In this interview, Peter H. Diamandis, serial entrepreneur and coauthor of a new book, “The Future Is Faster than You Think,” explains why it’s the convergence of emerging technologies, rather than any single one, that’s transforming organizations, industries, even our lives. Diamandis spoke recently with DXC THRIVE contributing writer Peter Krass; following is an edited version of their conversation.
Q: Why is the convergence of technologies so much more transformative than any single technology on its own?
A: The technologies themselves are extraordinary. Many that we write about in the book — including AI [artificial intelligence], robotics and virtual reality — have been undergoing deceptively slow growth over the course of a decade, and in some cases a couple of decades.
But it’s the convergence, where they’re coming together, that’s enabling new business models, and that’s what’s really exciting. It’s not the technology itself. It’s the fact that you’re converging, say, high-bandwidth mobile and GPS and Google Maps and machine learning — and then you’re coming up with an Uber or Airbnb. These business models are really changing industries and disrupting older, more linear companies.
Q: Some of the powerful forces you discuss in the book are the concepts of doubling, disruption, dematerializing, demonetization and democratizing. What are these, and why do they matter?
A: Whatever you digitize first enters a period of slow, deceptive growth, a doubling of small numbers. Then it continues until it becomes disruptive. For example, the first digital cameras were 0.1 megapixels; next year, they doubled to 0.2, and then a year later to 0.4. It all looked like zero, but 30 doublings later, it was a billion times better. That’s when it became disruptive.
When you digitize things, you also dematerialize them, making them ones and zeros. Dematerialization means you no longer have a flashlight or radio, a record player, a camera or a video camera. All those things have been digitized and are now on your iPhone. Then the cost of replicating them becomes effectively zero, and so does the cost of transmitting them. So they are also demonetized.
Then, because they’re so easy to duplicate and transmit, they become democratized. You end up making these products and services available around the world.
Q: Throughout the book, you emphasize the power of artificial intelligence. How do you foresee the future role of AI?
A: AI is as fundamental as the internet or email — maybe even more so. By the end of this decade, there will be just two kinds of companies: Companies that use AI, and companies that are bankrupt.
Consider retail. One factor that’s transforming retail is the convergence of augmented reality, 5G and AI. Say you’re at a social event with your friends. You’re wearing your augmented reality glasses; they have forward-looking cameras that can see what you’re seeing. They also have rear-view cameras that look at your eyes, your pupil, where you’re looking or staring. As you’re having a conversation, let’s say you look at your friend’s blazer, and your eyes linger there a few extra seconds. Then your AI will basically know that you’re interested in the jacket.
Next, a little bubble will pop up on the eyeglass display that says, “It’s a Dior jacket. Here’s the price, and you can have it tomorrow.” So with AI, shopping will become a continuous experience based on your desires and likes.
Q: But what about privacy?
A: As a society, we’re going to change our point of view about privacy, at least in some cases.
Consider: An AI can look at a video feed and read lips. You can shake someone’s hand, grab a few skin cells and sequence their genome. So society will need to change its perspective to some degree about its expectations on privacy.
It’s happening already. In China today, there are essentially no expectations for privacy. Here in the United States, I know young kids who willingly give up their privacy to share what’s going on with their friends on social media. Looking back, I doubt there was a concept of privacy thousands of years ago. So as things continue to shift, society will adapt.
Q: The convergence of technologies is exciting for startups. But how can older organizations avoid becoming obsolete?
A: First, understand that you’re not going to competitively innovate against 1,000 startups that are taking higher risks. So what matters instead is whether you can create an ecosystem of young startups. Then you can invest in and co-develop products, share access to your data and customers, and basically create a vibrant ecosystem of innovators outside the organization that you collaborate with. Then, as products get developed, you’ll ultimately bring those products in.
This is what Disney did very successfully. Disney is essentially a giant organization of storytelling. The company had these characters, and they would be put through the company’s stores, movies and theme parks. When Disney bought Marvel Entertainment, Lucasfilm and Pixar Animation Studios, it took their characters and put them through the same system.
Why didn’t Hyatt or Hilton come up with Airbnb? Why didn’t Avis or Hertz come up with Uber? So first, know what you’re good at. Then create an ecosystem of entrepreneurs.
Diamandis has created a way to track the convergence of exponential technologies, such as AI and cellular medicine, that may alter the course of the coronavirus. The machine learning algorithms that he’s deployed in Futureloop “Pandemic Edition” provide a single, comprehensive update of the news and social feeds related to COVID-19.