What every business should know about exponentials and the future

With disruption a daily headline, the business landscape is rapidly changing. We live in a world of innovation and change driven by exponential increases in computing power.

For leaders and organisations to stay well ahead of growing challenges and demands, it’s imperative to lift the gaze and understand the power of connectivity and the opportunities that are available right now.

To understand more about what’s around the corner we sat down with Kaila Colbin, the Australia & New Zealand Ambassador for Singularity University, and put exponentials, innovation and the economy under the spotlight.

When exploring exponentials, what do we need to know, right now?

Well, from nanotechnology to bioinformatics, artificial intelligence (AI) to robotics and more, we need to better prepare ourselves to adapt and thrive in a dynamically changing world. Exponential technologies are those which are doubling in performance and halving in cost on a regular basis. They’re shaping major industries and all aspects of our lives. We are living in an environment where the rate of change is faster than we ever thought possible. AI, for example, is getting more accurate at many predictive or analytical tasks than humans.

Singularity University is focused on and dedicated to the study of exponentially accelerating technologies and specifically how they can be used to address humanity’s biggest challenges, such as food, water, healthcare, learning, education or disaster resilience.

How is the price performance of computing changing?

It has certainly been a dynamic journey that continues to evolve and rapidly change. Fundamentally, in 1965,  Gordon Moore – co-founder of the Intel Corporation, made the observation that the number of transistors we could fit on an integrated circuit had been doubling every 18 – 24 months or so. He made a prediction that the number would continue to double as far forward as we could see and this became known as Moore’s Law.

Ray Kurzweil – author, inventor, futurist and co-founder of SU – zoomed out on this concept and questioned what would happen if, instead of looking at the number of transistors, we started to look at the price-performance of computing.

In other words, how many millions of instructions per second can you buy for $1,000?

It turns out that this number has been doubling for almost 120 years. Today, for $1,000, you can buy roughly the number of instructions per second that a mouse brain can process. But, according to Ray, by 2023, for 1,000 dollars you can buy the number of instructions a human brain can process. And by 2049, for 1,000 dollars you can buy the number of instructions per second of all human brains on the planet combined!

The sheer enormity of where we are headed is incredible.

Do these laws and insights apply only to computing?

No! The marvellous thing is that this doubling curve applies to any information-enabled technology, meaning a technology that is powered by ones and zeroes. Photography, for example, used to be powered by physical film, but once it became digital – information-enabled – it started to follow a similar doubling in price-performance.

From biotech to medicine, energy to robotics – we’re seeing this exponential growth over and over again.

Doubling curves are surprisingly difficult to understand, for a few reasons. First of all, they look flat for a long time.

Have you tried to fold a piece of paper eight times? The first few folds look like nothing – it’s not until you get to the 6th, 7th and 8th fold that things start to get crazy.

The second reason is that our brains are totally not wired for this as the physical world in which we evolved is linear.

One of the stories that is often used to illustrate the power of a doubling curve is that if you take 30 linear steps, you’ll go 30 meters, while if you take 30 doubling steps, you’ll go 26 times around the planet. That’s amazing enough, but even trickier is that you’re not halfway there until the 29th step, so it’s really hard to measure progress as you go. I don’t know anyone who could guess where we would be at step 15, for example.

So when we see technology that has become information enabled, we have to be systematic and disciplined if we want to have a hope of responding effectively and accurately.

What’s on the horizon for these technologies?

These technologies are now starting to converge! We need to ask the robust questions: what happens when artificial intelligence converges with robotics? What will happen when we can print matter molecule by molecule or atom by atom?

The overall outcome will be that a whole new wave of opportunity will become available for businesses that are prepared to embrace it, while those that are not paying attention to these developments are going to rapidly fall behind. From education to healthcare, energy to manufacturing and more, every aspect of the way we live, work and play is profoundly impacted by these technologies.

We also have to start talking about the impacts on society of these developments. The workforce of the future will be very different to the one of today – and may be quite a bit smaller. How do we navigate that? How do we ensure that everyone has the opportunity to be healthy, connected, fulfilled?

What’s next?

As Heraclitus said, “the only constant is change” and we all need to ensure we are planning, resourcing for and thinking of how we are going to tackle, adapt and thrive in the future landscape.

For an extraordinary opportunity to spend three days with the Singularity University faculty and be prepared for what’s to come, register to attend SingularityU Australia Summit, February 19-21 in Sydney. With a diversity of experts, world-class speakers and the latest on exponentials unearthed and explored, it’s an opportunity to understand the nature of these exponential technologies, so that we can adapt to and thrive in a dynamically changing world.

Deloitte is the Global Professional Services Sponsor of the Singularity University Exponential Summit Series. Since 2014, over 1,300 Deloitte clients have participated in Singularity University programs around the world, empowering them to envision and realise significant exponential growth and unlock new value for their businesses through innovation strategies. The Deloitte/ Singularity University alliance supports our joint mission of helping organisations recognise and embrace opportunities to grow and differentiate themselves during an era of significant disruptions, while making the world a better place.

Together we bring the technical expertise, global networks, business acumen, and future vision to help organisations of all sizes innovate and grow exponentially.


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