I am a fan of both Peter Diamandis and Steven Kotler. They are both original thinkers with some exciting perspectives. I was eagerly anticipating “The Future Is Faster Than You Think: How Converging Technologies Are Transforming Business, Industries, and Our Lives”. And it did not disappoint. I think this book should be compulsory reading for every CEO.
The book follows on from “Abundance”, a book about how accelerating technologies are demonetising and democratising access to food, water, and energy, making resources that were once scarce now abundant. “Moonshots” is another book with that message and it cheers you up no end.
And it follows on from “BOLD”, a book about how entrepreneurs have been harnessing these same technologies to build world-changing businesses in near-record time, and providing a how-to playbook for anyone interested in doing the same.
I remember BOLD for the 6Ds. Digitisation leads to disruption, to demonetisation, to dematerialisation and eventually to democratisation when it becomes available to everyone for nearly free. In between these five Ds is deception. You don’t see it coming, and suddenly it is there. And that is the phase where most of the large companies like to stay. For large companies, the 6 Ds are the six horsemen of the apocalypse.
The new news is that formerly independent waves of exponentially accelerating technology are beginning to converge with other separate waves of exponentially accelerating technology. You can now play lego with math, medicine, physics, IoT, biology, genetics, materials, nano, neurology, energy, quantum physics, ICT, data, 5G, psychology, circular, etc.
Our brain does not understand exponential
The problem is that the human brain evolved in an environment that was local and linear. Our brain, which hasn’t had a hardware update in two hundred thousand years, is not designed for this scale or speed. Studies done with fMRI show that when we project ourselves into the future, something peculiar happens: The medial prefrontal cortex shuts down. That is a part of the brain that activates when we think about ourselves. When we think about other people, the inverse happens: It deactivates. And when we think about absolute strangers, it deactivates even more. It starts to shut down, meaning the brain treats the person we’re going to become as a stranger. And the farther you project into the future, the more of a stranger you become.
Train your brain
You really need to train and force your exponential thinking. An example of exponential is today’s smartphone back in 1980. It would cost something like $110 million, be fourteen meters tall, and require about two hundred kilowatts of energy. That is happening in every technology you can imagine. If you believe in exponential, you can assume that:
- Electric vertical take-off and landing vehicles” or eVTOLs will happen.
- Parking will be a problem of the past.
- Car ownership as we know it will disappear.
- Cars will become autonomous.
- VR headset will teleport your eyes and ears to another location, while a set of haptic sensors shifts your sense of touch.
- You will occupy a humanoid robot at will.
- Quantum computing will drive a golden age of discovery.
- AI will do your shopping and lots of other mundane tasks. AI will also manage your health, your mood and your finances. It will run our cities, our hospitals, traffic, etc.
- 4.2 billion new minds are about to join the global conversation online.
- 5G will deliver speeds a hundred times faster at near-zero prices.
- By 2030, 500 billion devices will be connected.
- We’re moving from the world of the microscopic to the world of the nanoscopic.
- 3-D printed organs will hit the market by 2023.
- A machine can now print a four hundred to eight-hundred-square-foot home in forty-eight hours at the cost of $6,000 to $10,000 (depending on location and raw material costs).
- Blockchain will make everything transparent.
- Solar is five doublings away from being able to produce enough power to meet all of our energy needs.
- Researchers are now using nanotech to create smart contact lenses with a resolution six times greater than today’s smartphones.
- Researchers at Harvard built a nanoscale 3-D printer capable of producing miniature batteries less than one millimetre wide.
- Scientists can take carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and convert it into super-strong carbon nanofibers for use in manufacturing.
- Biotechnology is using biology as technology.
- Digital technology has created new ways to raise money
- We are entering the crowd economy. That includes crowdsourcing, crowdfunding, ICOs, leveraged assets, and staff-on-demand, all the developments that leverage the billions of people already online and the billions coming online.
- We are entering the closed-loop economy: In nature, nothing is ever wasted.
- We are entering the transformation economy, where you’re not just paying for an experience, you’re paying to have your life transformed by this experience. Read “The experience economy“. For many, experiences—tactile, memorable, and real—have become more valuable than possessions.
- We are entering multiple world models: We no longer live in only one place. We have real-world personae and online personae, and this delocalised existence is only going to expand.
- Every piece of physical clothing you own in the real world will have a digital twin available in the virtual.
- We are entering reality 2.0, or Web 3.0, or the spatial web.
- Content is about to become much more collaborative, immersive, and personalised. Our AIs will match our mood to our history, neurophysiology, location, social preferences, and desired level of immersion and then, in an instant, customise content to match them all.
- VR, especially when combined with AI, has the potential to facilitate a top-shelf traditional education, plus all the empathy and emotional skills that traditional education has long been lacking.
- The Holodeck is here.
