| Vivek Wadhwa |
Review: “Bold: How to Go Big, Create Wealth and Impact the World” by Peter H Diamandis & Steven Kotler (Simon & Schuster, 336 pages)
JUST as an asteroid wiped out the dinosaurs that ruled the Earth and made way for small furry mammals, a new wave of planetary disruptions is about to occur.
The new asteroid is called “exponential technology”.
It is going to wipe out industries in a similar manner to the rock which fell on Earth during the Cretaceous Period.
That is the premise of a new book, ‘Bold’, by Peter Diamandis and Steven Kotler. It makes bold predictions and teaches entrepreneurs how to thrive in the same way as our mammalian ancestors: By being nimble and resilient.
In their previous book, ‘Abundance: The Future Is Better Than You Think’, Diamandis and Kotler discussed how advancing technologies are making it possible to solve problems that have long plagued humanity, such as disease, hunger and shortages of energy.
The authors analysed the exponential progress of fields such as computing, medicine, 3-D printing, robotics, and artificial intelligence and postulated that shortages of material goods and knowledge would soon be a thing of the past; that humanity is heading into an amazing era of abundance.
I used to be pessimistic about the future, fearing overpopulation; worldwide shortages of food, water and energy; pandemics and disease; and a bankruptcy of our health care and social welfare systems.
Then, about three years ago, I joined the faculty of what is effectively an “abundance think-tank”, Singularity University, which had been founded by Diamandis and legendary futurist Ray Kurzweil.
I learned that the future that Diamandis described in ‘Abundance’ is coming true – and doing so faster than we would expect.
But I have also come to fear that Singularity University’s futurists are overlooking some of the risks in exponential technologies, particularly the legal and ethical dilemmas they are creating.
As well, automation and industry disruption will have many negative social consequences – such as the elimination of the vast majority of jobs.
Humans may have their physical needs met and live healthier and longer lives, but what about their social and professional needs?
This is what I would criticise ‘Bold’ for: It looks only on the bright side.
But I know that in their hearts Diamandis and my futurist colleagues believe that mankind will rise to the occasion and better itself; that it will avert the catastrophes.
The key premise of ‘Bold’ – that entrepreneurs can solve global-scale problems – is based on a framework called the “six Ds of exponentials”: Digitalisation, deception, disruption, demone-tisation, dematerialisation, and democratisation.
These are a chain reaction of technological progress, the path that technology takes, to create the upheaval – and the opportunity.
Everything is being digitised these days, with the pace of information exchange increasing and causing acceleration in the pace of innovation.
‘Bold’ explains that this type of exchange was slow in the early days of our species when all we had as a means of transmission was storytelling around the campfire.
It picked up with the invention of writing and later, of the printing press and the photocopier, then exploded with the digital representation, storage and exchange of ideas that computers enabled.
Anything that could be digitised could spread at the speed of light (or at least the speed of the Internet) and became free to reproduce and share. This spreading has followed a consistent pattern of exponential growth.
This is what happens when an innovation creates a new market and disrupts an existing one.
Kodak became a victim of its own invention, the digital camera; Uber is wreaking havoc in the taxi industry; AirBnB is challenging hotels; self-driving cars will disrupt the transportation, delivery, insurance and many other industries; and robotics and 3-D printing will cause upheaval in manufacturing.
This is a period during which exponential growth goes mostly unnoticed and incumbents play down the threat of advancing technologies.
The doubling of numbers on an exponential curve is at first so small that the numbers seem insignificant or linear.
Kodak underestimated the threat from the digital camera because the earlier versions of the technology were so limited.
Its first digital camera had 0.01 megapixels – which posed no threat to film. Then this doubled to 0.02, 0.02 to 0.04, 0.04 to 0.08. Then it exceeded a megapixel and doubled several times more, resulting in millionfold improvements – and the end of photographic film – and Kodak, which filed for bankruptcy in 2012.
This is how solar energy is progressing today.
By reaching the one per cent mark in US installations, it is only six doublings – or less than 14 years – away from meeting practically all of today’s energy needs.
Technology makes things practically free. Digital cameras made film free in a way; it became digital, measured in megapixels.
Computers are becoming cheaper and cheaper, with our smartphones having more processing power than multimillion-dollar supercomputers once did.
Many sophisticated apps are already free. Once costly video-editing software is now available in the Instagram app. Knowledge is practically free now. You can find almost any information on the Web.
Technology advances are making entire product lines disappear. Take your smartphone, for example. It does the work of a camera, a watch, a GPS receiver, a VCR, music player, a video-game console, a calculator, a flashlight … and you can download apps that turn it into an encyclopedia, a medical assistant and a book reader.
The cellphone used to be an object of luxury – for the privileged few.
Now, practically every family in the developing world owns one.
Billions more people will come online in this decade and gain access to the same apps, knowledge and technologies as we have.
Medical devices that connect to smartphones already cost a tiny fraction of what their hospital counterparts do; 3-D printers will become as affordable as laser printers are; energy prices will fall exponentially in price through access to sunlight.
As technology advances, it becomes cheaper and more powerful. Companies such as Google and Facebook become worth billions by reaching billions.
That is the key point that ‘Bold’ makes “the best way to become a billionaire is to solve a billion person problem”.
Entrepreneurs can, I am certain, make all of these advances happen and profoundly affect billions.
We just need an exponential advance in humanity’s social consciousness so that technologies find roles in bettering humankind, not just in creating wealth for their founders and owners in the way that some Silicon Valley technologies do. – (WP-BLOOM)