Skip to main content

Why the 2020s will be the exponential decade

Illustration of binoculars. One lens is a sunny blue sky, the other shows a wildfire.

Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

Three new books take stock of the rapid technological change so far in the 21st century and ask whether we can adapt to the even faster change to come.

Why it matters: The 2020s could be the roaring or the raging decade, depending on whether political and social institutions can keep pace with the explosive transformation wrought by the tech sector.

The big picture: In his new book "The Exponential Age," venture capitalist and newsletter writer Azeem Azhar identifies what might be the fundamental conflict of the early 21st century: how businesses and technologies growing at an exponential rate are colliding with social and political institutions that are much slower to change.

  • The source code of the exponential age is Moore's Law, the now-decades-old observation that the underlying cost of computation will roughly halve every couple of years.
  • Ever faster, ever-cheaper computing power is what enabled us to go from the iPod to the iPhone in just six years, and which turbocharged the growth of now trillion-dollar companies like Facebook and Amazon that knew how to take advantage of Moore's Law.
  • The exponential age is one where winners truly are in a position to take all, because companies that fail to adapt early to technological change risk ending up in the same graveyard as Blockbuster and Kodak.

By the numbers: Azhar notes that Amazon's annual R&D budget rose from $1.4 billion in 2009 to a staggering $36 billion in 2019 — a figure that puts it not far behind the entire research and development budget for the U.K.

  • That relentless drive to stay ahead of technological change has helped Amazon build an online retail empire that is eight times larger than its nearest competitor, while also building a side business in cloud computing, media and more that added another $172 billion in sales.

Yes, but: While the tech sector is set up to harness the sheer speed of the exponential age, most of human society — government, social institutions, conventional businesses — have struggled to adapt to that pace, creating what Azhar calls an "exponential gap."

  • "The gap leads to extreme tension," he writes. "In the Exponential Age this divergence is ongoing — and it is everywhere."

Between the lines: That's the subject of a new book, "System Error," by three Stanford professors: philosopher Rob Reich, political scientist Jeremy Weinstein and computer scientist Mehran Sahami.

  • The trio — who jointly teach a popular class at Stanford called "Ethics, Public Policy and Computer Science" — explore whether a new approach to politics and ethics can help close "that profound gap between those who understand technology and those who are responsible for government and society," says Weinstein.
  • Such an approach might involve trying to rein in the speed of technological change through regulation and through making consumers more aware of the implications of the tech they use — or in the case of their Stanford students, the tech they create.
  • Technology will inevitably present trade-offs, Weinstein says — think of the trade-off between user privacy and preventing child abuse presented by Apple's now delayed plan to scan photos on iPhones — but "we need to weigh those trade-offs in a public and deliberative way."

What to watch: The success or failure of efforts to close the exponential gap will have an enormous influence on whether the next decade can harness the best of technological growth, or be consumed by it, writes former diplomat Alec Ross in his new book "The Raging 2020s."

  • The original Roaring 1920s led, of course, to the mother of all financial crises, but it also laid the groundwork for a lasting worker safety net in the U.S.
  • But it could have easily gone the other way, as it did with the rise of fascism in parts of Europe in the 1930s, and Ross worries if we can't broker a new social contract that works for the exponential age, "the next decade could rage like something out of 'Mad Max.'"

The bottom line: The question we'll need to face over the next decade, says Weinstein: "How do we set up a government that can respond to the pace of technological change?"


https://www.axios.com/2020s-exponential-age-big-technology-cf567e8c-7de5-43e0-bd8c-d2db19398a49.html


Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Menon meets Karzai, discusses security of Indians

Kabul/New Delhi/Washington, March 5 (IANS) India Friday said that the Feb 26 terror attack in Kabul will not deter it from helping rebuild Afghanistan as National Security Adviser Shivshankar Menon met Afghan President Hamid Karzai in Kabul to review the security of around 4,000 Indians working in that country. Menon, who arrived here Friday morning on a two-day visit, discussed with Karzai some proposals to bolster security of Indians engaged in a wide array of reconstruction activities, ranging from building roads, bridges and power stations to social sector projects. The Indian government is contemplating a slew of steps to secure Indians in Afghanistan, including setting up protected venues where the Indians working on various reconstruction projects will be based. Deploying dedicated security personnel at places where Indians work is also being considered. Menon also met his Afghan counterpart Rangin Dadfar Spanta and enquired about the progress in the probe into the Kabul atta

Iran is losing the game to regional actors in its strategic depth

Rethink before It’s Too Late http://www.irdiplomacy.ir/index.php?Lang=en&Page=21&TypeId=15&ArticleId=7108&BranchId=19&Action=ArticleBodyView Iran is losing the game to regional actors in its strategic depth –Afghanistan. By Houman Dolati It is no more a surprise to see Iran absent in Afghanistan affairs. Nowadays, the Bonn Conference and Iran’s contributions to Afghanistan look more like a fading memory. Iran, which had promised of loans and credit worth five-hundred million dollars for Afghanistan, and tried to serve a key role, more than many other countries, for reconstruction and stabilization of Afghanistan, is now trying to efface that memory, saying it is a wrong path, even for the international community. Iran’s empty seat in the Rome Conference was another step backward for Afghanistan’s influential neighbor. Many other countries were surprised with Iran’s absence. Finding out the vanity of its efforts to justify absence in Rome, Iran tried to start its

Pakistani firm whose chemicals were used to kill US troops seeks subsidy for Indiana plant

By Jennifer Griffin, Justin Fishel Published March 22, 2013   A Pakistani fertilizer maker whose chemicals have been used in 80 percent of the roadside bombs that have killed and maimed American troops in Afghanistan is now seeking U.S. taxpayer subsidies in order to open a factory in Indiana.  The request appears to be on hold pending further review, but the situation has stirred outrage in Congress, where some accuse the Pakistani government of halting efforts to clamp down on the bomb-making.  For the past seven years, the U.S. government has known that the raw material calcium ammonium nitrate, or CAN, is making its way across the border into Afghanistan where the Taliban use it to fuel their most deadly weapons, namely the improvised explosive device. IEDs have long been the number one killer of U.S. and coalition troops.  The material largely comes from Pakistani fertilizer maker the Fatima Group. But the Pakistani government has stymied attempts by the Pentagon to stop the