I’ve been reading and thinking about the future a lot recently, and decided to spend a week “nerding out” at Singularity University, to satisfy my curiosity. It was a great event, featuring experts from across the entire spectrum of technology and innovation. In this post I’ll share the ideas I’ve been developing for some time — based on my own research as well as time at spent at SU — on how we should think about the future and the myriad opportunities it presents.
I am extremely optimistic about our future being a world where powerful technologies solve some of our biggest challenges across a range of industries from medicine to transportation to energy and many others. This will result in a significantly better standard of living for all as well as many remarkable inventions, in the same way that we live significantly better and different lives than our great great grandparents did. The rate of change is starting to achieve breakneck speed with breakthrough inventions, new businesses, and technologies announced every week and it’s only going to accelerate. However, it will also bring it’s own share of ethical, cultural and societal challenges that while are non-trivial, I’m confident we will ultimately solve.
Much of this innovation is built on a foundation of expanding capabilities including increasing processing power, more connectivity, increasingly inexpensive memory and a proliferation of sensors. As our world becomes increasingly digitized it will also become increasingly democratized. Buckle up and get ready for our incredible future.
THE INNOVATION CYCLE:
1. It’s particularly hard to predict the future as it’s counter-intuitive to think exponentially, which is why so many forecasters get it wrong. However, many of the principles underlying technology development are exponential, meaning we often overestimate the short term impact, but underestimate the long term impact.
2. The nature of disruption is that disruptive companies often start out with inferior products that are attractive to only a few people and consequently ignored or ridiculed by incumbents. However, these companies leverage technologies to scale rapidly and provide superior benefits over time that incumbents are either unable or unwilling to do or are simply too late to address.
3. Innovation is like a relay race, where one group creates something, passes it on to the next group, and so on. The process starts with visionaries passing to innovators, who pass to entrepreneurs, who pass to empire builders, to commercialize the technology on a mass scale. Successful technology investing is about getting the timing right, by understanding the innovation cycle.
4. We should be very excited about the ability for super-intelligence to help solve many of the most important and challenging problems we face today, given that so many technological breakthroughs happen through deep science as well as the intersection between disciplines.
5. As consumer technologies improve, size, power use, computation and connectivity will become largely irrelevant and we will increasingly value usability, data, analytics and latency. Companies that excel here will do well.
6. Certain technology companies built from proprietary data, public data or IP assets will become increasingly weak as companies and communities look to disrupt incumbents by providing free or nearly free data as a way to change the playing field in their favor or drive adoption of their services.
7. Falling in love with a robot or AI will make a lot of people very happy. Bring it on.
ROBOTICS/DRONES/SELF DRIVING CARS
8. Drones are emerging as a mass-market product and are the first example of the rise of ubiquitous robotic devices in our societies. Increased processing power and use of sensors, reduced cost, more advanced programing interfaces, and lower manufacturing costs will take robots into the mainstream.
9. Robots become a lot more interesting when they do things that humans can’t do rather than just getting them to replace what humans do today.
10. The transition to self-driving electric car networks (think automated Uber or Lyft) will have profound impacts on neighborhoods and everyday life. It will happen far faster than people think and likely before people are prepared for it. Beyond the obvious benefits of being able to put your attention elsewhere during the commute, it will change our homes, neighborhoods and cities. For larger cities this will be hugely beneficial to the quality of life and likely accelerate urbanization.
11. The electric car revolution will start slowly and then accelerate rapidly in part as gas stations start to become economically unviable, which will tip the market to make it more inconvenient to have a traditional car.
12. Technology transformation driven by transformation in the robotics, manufacturing and agriculture industries will decimate the traditional supply chains and industrial transportation systems we are used to and that form a large part of our economy. This will create lots of new entrepreneurial opportunities.
13. 3D printing advances will spur dramatic medical and manufacturing improvements. Near term that means faster iteration cycles in manufacturing as well as personalized cartilage and bone printing. Long term, nano and molecular printing will create devices and robots that will transform medicine as well as many other industries as well as 3D printing of new organs.
14. The genomic testing cost curve is falling faster than Moore’s Law and will be pennies within a decade. It will have a profound impact on healthcare while also enabling consumer health products and “crazy ideas” like intelligent toilets and showers built from powerful sensors.
