A report on the Singularity University Germany summit.
A couple years ago, supercomputers were so extremely expensive, that only a few organizations were able to use them. Thomas Watson expected as president of IBM in 1943 that there would “only be a world market for 5 computers”. Today, the Rasberry Pi has the same memory as a supercomputer from 10 years ago and costs less than a cup of coffee. In China drones can transport human beings, newly announced phones this year will have 3D sensors and in 2020, sequencing a human genome will cost as much money as flushing a toilet. It was not a surprise that the World Economic Forum, where I just joined as Global Shaper, declared the ‘Fourth industrial revolution’, pointing towards the cyber physical systems. The current speed of technological developments is impressive; due to projects like Google Loon and the Facebook Drone project, by 2020 it is expected that an additional 3-5 billion people on earth will have access to the internet, with all associated consequences. Consumers enjoy the benefits of the exponential amount of new technologies, tools and platforms, but society is clearly not ready for it. The global infrastructure is not ready at all.
“The best way to predict your future, is to create it yourselves”
Consumers gain more and more power due to the sharply increasing amount of devices and technological possibilities. Internet of things devices are rapidly being developed and even faster being adopted. The prediction of the amount of IOT devices in 2020 has already been modified from 50 to 500 billion units. 3D printing has also moved from being a ‘nerd thing’ to the average household. Nike, currently producing 500 million shoes every year, expects that in 5 years consumers will 3D print their shoes at home. At Local Motors stores in the USA, consumers can print their own cars, Ardusat let consumers build their own satellite and tools like Mindwave are enabling brain scans for less than 100$. It’s wise to sometimes reflect if all technological developments are actually necessary; do a washing machine and thermostat need to talk with each other? And why should a fridge tell you if your milk is out of date, if you can smell it yourselves?
It’s time to act
At the Singularity University Germany Summit, I got uncomfortable excited by both hearing all these incredible new exponentially accelerating technologies and humanity’s greatest challenges at the moment.
“At no other time in human history, has there have ever been more opportunity in business, entrepreneurship and governance to solve humanity’s biggest problems. And at no other time in human history, have needed this more”. We are living in the most peaceful time in history, according to UNICEF, but still 1.2 billion people don’t have access to energy and hunger is a daily reality for almost a billion, contrasting the 2.1 billion obese. Planet earth has lost 52% of it’s biodiversity since 1970 and almost 93% of the great barrier reef has been bleached. “We’re all on this planet together. We better grow up and act like it!” According to Bono is his TED talk.
One of the fields, where technology can have a significant positive impact, is the area of self-driving cars. Every year, 1.2 million people are killed in car accidents, where 40% was caused by alcohol consumption. The cost of accidents has already surpassed the costs of gasoline and the most accurate predictions of ‘lost time’ due to travelling by car last year, is 50 billion hours. A recent milestone was reached in The Netherlands, where a unmanned bus drove over public roads. Companies like Apple are expected to deliver their first driverless car for the consumer market in 2019, but still a lot of regulatory debates should be held in order to make this happen.
“Technology is a resource liberating force”
The technical developments are not always praised. The rising debate about ‘robots taking over human jobs’ is growing, as more industries are exchanging their human workforce for robots and computers. In West-European countries, 47% of the jobs is expected to be automated in the upcoming two decades, in countries like China and Taiwan even 77%, according to researchers at Oxford. But, “The last 144 years demonstrates that when a machine replaces a human the result, paradoxically is faster growth and in time, rising employment”, according to Deloitte. The fact that the top 10 wanted jobs right now, didn’t exist 5 years ago is also supporting this. What to do with all the people, losing their jobs? Several governments are already experimenting with ‘free money for everyone’, as journalist Rutger Bregman nicely pointed out in his TED talk.
Artificial intelligence is taking the capacities of robots even a step further. According to Tesla founder Elon Musk, we should be “super awful with AI”, as it is “more dangerous than nukes”. Intelligence has become a utility and has for example already spawned out robots, beating the best ‘Go’ players. This technology is definitely expanding the range of possibility, but is raising questions if a new set of ethics should be developed. How much control should we relinquish to driverless cars or cyber guardians? Are we not building the real version of ‘The Terminator’?
If you’re not a software company, you will die
Experts at the SU Summit all agreed on the fact that “software is eating the world”. Everything will be in control of software, so if you’re not a software company, you will die. Or as David Rose mentioned it in his book; “every company designed for success in the 20th century is doomed to failure in the 21st century”. Cases of companies failing to adept to the rapid changing business environment vs. the ones who perfectly do, are abundant; from Hyatt vs Airbnb to Kodak vs. Instagram. However, there are also numerous cases of companies who demonstrated their perfect adaptation, like Apple, GE etc.
Accepting the fact that the smartest people in the world don’t work for you and also not for a competitor is causing several ‘exponential organizations’ to start working with ‘crowdsourcing’. Organizations like Lego, P&G Harley Davison and many more have already demonstrated the incremental opportunities with this new type of open source problem solving.
What is next? “The best way to predict your future is to create it!”