X-Prize founder wants companies to set up ‘crazy ideas’ departments

X-Prize
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Faster and cheaper computing power, coupled with improved quality of life around the world, should have every business thinking about how they could improve their importance by a factor of 10, according to X-Prize founder Peter Diamandis.

Speaking at the first-ever SingularityU Canada Summit on Wednesday, the entrepreneur — whose X-Prize foundation helps fund breakthrough ideas in technology, health and other areas —  suggested many organizations continue underestimate to experience disruption because they fail to see the acceleration of change in technology as an opportunity.

He pointed to research, for example, that predicts it will be relatively affordable to buy enough computing power by 2023 to mimic the pattern recognition in the human brain. The exponential increase in computing power is unleashing innovations such as blockchain, artificial intelligence and virtual reality, but also some unintended consequences to traditional enterprises. 

“I’m as excited about the new business models as I am about the technology,” Diamandis said, warning that firms aren’t preparing properly for the future. “They are simply taking the past and projecting it linearly, when it’s anything but that.”

Diamandis used the rise of autonomous vehicles as an example. Projecting an image of downtown New York City in 1904, he estimated the image showed about 10 per cent cars, versus horse and buggies. By 1917, a similar photograph showed nothing but cars.

“The car was so much better than the horse that it literally displaced everything with extraordinary speed,” he said. “This isn’t 20 years away — it’s the next decade we’re talking about.”

Most people think about the impact on consumers if driverless cars become the norm, but Diamandis raised questions about how industries such as auto financing, insurance and even parking lots would need to adjust.

Diamandis, who also co-founded Singularity University, is trying to use the event and his X-Prize competition to encourage “moonshot” thinking — ideas that go way beyond the standard goal of improving performance in an area of a company by 10 per cent.

“Where inside your organizations are you trying crazy ideas? Where’s your Crazy Idea Department?” he asked the crowd. “Otherwise, you’re stuck in incrementalism. This is not doing what you’ve always done and just doing a little bit more of it. You can’t get there from that.”

Some of the moonshot ideas Diamandis is focused on how include prolonging human life, using drones to mine precious resources and establishing the next X-Prize. One in development now will look for ways to predict disasters, such as the next big hurricane, he said.

Even if certain goals seem impossible or some ideas are before their time, Diamandis said companies should explore them anyway. He cited an early meeting with the developers behind Apple’s Siri virtual assistant many years ago.

“The technology didn’t exist but they could project where it was going to go — where computation and the convergence of voice with that would go. They built the product that intersected with those technologies,” he said. “If you build a technology based on what exists today, by the time you go to market, it’s old.”

The SingularityU Canada Summit continues through Thursday.

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Shane Schick

Shane Schick

Shane Schick is the Editor-in-Chief of B2B News Network. He is the former Editor-in-Chief of Marketing magazine and has also been Vice-President, Content & Community (Editor-in-Chief), at IT World Canada, a technology columnist with the Globe and Mail and was the founding editor of ITBusiness.ca. Shane has been recognized for journalistic excellence by the Canadian Advanced Technology Alliance and the Canadian Online Publishing Awards.