I’m going to do something unusual (for me) – drop a video in here and not try to explain much about it. It’s about the future but don’t have any particular prediction, except that things are going to be changing really fast, as in scary fast. So you might want to loosen up your thinking. (I’m not affiliated with any of this; these are my own thoughts.)
Fair warning: this will look like lunacy, and I won’t get into big arguments about it here. You might want to watch this a minute at a time, perhaps pausing every time the whiteboard gets erased – it’s too much to take in all at once.
This is also the world depicted by my friend and colleague in Budapest, Dr. Bertalan Mesko (aka @Berci), who calls himself a “medical futurist.” Unusual, huh? Well, you can’t look at today’s medical reality (as amazing as it is) with the same mindset as you can with the “exponential” mindset.
Why do I think this is valid?
I’ll just say that it’s been almost five years since I was exposed to this thinking, I’ve been to the Exponential Medicine conference twice (so I’ve seen what people were saying), I’ve seen how those talks have panned out, I lived through the disruption of another industry thirty years ago, and I’m now pretty sure that these Exponential guys are right and it’s coming faster than any sensible person would think. Seriously, I’m not kidding.
For those who don’t know, “exponential” means things increase far faster than a steady 10-20-30 rate; they multiple like rabbits, like 2, 4, 8, 16, 32, 64, 128. Imagine your postal mailbox getting flooded with mail like that, with one envelope carrying news of an innovation. When you get 128 pieces on one day, realize that tomorrow it’ll be 256 envelopes, then 512 the next day, and by then you say “Holy CRAP!” And, really, that’s how fast these things are changing.
As just one example of “faster than you’d think,” consider that 3D printing has been working its way down-market for many years, but all of a sudden it’s exploding all over creation. Did you see the thing last month where the International Space Station needed a new kind of wrench? Designers created it in a computer and emailed it into space. Does that freak you out? It happened.
Well, okay, they emailed the instructions into space, where they have a 3D printer. Yeah, emailing a wrench was about the same as emailing a PDF for somebody to print at their end. And just in the last year stories about 3D printing in medicine have exploded. (Google some, to see.) (And here’s my Forbes post the other day about how a couple took the wife’s scan data and 3D printed her tumor, on their own, so the surgeons could better understand what they’d missed. And it worked.)
Note: as the video says, 3D printing shares an important trait with laser printers and inkjets: when you have a machine that can spit out anything dot by dot, then you get two vital things for free that were costly the old way:
- You get complexity free (a more complicated page doesn’t cost more; nor does a more complicated print)
- You get one-offs and personalization for free. (Well, you pay more in the design, but the printing itself doesn’t care.
The video above is from Singularity University, which is where I first learned about all this exponential stuff, and producer of the Exponential Medicine conference. I spoke at their 2011 “FutureMed” conference, then again this past fall (where I did the “pot research” speech that I recently blogged). Believe it or not, these people are seriously in touch with reality, even though they sound like “Back to the Future” wackos.
At that 2011 event, founder Ray Kurzweil (of the Kurzweil Reading Machine, Kurzweil Synthesizer, et al) said the most spot-on thing I’ve ever heard about innovation: “It’s really hard to see what will be possible after the next innovation, after the next wave of innovations, after the current wave is finished.” (And we’re talking about whole waves of innovations, not just one invention.) The example he gave (as best I can recall):
When IBM PCs were new, who would have believed that 30 years later Microsoft (the DOS floppy people(!)) would spend $8 billion(!) for Skype, a company that lets you make video phone calls(!) for free (!?) over the internet (the what??) using the webcam (the WHAT????) on the computer that you’re carrying in your hand (?!?) connected to nothing while you walk around the house.
Really, think about it. That happened. (Oh, and about seeing the future – Kurzweil’s digital speech technology, dating back to his 1970s Reading Machine, involves patents that are still in things like Dragon Naturally Speaking.)
The changes depicted in the video above might seem crazy – but change really is happening at these crazy exponential speeds.
So loosen up your thinking about what’s possible. You’re welcome. :)