Everything Is Accelerated (5 Pictures, 500 Words)

An analysis of the history of technology shows that technological change is exponential…….. we won’t experience 100 years of progress in the 21st century — it will be more like 20,000 years of progress (at today’s rate)[i].

Law of Accelerating Returns

Ray Kurzweil, Futurist, Google Director of Engineering

Everything is happening faster and we must adapt. Consider change across five inter-related dimensions: Raw Capability (both human and technological), Employment and Productivity, Business, Technology Development and Adoption, and Contextual References.

Capability: Exponential Growth in Computing + We Are Getting Smarter
If Ray Kurzweil is correct in his expansion of Moore’s Law, we will soon have technological capability that surpasses our collective human intelligence. While computing power advances exponentially, we are actually, according to the Flynn Effect, responding to the complexity of our environments with IQ advancements. Where we once faced simply navigating the concrete world, today’s complexity requires not only creating order out of what is but also hypothesizing, imagining what could be — preparing for rapid change.

Employment: Rise of the Robots
According to Andrew McAfee due to advancements in technology, productivity is outpacing private employment. In short, today we have more human consumers than human producers. This will accelerate. Any mental or physical routine will be robotized.

Business: Faster Scale, Faster Disruption
In the old economy it took a company in the Fortune 500, on average, 20 years to reach a billion dollar valuation[ii]. Today it takes less than five. Companies on the S&P 500 once lasted 65 years[iii]. Today, they average fifteen years. Platforms connect the mobile device ubiquity and the contingent labor force, allowing companies to form and scale quickly — leading to both faster growth and disruption cycles.

Technology: Adoption is Faster

The real driving force behind all this change is not only the rapid amelioration of technology but also the swift and widespread adoption of it. Historically the acceptance of new technology took multiple decades. The mobile smart phone, at 75% adoption in the U.S. today[iv], is the key technological innovation that sparked the expansion of social media. Social media led to the co-creation of content, and then the collaborative economy led to the co-creation of companies. We are now moving from the linear to exponential with technological advancements from artificial intelligence to unmanned aerial vehicles to fully autonomous transportation that will transform our lives and recreate our contextual references. We have begun to adapt by relinquishing our need to retain any content we can access — phone numbers, maps, dates, facts, figures, etc. Soon, we will relinquish other forms of control.

Contextual Reference: Evolution of Call Me

To connect all these dots and bring it home, consider the simple term “call me” — a familiar example to illustrate how quickly our contextual references have changed. Consider the horizon in front of us of things we speculate about today. What does “drive” mean now vs. what it will mean when we have autonomous vehicles. Physical mail was replaced with electronic communications, but what will drone proliferation bring? What does money mean when it is no longer a tangible currency because we are either cashless or immersed in virtual currency or both? What other contextual references will morph into ways that we have not even thought of yet?

Everything is happening faster and this is just the beginning.

Data Sources:

CAPABILITY: Ray Kurzweil (Exponential Growth of Computing from Law of Accelerating Returns), James Flynn (Flynn Effect)

EMPLOYMENT: Productivity and Employment (Andrew McAfee), Robotic Acceleration (Kevin Kelly, Carl Benedikt Frey and Michael A. Osborne)

BUSINESS: (@Bill_Gross and Innosight)

TECHNOLOGY: (Singularity © Kurzweil, Transport Policy Institute, Driverless Car Market Watch)

PERSPECTIVE: (Tim Urban on Artificial Intelligence at Wait But Why)

Suggested Readings (Please send suggestions and I will expand this list)

About Heather McGowan

Heather McGowan works at the intersection of the future of work, the collaborative economy, and higher education. She advises presidents, provosts, and other senior leadership in higher educational institutions to work with faculty and staff to make the transformational changes necessary to thrive in this emerging new normal. Most recently she advised the President and Provost of Philadelphia University on the creation of the Kanbar College of Design, Engineering, and Commerce — the first undergraduate college in the US focused exclusively and explicitly on innovation. This college has won national awards, was endowed with a $20M gift, and is the subject of the collaboratively written book, Disrupt Together: How Teams Consistently Innovate (Pearson 2013). Ms. McGowan recently began advising the President of Becker College in Massachusetts on their strategy to transform Becker College to Becker University, with an explicit focus on addressing the complex, changing landscape of higher education and the importance of an agile mindset

Ms. McGowan also provides strategic visioning work and future of work advisory service to corporate clients.

[i] Ray Kurzweil, Law of Accelerating Returns, http://www.kurzweilai.net/the-law-of-accelerating-returns

[ii] @Bill_Gross via Twitter @Davos

[iii] Creative Destruction (2012, Innosight) http://www.innosight.com/innovation-resources/strategy-innovation/upload/creative-destruction-whips-through-corporate-america_final2012.pdf

[iv] Social Media Today (2015) http://www.socialmediatoday.com/technology-data/2015-02-15/us-smartphone-penetration-reaches-75-percent

Originally published at www.linkedin.com on March 25, 2015.

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