In 1975, Eastman Kodak, world leader in photography, unveiled the "digital camera." It was cumbersome and the photo quality was very poor... but it worked. I wonder if any of Kodak's employees imagined that this Kodak moment would, 25 years later, be seen as the forerunner to the miniaturization, quality and simplicity that has given virtually everyone access to today's mini-cameras... or that all 170,000 of them would be out of work due to the resulting bankruptcy of that same iconic company. This is a textbook example of the exponential development of a technology -- and the fallout.
Can over a million traffic deaths per year worldwide really be eliminated with driverless cars? Could an app diagnose almost every disease and ailment on the planet using blood and breath samples, and a quick retina scan? Are automobiles as we know them to become relics? Many future thinkers say that these questions are not about "if" but, rather, "when" -- and that the "when" is imminent in all of these examples and many others.
Those who follow me know that I've developed an expertise in millennial/boomer experience transfer and the generational sea change society is undergoing. Others are watching "exponential technologies" and the explosion of what some are calling the fourth Industrial Revolution. I believe an earth-shaking metamorphosis is underway. The good news is that the millennial generation gets it and, as natural early adopters, are blending into whatever comes along almost symbiotically as each next big thing enters their very different (from baby boomers) lives. Why, for example, are many not interested in getting a driver's license? Read on.
A European friend sent me a summary of an acquaintance's conclusions gleaned from attending a Singularity University Summit. Singularity University is NOT a learning institution. The California-based organization bills itself as "a public benefit corporation with a mission to educate, inspire and empower a global community of leaders to leverage exponential technologies to develop solutions to humanity's most difficult challenges."
Considered and communal thought is essential now, arguably more than at any previous time, because every new technology disrupts the status quo.
They are not the only organization looking past next week but they have been stimulating some of the world's best and brightest. Considered and communal thought is essential now, arguably more than at any previous time, because every new technology disrupts the status quo of work and workers, personally or professionally, and in living life in the broadest sense.
If Uber can replace cab drivers and fully developed driverless cars are about to go to market, doesn't it naturally follow that people will simply summon a car through a smartphone app, be driven to their destination (working en route), emerge and absorb the charge into their credit or debit stream? Then, why own a car? Why have a garage? Who'd need auto insurance? Why worry about crowded roads as they become less crowded? And if cars are mostly electric, we get cleaner air. What happens to the land used by gas stations and parking lots?
The first cellphones in 1980 cost $3,000 and have morphed into the relatively cheap handheld computers of today. Haven't we experienced exponential change at a very personal level already?
Hasn't the same simplification of technical complexity taken landline telecom carriers to the point where they have to continually tack in new directions? Hotels don't much like Airbnb; the cable companies don't want further development of internet television streaming (unless they control it); historical auto giants fear Tesla (soon Apple and Google) as electric car technology takes over. Governments worry about cryptocurrency (like Bitcoin) and banks certainly aren't benefiting from the growth of peer-to-peer lending or crowdfunding.
We are on the verge of 3D printing most items and parts in offices, factories and homes, and food creation is becoming more robotic and aeroponic (nutrients supplied to grow plants outside of soil). Meat can be produced in petri dishes, meaning live farm animals needn't be plentiful and slaughterhouses will become extinct. Insect protein will be sold in supermarkets, packaged and marketed as nutritious, palatable to view, smell, touch and consume... and these are all the result of developing exponential technologies.
This is only a glimpse of what is now experimental, but coming quickly to cost-effective adoption. Here are several takeaway thought-starters to consider:
1. Is my job safe or will it become redundant or even eliminated?
2. Am I preparing to educate my kids for what is to come?
3. Will changes of this magnitude positively or negatively disrupt my life?
4. Are my hopes, dreams, plans, and investments sustainable?
Many who likely never expected to see life as it is today will witness so much more in the imminent future. In fact, that thought may be more profoundly prophetic when considering longevity, averaging 80 years and rising. Age 100 is considered highly likely by 2036. Think about almost any field of endeavor or aspect of life and you'll discover people engaged in remarkable work to achieve dramatic results.
Brave New World was the title of a 1931 book by British author Aldous Huxley. In it, he describes a world circa 2500 A.D. in which human embryos are "farmed" and conditioned for use in a so-called "world state." In fact, Huxley was writing what began as a parody of H.G. Wells' popular utopian sci-fi novels. Yet, Brave New World is an expression that endures to describe massive change.
Who knows? With exponential technologies, what Huxley foretold should be quite possible long before 2500. Its utility, like so many things, will be entirely a matter of ethics.
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