As an Associate Founder of Singularity University, he explained that it's mission is to solve problems. They aren't interested in just any solutions. They only focus on solutions that will "...Positively impact 1 billion people in the next decade." (That is 10 to the 9th power for all of you mathematicians).
As Rob explained various subjects from Airbnb's IPO to glowing plants, you could see his passion for thinking large scale thoughts.
One project in particular, however, caught my attention. Rob let on that he fully expects that we can double our human life expectancy in the next two decades. That's right. We are currently living to be an average of 78 years old. In the next twenty years, scientists believe they will have pushed that to 156.
On the surface, it sounds a bit far fetched. But then Rob explained the concept of "exponential growth". In essence, exponential growth occurs when a technology doubles in capacity each year. In an infant technology, the doubling of capacity actually feels like a disappointment. In other words, in the beginning, a technology usually over-promises and under-delivers. However, somewhere in the future, that technology will meet expectations and from there, future growth outpaces our ability to grasp the technology and results in a chaotic explosion of opportunities.
Rob pointed to the use of mobile phones as an example. Originally we had walkie talkies with large antennas. Decades later we had wireless phones in our homes. Soon enough we had those "brick" phones we could carry inside a briefcase. When the blackberry arrived we reached the inflection point. When you could call and e-mail from your phone, we had pretty well caught up to the public's expectations of what a wireless phone could be. However, the iPhone was released in 2007 and people could not have imagined where it would take us in the subsequent years. Can you imagine what your phone will do in another 8 years?
The technology exploded into competing operating systems, apps to do everything from keep track of your calendar to tracking the planetary movements in the sky to recording HD video and automatically uploading it to a secure server in the cloud. The point is that once an exponential technology reaches the inflection point of meeting public expectations, it next begins to outpace those same expectations.
Getting back to our 156 year lifespan, Rob illustrated his point by educating me about the mapping of human genomes (our DNA). He said that a few years ago it cost approximately $100,000 to map one person's DNA. Today it costs between $250 and $1000. However, by 2022, he expects it to cost about a penny. That, he suggested, will be the inflection point for our ability to extend our human lifespan. (Pay attention American Standard as Rob believes this technology should most logically exist inside our toilets).
When the cost of genome mapping is $.01, scientists will be able to collect massive amounts of data and use that data to reprogram our own DNA. (Incidentally, they are already doing this in animals - just not humans). That reprogramming could mean removing the DNA codes that allow cancer to grow inside our bodies. It could mean altering our stem cells so that they maintain their ability to renew and repair our bodies for additional decades to come.
If Rob is right, we could all live a much longer life than we are currently planning for.
As a "Cash Flow" guy, I am often confronted by people who are concerned about outliving their financial resources. If what I learned from Rob this week is true, then it may be time to gather your team and make sure you at least have a contingency option. There are several ways to add long-term cash flow to your portfolio and it can't hurt to have a "What-if" conversation.
Somewhere in that dark place in our head we don't like to think about, we all have an idea of when our ticket may be punched. If Rob is right, we may all be underestimating that day by a large margin!