The 3 exponential technology transitions

In the past millennia, we’ve seen many exponential technology transitions. These transitions have, in simple terms, dramatically changed life on the planet.

The creation of the wheel and our ability to spark and then control fire were among the earliest exponential transitions. There have been so many such transitions over time – in domains that have helped us get from place to place (shipping, cars, air travel, and so on), get healthier (farming, vaccines, public health advancements), and harness energy better (steam engine, fossil fuels). In aggregate, they’ve created incredible amounts of wealth and, wait for it, exponentially better living conditions for humans all over the world.

I’ve observed two trends in our history. The first is that the interval between transitions has gotten smaller and smaller. The last hundred years arguably saw more transitions than the previous thousand and so on. The second is that our reaction to new technology is nearly always woeful.

Not novel technology. Just new technology.

When cars were first introduced in Britain, the law required a person to walk in front of it waving a red flag. Ignaz Semmelweiss was sent to a mental asylum for suggest that maternal mortality could be reduced by washing hands.

We aren’t rational creatures. So this resistance to messy transitions is understandable. It doesn’t make it easy though.

But it also means we’re in for an eventful next decade as I think we’re living through a unique moment with three exponential transitions happening simultaneously –

(1) Artificial intelligence is going to remake every industry in the next decade. Recent breakthroughs in our ability to run massive models at lower and lower costs change the game for all of us. AI was already connecting significant numbers of people to information, opportunity, and life partners than ever before – i.e., it is already a fundamental layer in our lives. But I think we’re just getting started.

(2) Renewable energy is going to change how we live as a species. Every new source by the end of the next decade will likely be solar, wind, or some other form of renewable energy (fusion? hydrogen?) that hasn’t been invented yet. Our ability to generate, store, and harness this energy at a scale that was unimaginable just two decades ago is going to change the game for humanity.

(3) RNA-powered therapies and vaccines are going to remake our species. The breakthrough work on CRISPR and mRNA vaccines in the past decade or so are just the tip of the iceberg. They’re going to change how we deal with ailments and diseases and will change what it means to be human.

Exponential transitions are challenging because we don’t just get to make the switch immediately. Transitions take time and face the resistance from the status quo. They don’t happen easily.

Every exponential transition also brings significant trade-offs. Ultrasound technology was used to save many a baby. Sadly, it was also used for large scale female infanticide. All of these discussions will be messy by definition. But it is worth keeping a close eye on each of these as it relates to your work and life.

As I wrote this, I realized there are many other contenders (metaverse, crypto, etc.) – but I’ve found my conviction on these 3 growing over the past years. Excited to write a lot more about each of these as I learn more.

It is a fascinating time to be alive.