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Flying cars, hyperloop, Rockets, quantum computers, artificial intelligence, robotics, nanotechnology, biotechnology, material science, networks, sensors, 3-D printing, augmented reality, virtual reality, blockchain: Our Future is more disruptive and nearer that what you think.
A fascinating overview of our fast evolving lastest technologies.
This is our third exploration of how technology can extend the bounds of possibility and transform the world. Technically, it’s also the third book in “The Exponential Mindset Trilogy,” a series that includes this work and our two prior works, Abundance and BOLD.
Abundance is a book about how accelerating technologies are demonetizing and democratizing access to food, water, and energy, making resources that were once scarce now abundant, and allowing individuals to tackle impossible global challenges such as hunger, poverty, and disease.
In BOLD, we tell the story of a different impossible: how entrepreneurs have been harnessing these same technologies to build world-changing businesses in near record time, and providing a how-to playbook for anyone interested in doing the same.
Sure, AI is powerful. Augmented reality is too. But it’s their convergence that is reinventing retail, advertising, entertainment, and education—just to name a few of the major transformations still ahead.
here is little doubt that the decade to come will be filled with radical breakthroughs and world-changing surprises. As the chapters ahead make clear, every major industry on our planet is about to be completely reimagined. For entrepreneurs, for innovators, for leaders, for anyone sufficiently nimble and adventurous, the opportunities will be incredible. It will be both a future that’s faster than you think and arguably the greatest display of imagination rendered visible the world has yet seen. Welcome to an era of extraordinary.
PART ONE - THE POWER OF CONVERGENCE
CHAPTER ONE - Convergence
"Our goal is to introduce an entirely new form of transportation to the world, namely urban aviation, or what I prefer to call ‘aerial ridesharing."
“Uber’s goal,” explained Holden from the stage, “is to demonstrate flying car capability in 2020 and have aerial ridesharing fully operational in Dallas and LA by 2023.” But then Holden went even further: “Ultimately, we want to make it economically irrational to own and use a car.”
Uber’s main interest is in “electric vertical take-off and landing vehicles”—or eVTOLs for short.
Put all this together, and by 2027 or so, you’ll be able to order up an aerial rideshare as easily as you do an Uber today. And by 2030, urban aviation could be a major mode of getting from A to B.
The answer, in a word: Convergence.
any technology that doubles in power while dropping in price on a regular basis.
Moore’s Law is the reason the smartphone in your pocket is a thousand times smaller, a thousand times cheaper, and a million times more powerful than a supercomputer from the 1970s.
in 2023 the average thousand-dollar laptop will have the same computing power as a human brain (roughly 1016 cycles per second). Twenty-five years after that, that same average laptop will have the power of all the human brains currently on Earth.
The technologies now accelerating at this rate include some of the most potent innovations we have yet dreamed up: quantum computers, artificial intelligence, robotics, nanotechnology, biotechnology, material science, networks, sensors, 3-D printing, augmented reality, virtual reality, blockchain, and more.
When a new innovation creates a new market and washes away an existing one, we use the term “disruptive innovation” to describe it.
as exponential technologies converge, their potential for disruption increases in scale.
Helicopters, which are the closest model anyone has for a flying car, have been around for nearly eighty years—Igor Sikorsky built the world’s first one in 1939—yet they can’t come close to satisfying these requirements. Besides being loud and expensive, they have that bad habit of falling out of the sky. So why are Bell, Uber, Airbus, Boeing, and Embraer—just to name a few—bringing aerial taxis to market today?
Once again: Convergence.
imagine, instead of one main rotor overhead, a bunch of smaller rotors—like a row of small fans beneath a plane’s wing—whose combination generates enough lift to fly, but pumps out a lot less noise. Better yet, imagine if this multi-rotor system could fail gracefully, landing safely even if a couple rotors stopped working at once. Add to this design a single wing that enables speeds of 150 mph or more.
gasoline-powered engines make none of this possible. Enter distributed electric propulsion, or DEP for short.
But flying a DEP system is another story. Adjusting a dozen motors in microsecond intervals is beyond a human pilot’s skill. DEP systems are “fly-by-wire”—that is, computer controlled. And what produces that level of control? Another swarm of converging technologies.
