Exponential Technology Continues to Accelerate—But Why?

Call them the great accelerators.

Intuitively, the one-two punch of accelerating exponential technology seems a little hard to wrap our minds around. We can observe from the evidence all around us that the pace of technological change is faster than ever before, but it’s a little harder to grasp that this record pace of change will accelerate even further.

But, as SU Co-Founder and Chancellor Ray Kurzweil points out, there’s even exponential growth in the rate of exponential growth.

As we consider the exponential future with the “intuitive view” we’ve developed from our past, further acceleration may seem nearly impossible. Yet a careful analysis of the history of technology shows similar patterns. We have seen periods of accelerated technology development throughout history but never approaching today’s rate.

To better understand this unprecedented rate of change, it helps to identify some of the driving forces behind the acceleration.

  • If you’re familiar with Kurzweil’s Law of Accelerating Returns, you may know that he describes the exponential growth of technology as having a profound impact on every facet of our lives in the future.
  • Another useful model for understanding how the development of technology accelerates as it becomes digitized is called The Six Ds, from the 2015 book Bold by SU Executive Founder and Director Peter Diamandis and Steven Kotler. The Six Ds are described as a chain reaction of technological progression that leads to enormous upheaval and opportunity.

Accelerating the accelerators

Here are a few of the drivers accelerating the acceleration—and propelling us rapidly into an unknown future.

Artificial intelligence (AI) everywhere

You name the industry—financial services, healthcare, retail, IT, automotive, entertainment—and it’s no stretch to say that AI is rapidly transforming the entire sector, and every company within. That includes the corporate world, government, academia, and non-profit organizations. AI is a powerful tool that enables us to reimagine how we utilize information, manage data, and discover insights for better, faster decisions.

Computer processing power

Any application that is built upon on computer processing power is riding the curve of Moore’s Law, and as a result, continuously gets faster. Computing power has exponentially increased in performance and become cheaper as it shrinks in physical size. This miniaturization has enabled us to have smartphones and wearables, and is key in powering technologies including blockchain and the Internet of Things (IoT). Just around the corner is quantum computing and quantum communications, which are laying the foundation of a quantum internet.

Exponential Technology Accelrating

Platforms on platforms

It’s not surprising that companies like Apple, Google, and Amazon can move so quickly as they build applications that tap into the computing power and reach of their existing digital platforms. In fact, building exponential technologies on digital platforms seems to be the quickest way to reach billion-scale. That is exactly what happened when Gmail’s Smart Reply technology, which suggests three short auto-replies to streamline the process of responding to emails, was made available to users. “The exciting thing about being at Google is you can announce a product and it’s used by a billion people a few hours later,” said Ray Kurzweil, who serves as a Director of Engineering there.

A wealth of data

To many in the business world, the current explosion of data has little meaning. It’s true we are producing massive volumes of data every minute, and—wait for it—that volume of data is increasing exponentially. But big data is no big deal without useful and relevant insights to drive better decisions. Our enormous data stores hold the answers to many of our toughest problems including energy, our environment, food, and learning—what we call humanity’s global grand challenges.

A wealth of wealth

Individuals like Jeff Bezos, Richard Branson, Bill Gates, and Elon Musk don’t need to wait for funding from large corporations or slow-moving government entities. These founders have their own resources, and each has shown a bias for action in tackling some of the most audacious projects imaginable, such as the exploration and commercialization of space.

The next Einstein or da Vinci

As of June 2018, about 55 percent of the world’s 7.4 billion human population has internet access, according to Wikipedia. The internet provides us with free or inexpensive access to the world’s information and enables us to collaborate and learn globally. As more and more humans come online, more brainpower to solve the world’s problems becomes available. The four billion new minds coming online from developing countries may well include the next Einstein or da Vinci—or a whole new breed of genius we have yet to discover.

Augmented intelligence

In many pop-culture depictions of a dystopian future, we are staring down a future scenario where AI has far outpaced human intelligence, and bio-based individuals have become second-class citizens. But that ignores the potential of augmented intelligence, in which human intelligence is given a boost through the use of technology. One vision—advanced by Ray Kurzweil—is that we will soon be able to upload a digital version of our own neocortex to the cloud, to think in concert with thousands of others—multiplying our brain power, rather than just adding to it. Though this technology is not yet available, there are several organizations working on it.

Exponential Technology Accelrating

Interfaces to the future

Interfaces that simplify and streamline human-computer interaction can greatly accelerate the adoption of technology. Examples of existing interfaces include the desktop and mobile web browsers we use to make internet accessible to non-technical users. More recent examples include the smart speakers from Google, Apple, and Amazon that enable us to get information and perform tasks with simple voice commands. In the future, human-computer interactions may be simplified to the point where anyone could use a smart speaker to direct a 3D printer or a build a software application, without writing a line of code.

For a deeper dive into this topic, check out the Exponential Wisdom podcast, hosted by Peter Diamandis and Dan Sullivan (Episode 62, Accelerating Innovation).

Unprecedented speed—and opportunities

The convergence of exponential technologies—like AI, blockchain, and IoT, combined with nearly unlimited data connectivity and storage—is bringing us to an inflection point. We can now clearly see the means to relieving polluted and congested cities, preventing genetic diseases before they start, and providing nutritious food to those in need around the world.

The exponential acceleration of technology is having an unprecedented impact on the way we live. The resulting pace of change is cause for both excitement and concern. Though none of us can predict the future, we can educate ourselves and keep track of emerging technologies and their impact—and see the future through a lens of solving our biggest challenges. If you’re looking to future-proof your business, see how we help organizations navigate successfully amid disruption and accelerating change.