An Era of Accelerating Change

Change All Around Us

Elon Musk may best embody the American Dream among today’s entrepreneurs. A native of South Africa, he has been a trailblazer in the fields of electronic payment (PayPal), solar power (SolarCity), space travel (SpaceX) and electric vehicles (Tesla). Most recently, he founded Neuralink, a neurotechnology company reported to be developing implantable brain–computer interfaces (BCIs). All this and he is only 45 years age. My bet is that he’s not done yet.

The prospect of consumer space travel, autonomous vehicles, and computer-aided brain function can make it feel like we are living in a world of science fiction. But, we are not. These advances are a direct outcome of an era of accelerating change.

Putting Progress in Perspective

It is easy to forget but for millennia not much changed generation to generation. People lived predictably brief and uneventful lives. Then, the Industrial Revolution brought change on a dramatic scale. For example, life expectancy at birth has increased more than twice as much in the last century as it did in the previous 200,000 years. Our global wealth has skyrocketed. The ability to innovate on top of exiting innovations – which is now possible with the reach of the Internet to gain free and instantaneous access to information worldwide – suggests that the steep trajectory of change will only continue.

 From Progress: Ten Reasons to Look Forward to the Future by Johan Norberg 

Predicting the Future Has Never Been More Difficult and The Recent Past May Not Be the Best Anchor

Our minds are wired to understand linear changes, not hockey stick changes. This is why logarithmic graphs – linear representation of non-linear phenomenon – were created. It becomes even more challenging when multiple non-linear changes occur at the same time. Advances in computing power, machine learning and the proliferation of small, interconnected devices are examples of today’s reality.

Even some of our sharpest minds are struggling to make sense of it. At the recent Berkshire Hathaway shareholder meeting, Warren Buffett commented on the dramatically changing landscape of retail by saying, “I have no illusion that 10 years from now will look the same as today, and there will be a few things along the way that surprise us,” he said. “The world has evolved, and it’s going to keep evolving, but the speed is increasing.”

It’s Not All Rosy

As we have learned, dramatic changes – even if generally positive – create disruption and losers as well as winners. Some of the pitfalls can be predicted but many cannot. For example, our new era of connectivity has, ironically, created a greater sense of isolation and increased anxiety. Studies have found that active Facebook users can be lonely as compared to peers that are not as active on social media. Numerous articles and studies point to the dangers and increased risks of social isolation, including the recent Boston Globe article “The biggest Threat Facing Middle-Age Men isn’t Smoking or obesity. It’s loneliness.

How and Where We Live Will Change, Too

Our living environments will increasingly change, too.  These various advances give us new tools to meet people’s needs in new and innovative ways. On demand services, such as Uber for transportation or Task Rabbit for handyman needs, can replace traditional methods. The adoption and ubiquity of the “Internet of Healthy Things” – connected devices that help track personal data for your well-being – can help people stay healthy. I have been using the Oura Ring – effectively a fitbit for your finger – and it has provided accurate and informative diagnosis of my activity and sleep patterns to help me manage my life. Telehealth is being increasingly used in non-institutional settings to keep people from needing to go to the hospital.

These advances will enhance existing residential environments; they will also help spawn new residential models. Specially designed co-living residential options are new and gathering momentum with a multitude of providers. At Smart Living 360, we have seen how the impact of clever design, a culture of personal connection and the ability to coordinate services can resonate with people of multiple generations. Over time, with continued advances, we expect intelligently designed intergenerational living to be the norm, not the exception.

Looking Ahead

Perhaps the only thing we can accurately predict about the future is that will be different than today. Our collective opportunity and challenge will be to use ongoing advances to positively impact the world and humanity. Elon Musk’s ambitious vision of what’s possible should serve as inspiration to us all.