Exponential Technologies: Challenges and Opportunities

The human mind is incredibly powerful and versatile. It has given us all the inventions that we take for granted today. But there is one concept that our brains still have trouble with: exponential growth. We have a hard time understanding the implications that this kind of growth brings.

The subject of this article is those emerging technologies that will significantly change our world in the coming years. They will find their way into our lives very fast, so we should be prepared for the challenges and opportunities that they will bring.

Where we came from

In all the millennia of human history, there have been several breakthroughs that have catapulted us exponentially fast into the future. The invention of the wheel, agriculture and sedentarization, printing and finally the Industrial Revolution. This has provided for our current prosperity and is the basis of all other breakthroughs, inventions and changes that have occurred with increasing regularity in recent decades.

The Industrial Revolution has brought countless benefits, but at the same time it is responsible for the greatest challenges of today. Climate change and pollution (especially pollution of the world's oceans) are problems that concern us all - and are of unprecedented urgency. 

Exponential technologies can provide answers to these challenges.

Where we are

Era 1.0: Internet, cloud, smartphone.

The Industrial Revolution has been followed by the Digital Revolution. We all lead our lives in the wake of this digital boom. Within just a few years or decades (a blink of an eye measured in the length of human history), the Internet, cloud technologies and the smartphone have fundamentally changed our existence. The way we meet and communicate with each other, the way we work, travel, eat, and generally live and die is not the same as it used to be. 

Let's call this era of the internet, the cloud and the smartphone Era 1.0. In Europe, we have missed out on actively and significantly shaping this era. The big players are either American or Chinese. In Europe, there are no companies comparable to Google, Amazon and Facebook or to Alibaba and Tencent.

We are now at a crossroads: we know that we missed Era 1.0. And we also know that Era 2.0 will come sooner rather than later. Era 3.0 is also looming on the horizon. So what can we expect? And what exactly are Eras 2.0 and 3.0 all about?

Where we are going

Era 2.0: AI, robots, 3D printing, etc.

Era 2.0 is based on the Digital Revolution that preceded it. Since this base already exists to build on, new products, markets and services will be developed even faster. Or rather, all these technologies already exist. Artificial intelligence, blockchain, 3D printers, 5G, robots and so on: they have not yet fully exploited their potential, but fundamental advances are being made at an ever faster pace. 

All these different technologies have opportunities and areas of application. Artificial intelligence (AI) is certainly at the center of attention, and rightly so. After all, it is not for nothing that AI is sometimes labeled as the best, but perhaps the last invention of mankind. 

AI is currently at about the same place where the first cell phones were some years ago. Using AI may still be a bit disappointing, but the progress will be exponential. If AI can already master specific tasks to perfection today, such as detecting cancerous tumors in MRI scans, it will be able to answer fundamental questions such as climate change in 10 to 15 years.

The same is true for robots. Boston Dynamics, the leading player in this field, is developing new robots that are increasingly impressive. It is likely that robots will play an important aspect in our everyday lives in the coming years and decades. 

3D printers will also play a significant role in Era 2.0. They will be faster, more precise and cheaper than any of the traditional production methods we currently use. Try to imagine a combination of AI and robots or 3D printers. You will begin to get a sense of the implications of the coming era.

Era 3.0: quantum computing, brain-cloud networking

But this is just the beginning. The technologies just mentioned already exist and function. They are now being joined by technologies that are still in the development phase, such as quantum computers or even the ambitious project of linking the cloud with our brains. 

An app store not on the smartphone, but in the brain: This may sound like science fiction, but it makes a lot of sense - and will therefore be reality sooner or later. Because let's face it: Operating the infinite possibilities of the internet with two thumbs is a bit clumsy, if not primitive. 

What now?

One thing is certain: The technologies discussed here are coming soon. And they will fundamentally change all aspects of our lives in ways we cannot currently imagine. Our personal lives, the business and financial worlds, education, medicine and war will all evolve radically. This evolution or revolution is taking place at an exponentially accelerating pace. 

It is natural to ask ourselves in the face of this dramatic change: What should we do?

As everywhere, the same applies in this specific case: Education is the foundation. It is of indispensable importance to be informed about the coming changes and also to educate the upcoming generation about this topic.

Education is therefore the first step. The second step is for everyone to ask themselves: How can these new technologies change my industry? How can I actively use these technologies to develop new products and services?

Europe has slept through Era 1.0. China and the United States are currently also leading in the areas of AI and quantum computing. But Europe still has the chance to play a decisive role in shaping this coming era. That is why it is important for Europe to regain the pioneering spirit it once possessed. Only a strong and united Europe can work together to develop exponential technologies to find answers to today's most pressing questions.

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