First, an AI revolution gave us the computational processing horsepower to take in an ungodly amount of data, make sense of it in microseconds, and manipulate a multitude of electric motors and aircraft control surfaces accordingly, in real time.
Second, to sweep in all that data, you need to replace the pilot’s eyes and ears with sensors capable of processing gigabits of information at once. That means GPS, LIDAR, radar, an advanced visual imaging suite, and a plethora of microscopic accelerometers—many of which are the dividends of a decade of smartphone wars.
Finally, you’ll need batteries. They’ll have to last long enough to overcome range anxiety.
In the aerial ridesharing equation, we’ve solved safety and noise, but price still requires a few more innovations.
the answer to “Why now?”—is the result of a dozen different technologies converging. It’s progress at a rate that we’ve not seen before. And this is a problem for us.
The human brain evolved in an environment that was local and linear. Local, meaning most everything that we interacted with was less than a day’s walk away. Linear, meaning the rate of change was exceptionally slow.
Global, meaning if it happens on the other side of the planet, we hear about it seconds later (and our computers hear about it only milliseconds later).
Exponential, meanwhile, refers to today’s blitzkrieg speed of development. Forget about the difference between generations, currently mere months can bring a revolution. Yet our brain—which hasn’t really had a hardware update in two hundred thousand years—wasn’t designed for this scale or speed.
Ray Kurzweil did the math and found that we’re going to experience twenty thousand years of technological change over the next one hundred years. Essentially, we’re going from the birth of agriculture to the birth of the internet twice in the next century.
This means paradigm-shifting, game-changing, nothing-is-ever-the-same-again breakthroughs—such as affordable aerial ridesharing—will not be an occasional affair. They’ll be happening all the time.
More Transportation Options
Ford’s 1908 introduction of the mass-produced Model T marked the real tipping point. Just four years later, New York traffic surveys counted more cars than horses on the road. And while the speed of this shift was breathtaking, in retrospect it wasn’t unexpected. Whenever a new technology offers a tenfold increase in value—cheaper, faster and better—there’s little that can slow it down.
But even as we witness the birth of aerial ridesharing—which seems likely to replace multiple parts in this system—a different revolution threatens it entirely: autonomous cars.
the more miles an autonomous car drives, the more data it gathers—and data is the gasoline of the driverless world.
Since 2009, Waymo’s vehicles have logged over 10 million miles. By 2020, with twenty thousand Jaguars doing hundreds of thousands of daily trips, they’ll be adding an extra million miles or so every day. All of those miles matter. As autonomous vehicles drive, they gather information: positions of traffic signs, road conditions, and the like. More information equals smarter algorithms equals safer cars—and this combination is the very edge needed for market domination.
To compete with Waymo, General Motors is making up for lost time with big dollars. In 2018, it poured $1.1 billion into GM Cruise, its self-driving division. A few months later, it took an additional $2.25 billion investment.
Today, the average car owner drives their vehicle less than 5 percent of the time, and a family of two adults typically has two cars. Thus, a single autonomous car can serve a half-dozen families a day.
we’re going to be looking at a huge commercial real estate boom as all those lots get repurposed. Then again, a lot of them could become skyports.
In 2013, in an attempt to shorten the long commute between Los Angeles and San Francisco, the California state legislature proposed a $68 billion budget allocation on what appeared to be the slowest and most expensive bullet train in history. Musk was outraged. The cost was too high, the train too sluggish.
Musk’s idea wasn’t entirely new. Sci-fi dreamers have long envisioned high-speed travel through low-pressure tubes. In 1909, rocketry pioneer Robert Goddard proposed a vacuum train concept similar to the Hyperloop.
So think about this timetable: Autonomous car rollouts by 2020. Hyperloop certification and aerial ridesharing by 2023. By 2025—going on vacation might have a totally different meaning.
The Boring Company
Elon Musk’s main residence in Los Angeles is located in Bel Air, a seventeen-mile trek from SpaceX’s Hawthorne-based offices. On the best of days, his commute takes thirty-five minutes—but December 17, 2016 (coincidentally the anniversary of the first Wright brothers flight), was not the best of days.
