“We are on the edge of change comparable to the rise of human life on Earth.” – Vernon Vinge
Last week, StartupYard managing director Cedric Maloux spoke about “Exponential Innovation” at the “What About Innovation” meeting of the American Chamber of Commerce in Pristina, Kosovo, on the invitation of StartupYard alum Gjirafa.
The talk dealt with a simple, but broad based question: Is Exponential Innovation an Opportunity or a Threat to Society?
The talk proved to be very popular, and raised ideas that the StartupYard team felt should be explored in more depth. So, during spring and summer 2016, StartupYard will be working on a series of blog posts around this topic.
The central premise of our series on Exponential Innovation will be this: exponential growth in the complexity of technology, reflected in increasing computing power and capacity, the explosion of data and increasingly complex and powerful material sciences, is a reality in our society, and will have an ever increasing influence over society and the world economy for the foreseeable future.
Exponential innovation raises important questions and concerns:
“What role will humans play in a society where most existing jobs can be done more efficiently by machines?”
“Is the current 40 hour model of work-based employment viable going forward?”
“What will be the roles of work and employment in the near future?”
“Which jobs are immediately at risk? Which ones are at risk long term?”
“What will be the role of education in a world where intellectual labor is increasingly automated?”
“How will innovation change the role of money in our lives, as the need for a traditional workforce decreases?”
“How will governments and societies adapt to rapid advances in artificial intelligence, and its growing role in business decision making?“
Defining Our Purpose
For centuries, conversations around technological progress have been surrounded by, on the one hand, fear and apprehension about change, and on the other, excitement at the prospect of a better, happier, safer and more fulfilling life.
The world in the midst of the industrial revolution in 1840, and the world of 2016 are very different places, and yet these dual feelings of apprehension and expectation have not changed. In both eras, automation is viewed as both a threat and a deliverance. But whereas the industrial revolution replaced much routine manual work, the current technological revolution will replace many non-routine cognitive tasks.
At the same time, many of our startup founders and mentors express a certain fatalism about innovation. They say, in one form or another: “The robots will take our jobs, and so you’ll either have to own the robots, or you’ll have nothing.”
Is that really the case? Is it the inevitable outcome of rapid innovation?
Then, as now, governments and society had the capacity to evolve the function of money, ownership, and work to adapt to a changing technological reality. We are already seeing a rise in extreme political movements, from the mid-east to the Americas, fueled in large part by the diminishing role of the middle class in the new economy.
Will we see political changes as profound as those of the industrial revolution in the near future? Will innovations like Universal Basic Income (UBI), become essential elements of the new, post AI economy?
The primary purpose of this series will be not to argue in favor of one particular view of modern society, or to espouse one particular political or economic agenda. Instead, it will be to inspire conversations about pressing topics for the many millions of people, in Europe and around the world, who are facing a future that they find difficult to understand, and even harder to predict.
What are we, as workers, as entrepreneurs, as citizens, or as members of society and actors in our economy, working towards? What future are we building for ourselves? These questions are highly relevant to the work of StartupYard, and to every one of our members, alumni, mentors, partners, and investors, as well as the millions of people who will be touched by the technology we invest in, and help to foster.