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The age of exponentiality: What is it and what does it look like in business?

by Su Kent

January 20, 2022

We are always being told that the pace of technological change won’t slow any time soon, but this could turn out to be an understatement. The changes that the future has in store for us are not merely transitional, but exponential.

This was the thesis of Adam Healey (Europe digital manager and project lead at EssilorLuxottica) during November’s Boye 21 Digital Leadership conference in Aarhus, Denmark.

The digital revolution has not been kind to businesses that were too slow to adapt, but in our exponential future, Healey argued, it will be even more challenging and chaotic for businesses to leverage change – and for society to absorb it. “A good example of this problem of exponentiality is Facebook, which went from a campus website to having almost three billion active users in under two decades. Society is still trying to catch up with the phenomenon.”

Exponentiality is difficult to think about. “If you’ve walked 30 steps in a linear fashion, you have travelled 30 meters,” Healey said. “But if you walk 30 exponential steps , you walk a billion meters. That’s the kind of change in speed we’re talking about.”

This is scary and exhilarating at the same time.

“Right now is probably the most exciting time to be in business when we think about the possibilities, but it’s also one of the scariest because we have five converging macro technologies that are going to be extremely disruptive.”

These were the technological shifts Healey highlighted in his talk:

1.) DNA sequencing

In January 2022, Stanford Medicine published research that set the first Guinness World Record for the fastest DNA sequencing technique, which took just five hours and two minutes to sequence a human genome. The cost of DNA sequencing has also dropped dramatically from $1m 10 years ago to roughly $1,000 today. However, the implications of this technological advance are still poorly understood outside the scientific community. DNA sequencing and AI will synergize to help us understand our bodies better and add 40 years of healthy life to many people already living today. “This will impact work trends massively,” Healey says.

2.) Artificial intelligence (AI)

It’s been over 20 years since Steven Spielberg released his futuristic movie A.I. Artificial Intelligence – and we have seen many predictions since then that AI will soon think and act like human beings, and not just beat us at chess. “I don't think we’re anywhere near that yet,” says Healey, but the encounter of AI with other maturing technologies such as big data and the Internet of things will drive change in years to come. AI discovers patterns in data that are invisible to the naked eye, and will get exponentially better at that as the universe of data continues to expand.

3.) 3D printing

3D printing is no longer a novelty or a curiosity; architects are printing houses and we were told recently that as much of 95% of a space rocket can now be produced with 3D printing. In a recent survey of 3D printing entrepreneurs, one predicted that by 2030, there will be a 3D printer on the moon using lunar dust to build the floor, wall and ceilings of a permanent residence. Others are more cautious, predicting a so-called “long boom” in this transformative technology.

4.) Blockchain

In the popular mind, blockchain is associated principally with Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies, but it’s actually the latest evolution of the web.

The worldwide web was invented to democratize information, but then the internet consolidated around a handful of tech giants such as Facebook and Google. Blockchain blows this wide open because it decentralizes the internet.

The Achilles' heel of the technology appears to be its energy inefficiency; Bitcoin is heavily criticized by environmentalists for requiring vast amounts of energy to run its servers. However, this could be a short-term issue because energy storage is about to take a quantitative leap forward.

5.) Energy storage

It all comes down to price.

In late 2020, the International Energy Agency declared that the best solar power schemes offer “the cheapest energy in history”. We are getting exponentially better at capturing energy as well as storing it, with batteries declining in price by 20% on a compound basis over the last decade.

With gas price sky-rocketing in Europe it is hard to look over a horizon where deflationary pressures will have made energy super-abundant, almost infinite. This will mark a sharp break with the past, where the supply and cost of energy was a major factor in industrial progress. “That’s incredible. That’s a huge technological shift,” Healey said.

How to survive in a chaotic world

Perhaps the best way to reflect on these inevitable changes is to re-imagine your business in terms of what it would look like if you started it today. The other point of reference could be Steve Jobs, whose huge and continual anxiety centered on those businesses capable of disrupting the Apple business model. In the early days of the iPhone, the big global telecoms companies could have seized the initiative – but not only did they miss this opportunity, they failed to spot it altogether.

No doubt the exponential future will have its winners and losers, and many of the names that look impregnable today will be destroyed by it.

Healey’s biggest piece of advice? “Do not fear change. And do no unwish it.”

Adam Healey is an innovator at heart. He is leveraging Ibexa DXP to transform the way EssilorLuxottica talks to its end-customers, making the transition between the latter and EssilorLuxottica’s B2B partners, the opticians, as natural as possible.

If you would like to know how Ibexa DXP can future-proof the way you engage with your customers, please get in touch.

Tags

digital revolution
digital leadership
Exponential