried about the negative consequences these new technologies might have.

“I’m not worried about AI as ‘The Terminator,’” said Diamandis. “I’m worried that AI is going to transform job markets. It’s the rate of change that we need to deal with.”

5. Moonshot thinking

The last, and arguably most important, of Diamandis’ five exponential trends is “moonshot thinking,” or thinking about how you can impact more than a billion people with a single venture.

The phrase, coined by Google, is the idea that today, any one of us can think about achieving 10 times more growth while the rest of the world is only focused on growing by 10 percent. Diamandis said that this requires a shift in mindset, since we have been trained to accomplish 10 percent more by merely working hard.

“When you ask yourself to go 10 times bigger, it forces you to think in a radically different fashion,” he said. “It forces you to throw out all that you’ve done before.”

He said that, personally, he focuses on “What’s the moonshot?” at the beginning of all of his new ventures, such as Human Longevity Inc., which aims to make being 100 years old the new 60 years old.

“I think, ‘OK, this is impossible; now let’s figure out how to make it happen,’” said Diamandis.

The news may continue to beat us down with up-to-the-minute, anxiety-inducing doom and gloom, but by using exponential technology, we can take matters into our own hands to change the world for the better.

“We’re living in the most exciting time in human history, a time when you as an individual have access to more capital, more computational power than experts in any time, ever,” said Diamandis. “You can solve any problem you put your mind to, and, ultimately, it’s the power of your passion and your mind that’s the most powerful thing on the planet today.”