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Until recently, if anyone mentioned anything too technical – be it digital transformation or the myriad exponential technologies hitting us today – I had a standard reflex response. I’d dig my feet in and quietly withdraw from the conversation. I belong to the GenX cluster used to the brick and mortar of things.
However, we don’t live in a world anymore where we can blindspot the digital invasion that is part of everyday living.
With Covid-19, life has assumed a momentum that no one imagined possible. Do I have a choice now but to dive in to stay relevant? 
My next series of posts will be focused on exponential technologies and its application in healthcare – gastroenterology (GI) in particular, a focus area at our company. This article is a primer on exponential technologies. In my upcoming post, we’ll dig deeper into its application in healthcare.
The rice and chessboard tale
For the uninitiated, this story exposes the power of exponentials. It’s an old tale of the king and the creator of the chessboard game.
The king wanted to reward the creator of chess and asked him to name his reward. The clever creator asked for rice. He wanted one grain placed on the first square of the chess-board and doubled with every square and wanted the total of all grains that would sit on the entire chess board with 64 squares. So now we have series of grains equaling the exponentiation of 2…1, 2, 4, 8, 16, 32…all the way upto 2^63 grains on the 64th square of the chess board. We add all these grains up and get a whopping 18,446,744,073,709,551,615 grains. Approximately over 300 billion tons of rice, which is about 400 times the global production of rice.
What started as one grain became an unthinkably large number. One to many, that is exponential power.
What in the world are exponential technologies?
We have all heard of Moore’s Law that states that the computer processing power doubles every two years. What does this point to in essence? Growth of technology with computing at its core will always grow exponentially, it’s never linear growth.
Postulated by Ray Kurzweil in 1999, the Law of Accelerating Returns states that the rate of progress in an evolutionary learning environment increases exponentially.
The more advanced such a system becomes, the faster its rate of progress grows.
Combining these laws, here’s what we understand about exponential technologies.
1. It’s exponential. At set intervals, it doubles in capability or performance and halves in cost.
2. It’s a technology with a price-performance ratio that’s solves business problems in a way that was unthinkable previously. It’s disruptive and can have a positive impact both in social and economic terms.
What are the examples of exponential technologies you’re already experiencing in everyday life? Artificial intelligence (AI), additive manufacturing, augmented and virtual reality (AR, VR), digital biology and biotech, data science, medical tech, nanotech, robotics, autonomous vehicles, etc.
Self driving cars are a reality because of exponential technologies
Let us take Autonomous vehicles (AV) to understand this further. If you’d have mentioned the idea of AVs replacing Human Driven (HD) cars to me even as far as five years ago, I would’ve laughed and scorned at the suggestion. But not anymore. 
When a Toyota Prius was remodeled with Google’s driverless technology in 2012 the price tag of owning a self driven car was over US$150k. Today, while you still can’t own a self driving car (why would you when there are self-driving cabs?), almost autonomous driving options cost between US$ 25k-35k.
Autonomous vehicles need sensors that serve as the eye of these vehicles. They need AI systems that help the vehicle to think and take decisions. There are a combination of sensors used – camera sensors, radar sensors, and LIDAR sensors. The sensors allow the car to see all the objects in short range and long range. They help determine speed and distances relative to the AV. This allows the car to travel without colliding into nearby cars or objects.
LIDAR sensors, the more advanced of the sensors, use laser light to provide 3D images of objects and surroundings with a 360 degree span. The LIDAR system that the Toyota Prius used in 2012 cost $75k. Today the performance of these sensors are way better and the cost of sensors has dropped drastically. It costs between a few thousand dollars to $100 depending on the performance required.
Artificial Intelligence (AI) software in the car is connected to all the sensors and collects input from Google Street View and video cameras inside the car. The AI simulates human perceptual and decision-making processes using deep learning. It controls driving actions, such as steering and brakes.
AI systems need to be trained with loads of data. The more the system drives, the more data can be fed to the neural network algorithms for more nuanced decision making, improving the safety of these vehicles.
Disrupt or be disrupted
So there you have it. These cars will only continue to see a drastic drop in cost and an exponential improvement in performance as we have more driving data available. They are slated to be far more safer than regular cars in a few years. Cornell professor, Bart Selman, has predicted driverless cars would be 10 times safer than those driven by humans within three years. Within a decade, they’ll be 100 times safer. According to a University of Texas report, if 90 per cent of the cars in the US were replaced by AVs, the savings across industries could reach as high as $450 billion.
If you were in the auto space and not invested in this exponential technology, you may risk extinction. You either disrupt or get disrupted.
So how does all this fit into healthcare and gastroenterology? Find out next week in the Part 2 of this series.


Originally published on LinkedIn, by Suzette Sugathan, Director, NextServices
Image Credit: Karol D.

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