15. Our current healthcare system is largely reactive. Large scale inexpensive genetic testing, combined with data analytics, will transform medicine into a more predictive and preventative model. This will help develop cures for the major killers of our time such as cancer and neurological diseases.
16. Medicine will increasingly be transformed by applying analytics and intelligence to vast stores of digitized medical records and additional information created by ubiquitous, inexpensive sensors. Usability, fragmentation and regulation will continue to be a huge challenge.
17. Want to live forever? Currently newborns in developing countries are adding about 2 ½ years in their life expectancy every decade. As technology continues to improve at an exponential rate, the increases in longevity will accelerate to add 5 years every decade, then 10 years every decade. At which point newborns (likely with the resources to pay for it), will theoretically be expected to live forever. We will be forced to figure out a lot of financial, cultural, societal problems related to longevity well before then. Technology and innovation is transforming these areas as well.
FINANCE & THE ECONOMY
18. Blockchain, a distributed database technology that is resistant to tampering and revision, will transform the way that our financial institutions work in the very near future and it will be almost completely invisible (thankfully) to us all.
19. Virtual Reality will quickly improve and then become indistinguishable as an experience from reality, ultimately surpassing it in terms of experience and functionality. This will have a lasting and truly profound impact on our society.
20. The cost to create solar energy is falling rapidly and will soon become the most economic, and ultimately the most common form of energy creation.
21. Policy and social dynamics are likely the biggest barrier to energy transformation over the next several decades, not technology.
22. Innovations around storage and transmission are likely to have an equal or larger impact on energy use than generation technologies.
23. Increasing digitization will create significant potential vulnerabilities; consequently investments in security will grow as fast or faster than in technology.
24. It’s likely that skills needed for workers will change substantially during their career and they will need to be re-trained multiple times to keep up. This will require a fresh approach to careers and education.
25. Our children and their children will inherit a very different world, so for them to be successful we can help them by ensuring they are: continuous learners, good at STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math), critical thinkers, in touch with their creativity, and empathetic.
THE ORGANIZATION OF THE FUTURE
26. There will be increasing performance pressure on organizations and executives with the rise of exponential technologies and shortening product cycles. This will further shorten the lifespan of most businesses. The most successful organizations of the future are those that truly embrace and distribute scalable learning throughout their organizations.
27. It’s much easier to affect change with fashion in a short period of time compared to other parts of society or our economy like commerce, infrastructure, government, culture, etc. Companies that will be able to navigate and drive rapid technological change will be those that have an understanding of fashion and all things cool.
28. One proposal to ease the likely dramatic destruction (and subsequent recreation) of jobs is the basic income movement which proposes that governments give everyone a basic or nominal income if they are working or not, helping them navigate societal and workplace disruption.
29. It’s expected that nearly half of the current US jobs will be eliminated within a decade or two due to computerization and robots. However, the number is even higher in less developed countries.
30. Job elimination and dislocation due to AI and robotics is clearly predictable and inevitable in the future just as different technologies have impacted jobs in the past. How societies and governments will evolve and react is far less predictable.
31. While exponential technologies will help individuals in all levels of society, unless there is significant governmental or societal change, it’s clear that they will disproportionately help the more affluent who will have first access to them, leading to greater inequality not less.
32. Certain forward-thinking developing countries will have the opportunity to “leapfrog” developing nations in their build out of certain types of infrastructure as they have done with the adoption of cellular networks, to build economic advantage. Just like a start-up beating out an incumbent with a more efficient, non-legacy model.
33. The future reflects many of the stories that are commonplace in our traditional religions: life after death, out of body experiences, disease eradication, solving paralysis, super-intelligence, telepresence, etc.. Is this coincidence, is it our human nature to seek solutions to these problems? How do religions react when ancient “miracles” become commonplace?
34. Society is likely to become more human or perhaps embrace and value our naked humanity more within our increasingly digitized lives. As technology becomes more invisible, people move up through Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs and appreciate things in the natural world around them in ways previous generations have been unable to.
Pete Flint is an investor and advisor to technology companies, you can follow him at: https://twitter.com/peteflint & https://www.linkedin.com/in/peteflint . Pete is the Founder and former CEO of Trulia, the online real estate service, and founding team member of lastminute.com the leading online travel service.