The Implications of Exponential Technologies

We’re thrilled to share an exclusive excerpt from the upcoming book, “Future Ready: A Changemaker’s Guide to the Exponential Revolution,” by SU Faculty Chair of Corporate Innovation, Nick Davis. 

When we talk about game-changing exponential technologies, it’s often in the context of their staggering commercial potential.

Which startups have soared to billion-dollar valuations, which big-name traditional organizations and industries are facing disruption as a result? It’s certainly interesting to see how different organizations approach and implement technology programs to set themselves up for future growth and competitive advantage. But as with any exponential technology, there are ripple effects that reach far beyond the bottom line and have profound social and cultural impacts.

Quantum computing is one exponential technology that seems to check all the commercial, social and cultural boxes.

Quantum computing represents an evolutionary leap—a true exponential improvement over the performance of classical binary computing technologies. We’re not talking about doubling, or even 10x improvement over binary computers, but a future in which quantum computers routinely perform calculations beyond the reach of today’s fastest supercomputers.

Moreover, quantum computing checks another box with convergence, with its potential to supercharge other exponential technologies such as AI, blockchain, and Internet of Things (IoT)—and completely disrupt industries including cybersecurity, finance, and healthcare.

Nick Davis Book Cover

A practical example: Using the computing power available in 2019, it might take billions of years to crack the powerful encryptions that protect today’s cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin and Ethereum. Solving the same puzzle with a quantum computer could be done in less than 10 minutes. Some research estimates place the point where cryptocurrency security could be completely broken by quantum computing as early as 2027. That means, as one social media commentator aptly put it, that all our current security and passwords aren’t worth a damn in the age of quantum computing.

Real-world quantum computing applications are rare as we approach 2020, but the technology is moving so quickly that there is little agreement on when practical applications will become common. While many computer scientists predict widespread commercialization in 10-20 years, developments such as Google’s recent introduction of its Bristlecone quantum computer are causing many industry analysts to revisit that timeframe.

By the year 2027, SU Faculty member Andrew Fursman predicts we will be able to monitor and analyze every financial transaction in the world simultaneously. Think about that. Why would we need auditing anymore? How would we do accounting? What would stock market investing look like with such comprehensive, real-time information and predictive analytics capabilities?

That the potential future of the stock market could change so quickly and drastically is hard to comprehend. It’s another example of a breakthrough that will be so large it’s hard to fathom. And these examples are present in every industry around the world.

Consider, too, the ethics involved with our emerging technologies. In 2003, researchers completed a 15-year project to map the human genome. By 2013, CRISPR-Cas9 was programmed for genome editing, and this gave us the ability to edit the genes of fetuses before they’re born. In early 2019, the first two genetically altered humans were born in China.

The doctor in China who did the genomic editing is said to have changed the programming in the DNA of the twin girls to make them invulnerable to HIV. They will be protected from one of the most devastating diseases of our time. But by changing that marker, we also know that from a genetic code standpoint, that may make the twins susceptible to other diseases.

We also know that the editing of this genetic code has, at least in lab research in mice, also increased their memory and intelligence. That’s right—there is a likelihood that these twins have had their brains inadvertently enhanced as a result of this procedure. In editing the twins’ genetic code, the team may have fixed one problem, but raised another issue altogether. We now have to ask ourselves some serious questions about the future of our species, since we have gained this capability.

We now have at least two genetically programmed individuals in the world. One day they may have children of their own. What does that mean?

You may wonder how much genomics and other exponential technologies actually affect you. The simple answer is, in every aspect of your life. Just imagine how your smartphone has changed your life. It’s probably changed how and when you communicate, how you navigate, and how you shop and choose entertainment. Mobile technology also has profoundly changed the way we work, stay organized and maintain our schedules.

You can count on technologies like quantum computing and genetic engineering to have similar, and unknown, transformational future effects. Knowing the ways of the exponential world, you can consider the broader significance of game-changing technologies and trends beyond the commercial aspects. As author John Haldane put it, The universe is not only stranger than we imagine, it is stranger than we can imagine.