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Future Shock redux ?

04/27/2015

I attended a lecture entitled “The Age of Abundance” yesterday.  That title reminded me of a book I read back in the 1970s called The Age of Leisure which argued that technology was making work unnecessary and that Americans were ill-equipped to deal with too much free time.  It never said “idle hands are the devil’s tools” but it might have.  I concluded this was just mindless optimism on steroids and have rarely thought of it since then.

Yesterday’s speaker is a unique person.  Peter Diamandis has degrees in molecular genetics and aeronautical engineering from MIT and a medical degree from Harvard.  He is a bright person, indeed.  He has started several hi-tech companies in Silicon Valley and has numerous university assignments.  He is most famous for orchestrating the X-Prize, which awarded $10 million to the first company sending a manned spacecraft into space twice within two weeks.

Some of his key points were:

1.  Mankind used to be “local & linear”, meaning everything that affected him was in the general locality and change occurred at a linear pace, e.g., 1,2,3,4,5,6 and so forth.  Mankind is now “global & exponential”, meaning we are affected by events around the globe and change is occurring at an exponential pace, e.g., 1,2,4,8,16,32,64 and so forth.

2.  Five billion more people will have access to the internet in 10 years, and IBM’s monster computer called “Watson” will be available to everyone everywhere.

3.  If you are not disrupting yourself, you will be disrupted by someone else.  In 1920, the average age of the companies in the S&P 500 was 67 years.  Today, it is only 15 years.  In ten years, 40% of the companies in the S&P 500 will no longer exist.

Afterwards, I recalled reading Future Shock by Alvin Toffler in 1970, who argued that change is coming at a logarithmic rate, meaning the rate of change was getting faster and faster everyday.  Fast change produces even faster change.  Most of us would probably agree with that.  I think Diamandis is repeating Toffler’s change but concluded with the statement that we haven’t even seen 1% of the change yet.  Technology has big plans for us!

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