More By This Author

Current Issue

Current Issue

Posted: August 05, 2014

More on the laws of exponential capabilities

New mega-accomplishments are emerging

Thomas Frey

(Editor's note: This is the second of two parts. Read Part One.)

LAW #2 – As today’s significant accomplishments become more common, mega-accomplishments will take their place.

It is no longer reasonable to assume the same mega-project that have challenged us in the past will be the same size and scale of the mega projects that will be needed to challenge us in the future.

Living in a world where our ever-expanding use of automation and AI is reducing the human contribution in nearly every achievement, we are also witnessing a dilution in the value of past benchmarks.

For this reason, a new generation of mega-accomplishments are beginning to surface. 

One example is the Elon Musk – Daryl Oster proposed transportation system, where specially designed capsules are placed into sealed vacuum tubes and shot, much like rockets, to their destination. While high-speed trains are breaking the 300 mph speed barrier, tube transportation has the potential of reaching speeds of 4,000 mph, turning it into a form of “space travel on earth.” 

Even though tube travel like this will beat every other form of transportation in terms of speed, power consumption, pollution and safety, the big missing element is its infrastructure, a tube network envisioned to combine well over 100,000 miles of connected links.

While many look at this and see the lack of infrastructure as a huge obstacle, it is just the opposite: One of the biggest opportunities ever. 

Constructing the tube network has the potential of becoming the largest infrastructure project the earth has ever seen, with a projected 50-year build-out employing hundreds of millions people along the way.

LAW #3 – As we raise the bar for our achievements, we also reset the norm for our expectations.

When Pixar released the first Toy Story in 1995, it was the first feature film to be produced entirely with computer animation. Naturally it looked a little rough around the edges compared with the new stuff, but it represented a massive breakthrough in the way animated films were produced.

Fifteen years later, in 2010, when Toy Story 3 was released, the Pixar team raised the bar considerably on the quality and detail of the animation. It didn’t take them less time to produce, but instead they dedicated tremendous effort to raising the quality standard. 

This raising of standards in quality, value and usability can be seen all around us:

  • Printing – From large machine presses to photo-quality images at our desktop within seconds.
  • Music – From makeshift recordings inside seedy studios to producing symphony quality recordings without every leaving our computer.
  • Magazines and Newspapers – We can now subscribe to any magazine or newspaper on the planet and have it instantly sent to our computer.
  • Highways – From dirt roads, to gravel roads, to asphalt roads, to concrete Interstates.
  • Telecom – From wired phones with cranks on the side, to wireless everything.
  • Water Systems – From aqueducts, to wells, to running water everywhere.
  • Food Supplies – From crude little storefronts and farmers markets to the super-grocery stores we have today.
  • Emergency Services – From makeshift fire brigades and primitive doctors to highly sophisticated fire departments, rescue teams, hospitals, and medical services.

Crazy-Big Projects of the Future

Whether it’s building the Great Pyramids in Egypt, erecting the Great Wall of China, or sending someone to the moon, crazy-big projects have a way of defining our humanity and raising the bar for future generations. 

As our capabilities improve, we simply need to set our sights higher and aim for the stars…. literally!

If you’re still struggling with what the mega-projects of the future might be, here are a few to consider:

  1. Recreating Infrastructure – Virtually every one of our current infrastructures is in need of total overhaul to meet the needs of future generations. This includes rethinking highways, mass transit, telecom, postal systems, water supplies, food supplies, and more.
  2. Space Industries – Whether it’s space tourism, mining asteroids, space-based power stations, or colonizing other planets, space industries represent an endless challenge for humanity.
  3. Controlling the Weather – We continually find ourselves the victims of forces of nature and have an obligation to mitigate the damage of hurricanes, tornadoes, massive hailstorms, and more.
  4. Reaching the Center of the Earth – We currently know very little about the center of the earth, yet we continually fall victim to earthquakes, volcanoes, and other internal forces we don’t yet understand. Once again, we have an obligation to know more.
  5. Controlling Gravity�– The single greatest force of nature is gravity, yet we know very little about it. We not only need to understand gravity, but also need to learn how to control it.
  6. Viewing the Past – How can we create a technology capable of replaying an unrecorded event that happened decades earlier in actual-size, in holographic form?
  7. Traveling at the Speed of Light – The all time human speed record was set in 1969 and we have a long ways to go if we ever intend to travel to other planets.
  8. Inexhaustible Power Supplies – Too much of the world’s economy is dependent upon a rather fragile global power system. The opportunities here are endless.

Final Thoughts

At this point, the “Laws of Exponential Capabilities” are a working theory that I’m hoping to refine over time.

Naturally there are a few downsides to our expanded capabilities. Addictions can become exponentially more addictive. Dangerous people can become exponentially more dangerous. And global conflicts have the potential of becoming exponentially more disastrous.

With all of our increased capabilities, perhaps the one we are lacking the most is our ability to anticipate problems.

That said I‘d love to hear your thoughts What’s missing, what needs to be reworked, and where is this most and least applicable?

We will all be spending the rest of our lives in the future, so we all have a vested interest in understanding it better.

Thomas Frey is the executive director and senior futurist at the DaVinci Institute and currently Google’s top-rated futurist speaker.  At the Institute, he has developed original research studies, enabling him to speak on unusual topics, translating trends into unique opportunities. Tom continually pushes the envelope of understanding, creating fascinating images of the world to come.  His talks on futurist topics have captivated people ranging from high level of government officials to executives in Fortune 500 companies including NASA, IBM, AT&T, Hewlett-Packard, Unilever, GE, Blackmont Capital, Lucent Technologies, First Data, Boeing, Ford Motor Company, Qwest, Allied Signal, Hunter Douglas, Direct TV, Capital One, National Association of Federal Credit Unions, STAMATS, Bell Canada, American Chemical Society, Times of India, Leaders in Dubai, and many more. Before launching the DaVinci Institute, Tom spent 15 years at IBM as an engineer and designer where he received over 270 awards, more than any other IBM engineer.

Enjoy this article? Sign up to get ColoradoBiz Exclusives. The opinions expressed in this article are solely that of the author and do not represent ColoradoBiz magazine. Comments on articles will be removed if they include personal attacks.

Readers Respond

Linear thoughts on longevity & healthcare combined with government's crony business & institutional relationships are currently sabotaging progress in personalized medicine. Only by opting out of the existing US medical establishment can one achieve significantly enhanced health. By John Tahoe on 2014 08 05
Commenting is not available in this channel entry.

ColoradoBiz TV

Loading the player ...

Featured Video