@elonmusk—17 Dec 2016: “Traffic is driving me nuts. Am going to build a tunnel boring machine and just start digging…”
@elonmusk—17 Dec 2016: “It shall be called ‘The Boring Company’ ”
@elonmusk—17 Dec 2016: “Boring, it’s what we do”
@elonmusk—17 Dec 2016: “I am actually going to do this”
And he did.
In the spring of 2018, with $113 million of Musk’s own money, the Boring Company began boring.
Rockets: LA to Sydney in Thirty Minutes
Musk promised that for the price of an economy airline ticket, his rockets will fly you “anywhere on Earth in under an hour.”
The presentation was primarily an update about SpaceX’s megarocket, Starship, which was designed to take humans to Mars. The fact that Musk now wanted to use his interplanetary starship for terrestrial passenger delivery was the transportation industry equivalent of Steve Jobs’s famous line that (almost) ended his demos: “Wait, wait… There’s one more thing.”
The Starship travels at 17,500 mph. It’s an order of magnitude faster than the Concorde.
“We could probably demonstrate this [technology] in three years,” Musk explained, “but it’s going to take a while to get the safety right. It’s a high bar. Aviation is incredibly safe. You’re safer on an airplane than you are at home.”
Seeing into the Future
efore the end of the next decade, this transportation revolution will impact some of the most intimate aspects of our lives. Where we choose to live and work, how much free time we have, how we spend that time. It will change how cities look and feel.
You’d expect that thinking about our future selves would excite the medial prefrontal cortex. Yet the opposite happens. It starts to shut down, meaning the brain treats the person we’re going to become as a stranger.
This is why people have a tough time saving for retirement or staying on a diet or getting regular prostate exams—the brain believes that the person who would benefit from those difficult choices isn’t the same one making those choices.
if the internet is our benchmark, more wealth could be created over the next ten years than was over the previous century. Entrepreneurs—including, thankfully, environmentally and socially conscious entrepreneurs—have never had it so good.
Institutions are similarly suffering. The educational system was an eighteenth-century invention, designed to batch-process children and prepare them for a life working in factories. That’s not today’s world, which explains why this system is failing to meet our current needs.
Why are divorce rates so high? One reason is that marriage was created over four thousand years ago, when we got hitched as teens and death came by forty.
The point is this: Being able to see around the corner of tomorrow and being agile enough to adapt to what’s coming have never been more important.
In Part One, we’ll explore nine technologies currently on exponential growth curves.
In Part Two, focusing on eight industries, we’ll see how converging technologies are reshaping our world. From the future of education and entertainment to the transformation of healthcare and business, this portion provides a blueprint for tomorrow, a map of the major shifts coming to society, and a playbook for anyone interested in surfing that wave.
In Part Three, we move to the bigger picture, looking at a series of environmental, economic, and existential risks that threaten the progress we’re about to make. Next, we’ll expand our view from the decade ahead to the full century.
An avatar is a second self, typically in one of two forms. The digital version has been around for a couple of decades. It emerged from the video game industry and was popularized by virtual world sites like Second Life and books-turned-blockbusters like Ready Player One. A VR headset teleports your eyes and ears to another location, while a set of haptic sensors shifts your sense of touch. Suddenly, you’re inside an avatar inside a virtual world. As you move in the real world, your avatar moves in the virtual. Use this technology to give a lecture and you can do it from the comfort of your living room.
Robots are the second form of avatars. Imagine a humanoid robot that you can occupy at will. Maybe, in a city far from home, you’ve rented the bot by the minute.
put on VR goggles and a haptic suit and you can teleport your senses into that robot. This allows you to walk around, shake hands, and take action—all without having to leave your home.
To put this in different terms, individual car ownership enjoyed over a century of ascendency. The first real threat it faced, today’s ridesharing model, only showed up in the last decade. But that ridesharing model won’t even get ten years to dominate. Already, it’s on the brink of autonomous car displacement, which is on the brink of flying car disruption, which is on the brink of Hyperloop and rockets-to-anywhere decimation. Plus, avatars. The most important part: All of this change will happen over the next ten years.
Welcome to the future that’s faster than you think.