- Nacrobots in operating rooms and microbots in our bodies will transform surgery.
- Crowdsurance is replacing traditional categories of health and life insurance. By shifting the risk from the consumer to the service provider, entire categories of insurance will be eliminated.
- We are morphing the traditional “detect and repair” into “predict and prevent.”
- Food will be grown from stem cells, with no animals or environments harmed along the way.
- Advances in biotechnology have begun converging with advances in agrotechnology.
Planet earth will don an electric skin. It will use the Internet as a scaffold to support and transmit its sensations. The skin is already being stitched together. It consists of millions of embedded electronic measuring devices: thermostats, pressure gauges, pollution detectors, cameras, microphones, glucose sensors, EKGs, electroencephalographs. These will monitor cities and endangered species, the atmosphere, our ships, highways and fleets of trucks, our conversations, our bodies—even our dreams. From the edge of space to the bottom of the ocean to the inside of your bloodstream, our electric skin is producing a sensorium of endlessly available information. Like it or not, we now live on a hyperconscious planet.
Until recently, most genius was squandered. One % of the population qualifies. Technically, this makes for 75 million geniuses in the world. But how many of them get to make an impact? One of the by-products of our hyper-connected world is that these extraordinary individuals will no longer be casualties of class, country, or culture.
That is good news because
- Parking lots cover more than a third of the land area.
- You might not mind living farther afield, where lower-cost real estate lets you buy more house for less money. A location will no longer be an issue.
- Marketing and sales as we know it will disappear.
- As the online population doubles, we’re likely to witness one of the most historic accelerations of technological innovation and global economic progress yet seen.
- Within a decade, we will live in a world where just about anything that can be measured will be measured, constantly. It’s a world of exceptionally radical transparency.
- We can solve the housing crisis.
- We will have abundant energy and energy storage.
- Carbon scrubbing at scale, powered by solar (a system 10% the size of the Sahara Desert), could reduce CO2 in the atmosphere to pre-industrial levels in about a decade.
- You will stay healthy longer, and you will live longer too.
- Tools once accessible to only the wealthiest companies and the largest government labs are now available at near-zero prices to just about anyone.
- We are going to have a lot of fun.
- Climate change will be solved.
- We will be saving $210 billion per year on procedures patients don’t need.
- Massive savings on insurance.
- Zero food waste.
- Food in abundance.
- 37% of the globe’s landmass and 75% of its freshwater resources are currently devoted to farming: 11% for crops, the rest for beef and dairy. All available to plant trees.
The bad news
- 40% of today’s Fortune 500 companies will be gone in ten years, replaced, for the most part, by upstarts we’ve not yet heard of.
- Our biggest companies and government agencies were designed in another century, for purposes of safety and stability. Built to last, as the saying goes. They were not built to withstand rapid, radical change.
- AI and VR open you up to extreme forms manipulation
- When VR’s done correctly, for neurobiological reasons, we can’t tell we’re in the Matrix.
- Marketing and sales as we know it will disappear.
- There is capital in abundance to develop new ideas.
- Deeper fakes.
- The end of reading
Richard Watson wrote “Future Files”, and one of the concepts he introduced is the extinction timeline. Blindness will disappear. So will Belgium apparently. Diamandis and Kottler predict:
- The end of the supply chain
- The end of waste
- No more advertising
- Education as we know it
- The end of hospitals
- The end of inefficiency
We are in the way
The book finishes with chapters about climate (water, migration, urbanisation, land use, etc.) but remains optimistic about the future. For example, immigration is an innovation asset, with an enormous positive impact on economies (Germany was right). In general, the authors think that our innovations may have caught up with our problems. Collaboration is the missing piece of the puzzle. If we’re going to make the shift to sustainable at the speed required, then we, the people are both the obstacle and the opportunity.
Which is why the books finished with the invention of the brain mesh and the brain band, connecting out brain directly to the web. Which will move us out of our normal brain-based singular consciousness and into a cloud-based collective consciousness, a hive mind. If this were possible, would we hang on to our singular consciousness for long, or would we start to migrate into the collective mind that’s evolving online?
From the individual to the collective
Before you answer, consider three more details. First, we humans are an extremely social species. Loneliness, according to too many studies, is one of the great and deadly terrors of the modern era. The desire for connection is a foundational human driver, an intrinsic motivator in the psychological parlance. But it’s not the only one in play. The closest humans have come to a hive mind is the experience known as “group flow,” the shared, collective version of a flow state. And since the origin of life on this planet, the trajectory of evolution has always been from the individual to the collective.
That means, over the next century, technological acceleration may do more than just disrupt industries and institutions, it may actually disrupt the progress of biologically based intelligence on Earth. This break will birth a new species, one progressing at exponential speeds, both a mass migration and a meta-intelligence, and, ultimately, here at the tail end of our tale, yet another reason the future is faster than we think.