What is Exponential Technology?

Whether or not you agree with Nvidia CEO Jensen Huang that Moore’s Law is dead, it is still quite accurate to claim that technological innovation is proceeding at a breakneck pace – exponential pace, in fact.

Yet before we dig into the technology part of exponential technology, let’s take a quick look at what “exponential” actually means, what Moore’s Law actually says, and what the Law of Accelerating Returns has to do with all this.

The Background

The mathematical term “exponent” refers to the number of times a number is to be multiplied by itself. “Exponential growth” is when a mathematical function of time’s rate of change is proportional to the function’s current value. For example, cells in a culture grow exponentially – the first cell divides into two, then each of these split to form four, then eight, and so on.

Moore’s Law (which is not technically a law in the scientific sense) states that overall computer processing power will double every two years. In exponential terms, this means that computer processing will experience biannual exponential growth. Now, whether or not this is still happening is up for grabs at the moment. It depends on how you factor processing power – processor speed versus number of processor cores, etc. But the point is that technology, with the power of computing at its heart, grows exponentially, not linearly.

Postulated by Ray Kurzweil in 1999, the Law of Accelerating Returns states that the rate of progress in an ecosystem that learns via evolution (i.e. iteratively, via trial and error) increases exponentially. More importantly, the more advanced such a system becomes, the faster its rate of progress grows.

Great, Now What’s Exponential Technology?

Deloitte defines exponential technology as “innovations progressing at a pace with or exceeding Moore’s Law” that “evidence a renaissance of innovation, invention, and discovery…[and] have the potential to positively affect billions of lives.”

We define exponential technologies similarly, but with a bit more context: exponential technologies are those innovations that continue to advance exponentially, with disruptive economic and lifestyle effects. Moreover, exponential technologies are those whose current price-performance makes it feasible to incorporate them into today’s business and social problems in new and previously impossible ways.

Need examples of exponential technologies you’re already seeing in everyday life? Think of artificial intelligence (AI), additive manufacturing, augmented and virtual reality (AR, VR), digital biology and biotech, data science, medical tech, nanotech, robotics, autonomous vehicles, etc…

Moreover, and perhaps most importantly, we think that the solutions to some of the world’s most urgent problems can be found at the intersection of exponential technologies. When two or more exponential technologies are applied to a serious societal challenge – the chance of creating a viable and sustainable solutions increases drastically.

Consider a medical device that uses advanced data science and AI to interpolate physical sensor readings and extrapolate the likelihood of disease. Or a solar-powered car that uses advanced lighting and touchscreen technology to enhance driver comfort and travel safety. These are just two simple examples. Yet the possibilities of the fusion of exponential technologies are, well, exponential in and of themselves.

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