The pace of innovation

One of the things I love about Necker Island is being able to invite fascinating people to listen and learn from. We recently welcomed a group of the world’s leading thinkers on cutting-edge technologies, to hear about the pace of innovation, the power of the individual, and the growing risks and opportunities for humanity.

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The group was led by Dione Spiteri and my friend Gabriel Baldinucci, who previously worked with me for five years, and who is now growing Singularity University. They explained how we are at a unique point in history, with technology accelerating all around us at exponential rates. This isn’t random, they argued, but accelerating according to predictable curves. These speeds increase once they become digitised, which is why your laptop, TV and phone get smaller, faster and better every year. Ray Kurzweil, co-founder of Singularity, explains this fully in his book, The Singularity Is Near.

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Peter Diamandis, the other co-founder at Singularity, also founded the XPRIZE, which led to the creation of Virgin Galactic. He sees technology as a resource liberating force. It makes what once was scarce abundant, from the internet to water, energy to cheaper, smarter phones. Peter believes technology breakthroughs will soon enable us to solve humanity’s biggest challenges, such as food, water, energy, health, education, prosperity, security, and governance, helping billions of people.

When I say technology, we were talking about everything from computing, solar and other energy technologies, biotech and synthetic biology, 3D printing and materials, medical and healthcare technologies, virtual reality and augmented reality, robotics, artificial intelligence and satellites. Not only are all of these technologies advancing at exponential rates every year, they are converging, which is enabling additional breakthroughs. For example, start-ups are building smaller and more powerful satellites and they can't afford to launch them on existing big rockets. So we are building the small satellite launch service LauncherOne to enable them to access space and help improve life on earth.

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Improved solar and battery technologies will drive the cost of energy so low that it is abundant, allowing people to also clean water and food shortage challenges. Artificial intelligence and robots will be ubiquitous and provide services from healthcare to driving. Genetic engineering and stem cell technologies will make great strides forward – there is much to be hopeful about.

But it’s not all a rosy picture - these technologies have risks and unintended side effects. First is that is that they can be used by criminals as well. Cybercrime and even cyberwarfare between countries are increasing risks, as are long-term concerns about jobs as AI and robots accelerate. While technology benefits humanity, those benefits are not always distributed evenly and there will be many individuals displaced along the way. What good is a bunch of cheap technologies and self-driving cars if you can’t find a job? Moreover, with some of our global challenges, we are in a race for our very lives. Disease resistant bacteria and runaway climate change are just two of threats that we are currently losing the battle against, potentially threatening most of humanity.

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What we learned and discussed truly needs to be understood all over the world, especially by global leaders of government and business, but also by individual entrepreneurs. How can governments and businesses organise against these threats and turn them into opportunities? How can individuals access tech to create solutions that impact billions of people, and thrive in this world of disruption? These are just some of the questions the Singularity community is discussing.

Entrepreneurs can, and should, strive for moonshot solutions, versus just another derivative app. That takes a different kind of thinking that we all need to promote. There has never been a better time to be an entrepreneur, and never a more important time to use business as a force for good. For those who have companies already, it means steering your resources and innovation efforts to moonshots and tackling big, pressing problems. This is also what Singularity University is all about - people using business as a force for good, pursuing moonshots using all of these technologies to solve the world’s biggest problems. To learn more about exponential technologies, and join the community, head over to Singularity University.

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There is a path to a better world in front of us, but there will be many pitfalls and challenges along the way for us to navigate, and we will need as many people as possible building the future we want for our children. The stakes are high but you have never had so much power to participate. What will you do?

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