Welcome to the Exponential Age

Future or Past

The Exponential Age: That’s what Udo Gollub calls life as we now know it. He begins a recent article with this:

In 1998, Kodak had 170,000 employees and sold 85% of all photo paper worldwide. Within just a few years, their business model disappeared and they went bankrupt.

What happened to Kodak will happen in a lot of industries in the next 10 years – and most people don’t see it coming. Did you think in 1998 that 3 years later you would never take pictures on paper film again? Surprisingly digital cameras were invented in 1975. It was a disappointment for a long time and written off as fantasy…until it wasn’t. And then a fixture of American innovation and business crumbled. Why didn’t they see it coming? Do you view the future through the same lens as Kodak?

The same thing is happening with artificial intelligence, autonomous and electric cars, education, 3D printing, agriculture and even jobs. But this time structural changes won’t take centuries or decades to complete. The technological change of the next 10 years will have the same impact as the Industrial Revolution did in the 19th century. But instead of 100 years, it will happen in only 10 years.

Leading the disruption is software. Uber is just a software tool, they don’t own any cars, and are now the biggest taxi company in the world. Airbnb is now the biggest hotel company in the world, although they don’t own any properties. What software might rock your industry, your business model, your job?

Will it be artificial intelligence?

Watson already helps physicians and nurses diagnose cancer, 4 times more accurate than humans. Facebook has pattern recognition software that can recognize faces better than humans. In the US, young lawyers already don’t get jobs. Because of IBM Watson, you can get basic legal advice within seconds, with 90% accuracy compared with 70% accuracy when done by humans.

How about autonomous cars?

In 2018 the first self-driving cars will appear for the public. You will call a car with your phone. It will show up at your location and drive you to your destination. You will only pay for the driven distance and can be productive while driving. Think taxi without a driver! You won’t want or need to own a car anymore. As traditional car companies try the evolutionary approach and just build a better car, tech companies (Tesla, Apple, Google, etc.) take a revolutionary approach and build a computer on wheels.

It’s not just the automobile companies that will be affected. Self-driving trucks will solve the problem they have with finding enough qualified drivers. But they will also detach nearly 9 million truck drivers from their current jobs. Insurance companies too will have massive trouble because, without accidents, insurance will become 100 times cheaper. The current car insurance business model will disappear.

Even real estate will change. If you can work while you commute, people will have more options and may move further away to live in a more affordable community.

3D Printing? The space station now has a printer that eliminates the need for the large amount of spare parts they used to have in the past.The price of the cheapest 3D printer came down from $18,000 to $400 within 10 years. In the same time, it became 100 times faster. Spare airplane parts are already 3D printed in remote airports. All major shoe companies started 3D printing shoes. At the end of this year, new smartphones will have 3D scanning possibilities. You can then 3D scan your feet and print your perfect shoe at home. By 2027, 10% of everything that’s being produced will be 3D printed.

Longevity? Right now, the average lifespan increases by 3 months per year. Four years ago, the life span used to be 79 years. Today it’s 80 years. By 2036, there will be more than a one-year increase per year and 100 years old will bethe new 60!

Education? By 2020, 70% of all humans will own a smartphone. The cheapest smartphones are already at $10 in Africa and Asia. Every child in the world can use Khan Academy to access everything a child learns at school in First World countries. That means everyone will soon have the same access to world class education regardless of socioeconomic status or geography. What will this do the traditional classroom model from elementary school to universities?

Whatever the industry you’re in or the goods or service you use or produce, here’s a simple rule: if it doesn’t work with a phone, your business and business model may be history. Gollub (along with a lot of very smart people) agree that “almost any idea designed for success in the 20th century is doomed to fail inthe 21st century.”

Will they be right? Or are you still betting on your past and feel time is on your side?

And last but not least. Here’s an app that can’t come soon enough. By 2020, there will be apps that can tell by your facial expressions if you are lying. Imagine a political debate where its results are displayed while the candidates are talking.

To read the full article by Gollub, click here.


Ira S Wolfe