Diamandis & Kotler on Exponential Progress

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Over the past 150,000 years, Homo sapiens evolved in a world that was “local and linear,” but today’s environment is “global and exponential.” In our ancestor’s local environment, most everything that happened in their day happened within a day’s walk. In their linear environment, change was excruciatingly slow— life from generation to the next was effectively the same— and what change did arrive always followed a linear progression. To give you a sense of the difference, if I take thirty linear steps (calling one step a meter) from the front door of my Santa Monica home, I end up thirty meters away. However, if I take thirty exponential steps (one, two, four, eight, sixteen, thirty-two, and so on), I end up a billion meters away, or, effectively lapping the globe twenty-six times.

 

Today’s global and exponential world is very different from the one that our brain evolved to comprehend. Consider the sheer scope of data we now encounter. A week’s worth of the New York Times contains more information than the average seventeenth-century citizen encountered in a lifetime. And the volume is growing exponentially. “From the very beginning of time until the year 2003,” says Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt, “humankind created five exabytes of digital information. An exabyte is one billion gigabytes— or a 1 with eighteen zeroes after it. Right now, in the year 2010, the human race is generating five exabytes of information every two days. By the year 2013, the number will be five exabytes produced every ten minutes … It’s no wonder we’re exhausted.”

 

The issue, then, is that we are interpreting a global world with a system built for local landscapes. And because we’ve never seen it before, exponential change makes even less sense. “Five hundred years ago, technologies were not doubling in power and halving in price every eighteen months,” writes Kevin Kelly in his book What Technology Wants. “Waterwheels were not becoming cheaper every year. A hammer was not easier to use from one decade to the next. Iron was not increasing in strength. The yield of corn seed varied by the season’s climate, instead of improving each year. Every 12 months, you could not upgrade your oxen’s yoke to anything much better than what you already had.” The disconnect between the local and linear wiring of our brain and the global and exponential reality of our world is creating what I call a “disruptive convergence.” Technologies are exploding and conjoining like never before, and our brains can’t easily anticipate such rapid transformation. Our current means of governance and its supporting regulatory structures aren’t designed for this pace. Look at the financial markets. Over the past decade, billion-dollar companies like Kodak, Blockbuster, and Tower Records collapsed nearly overnight, while new billion-dollar companies appeared out of nowhere. YouTube went from start-up to being acquired by Google for $ 1.65 billion in eighteen months. Groupon, meanwhile, went from start-up to a valuation of $ 6 billion in under two years. Historically, value has never been created this quickly.

 

This presents us with a fundamental psychological problem. Abundance is a global vision built on the backbone of exponential change, but our local and linear brains are blind to the possibility, the opportunities it may present, and the speed at which it will arrive. Instead we fall prey to what’s become known as the “hype cycle.” We have inflated expectations when a novel technology is first introduced, followed by short-term disappointment when it doesn’t live up to the hype. But this is the important part: we also consistently fail to recognize the post-hype, massively transformative nature of exponential technologies— meaning that we literally have a blind spot for the technological possibilities underlying our vision of abundance.

 

Diamandis, Peter H.; Kotler, Steven (2012-02-21). Abundance: The Future Is Better Than You Think (Kindle Locations 727-728). Free Press. Kindle Edition.

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