This year Gordon Moore’s venerable law turns 50, a milestone that carries a powerful inflection point. We’re now at the knee of digital technology’s exponential growth curve, where from now on, advances will race ahead of our ability to make sense of them.

Here’s a fun thought experiment: Imagine walking 30 steps from where you are right now.  How far you’ve traveled isn’t difficult to figure, right? Thirty steps take you about 30 meters. Now do it again, but this time make each step twice the distance as the previous one… 1 meter, then 2 meters, then 4, 8, 16, and so on. How far will have you traveled? 10 kilometers? 100? 1,000?

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Not even close.  This journey will cover 1,073,742 km, or 26 times around the earth.

Amazed? You’re not alone. While this illustrates the extraordinary power of exponential growth, it also highlights the trouble we have getting our heads around it.

That’s how it is with digital technologies. Processor speed, data storage, bandwidth, sensors and connected devices are leaping ahead exponentially, upending everything we thought we knew about how to best run our businesses and our lives.  But we’re handicapped.  Until recently our world has been one of small numbers that grew little over generations. Indeed, while technology advances faster than ever, upgrades to the human brain still take millennia.

Consider these facts:

  • This year Airbnb will become the largest hotel chain in the world (after launching in 2008), with more than 850,000 rooms, and without owning any hotels.
  • From 2012 to 2014, Uber consumed a whopping 65% of San Francisco’s taxi business.
  • Advances in artificial intelligence and robotics put 47% of U.S. employment (over 60 million jobs) at high risk of being replaced in the next decade.
  • 10 million new autonomous vehicles per year may be entering U.S. highways by 2030.
  • Today’s sensors are 1 billion times better (1000x lighter, 1000x cheaper and 1000x the resolution) than only 40 years ago. By 2030, 100 trillion sensors could be operational worldwide.
  • The cost of DNA sequencing dropped precipitously (from $1B to $5K) in only 15 years. By 2020 it could be $0.01.
  • In 2000, it took $5,000,000 to launch an Internet startup. Today the cost is less than $5,000.


With gains like this, it’s no wonder futurist Ray Kurzweil predicted that progress in this century could be of equal magnitude to all such progress over the last 200 centuries.


The fundamental driver behind all this is the relentless digitization of everything. That’s because once something is digitized it can then be copied infinitely, perfectly every time, and made immediately available to everyone. It also can be offered nearly for free, because the marginal cost of a digital asset is essentially zero. These are the forces that ignite exponential growth and, as we’re seeing, the rapid disruption of business models, industries, and, well, practically everything.


Examples abound. Here are just a few:


Self-driving vehicles will dramatically change the driver and passenger experiences, increase productivity and safety, and reduce the need to own vehicles for personal use. The automobile, insurance, legal, and transportation industries will all feel the impact.


Bitcoin threatens to undermine the traditional roles played by banks and payment systems by providing a viable alternative to traditional currency and value transfer methods.


3D Printing promises to render product complexity essentially free, by bypassing the physical limits of how we make and ship things. This will fundamentally change the manufacturing and distribution industries.


Digital bio-fabrication and DNA sequencing will transform healthcare by greatly extending lifespans and making ultra-personalized medicine available to billions.


Organizational structure, the nature of work, and the limits of human performance will be rethought as leadership, management, and education are transformed to fit our digital age.


These are revolutionary developments for sure, but they’re baby steps compared to what’s on the way. Indeed, the opportunities for wealth creation are enormous, as is the potential to solve global issues like poverty, disease, illiteracy, and resource scarcity. The world’s biggest problems are also the world’s biggest business opportunities.


SAP Digital Futures will help you explore these disruptions and others, to provide foresight on the amazing possible futures being shaped by technology. The goal isn’t to predict particular outcomes, but rather to raise awareness and spark discussion around issues that will shape your future. Here are four questions to help you get started:


  1. What are your competitive advantages today, and how could exponential technologies disrupt them?
  2. What major challenges are you facing, and how might exponential technologies help you solve them?
  3. What products and services can be digitized over time? What opportunities does this create for you, and for your competitors?
  4. Which technologies hold the most promise, and what are you doing to investigate their potential?

Please share your comments, ideas, and suggestions, so we can integrate your thoughts in upcoming SAP Digital Futures articles.

Download Issue No. 01: Direct Your Digital Future   

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To learn about more about how exponential technology will affect business and life, see SAP Digital Futures

This article also appears on the Digitalist Magazine.

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