The Exponential Finance Summit 2017, hosted by the Singularity University, was held at the New York Marriott Marquis in Times Square on June 6-9. Also this year, Exponential Finance covered the most disruptive, sometime visionary ideas in fintech. Of course, blockchain technology was prominently featured.
Co-founded in 2008 by Ray Kurzweil, now Google’s director of engineering, and Peter Diamandis, founder and CEO of the XPrize, the Singularity University (SU) is a unique educational and business community focused on world-changing applications of exponentially accelerated technologies.
Kurzweil has written a lot about exponentially accelerating technology. Moore’s Law – the doubling of component density in electronic chips every two years, and ultimately the doubling of the performance of computer systems (at a given price point) every two years, which is taking place since the sixties – is a well-known example of exponential acceleration in technology. Moore’s Law has led to today’s computer systems, hundreds of millions of times more powerful than in the sixties. According to Kurzweil, Diamandis and other SU representatives, the same acceleration is taking place in AI, advanced biotech, quantum computing, robotics, and other futuristic technologies that seem poised to disrupt all industries and the very fabric of society.
Singularity University’s own news magazine Singularity Hub is systematically covering Exponential Finance.
Diamandis acknowledged that automation technology is eliminating jobs, but confidently said that exponentially accelerating technology will ultimately make everything much cheaper and even free.
Mike Sigal, partner at 500 Startups, covered fintech opportunities from the perspective of investors and entrepreneurs. According to Sigal, there’s a lot of demand for new digital products to transform existing financial services.
While Sigal doesn’t think practical financial applications of Artificial Intelligence (AI) technology are mature enough to be appealing to investors, Neil Jacobstein, faculty chair of AI and Robotics at SU, identified five companies that are developing practical AI applications to existing business problems.
Ashish Gadnis, co-founder of blockchain-based digital identification provider BanQu, discussed how BanQu’s platform can allow “unbanked” people with mobile phones to “build a recognizable, vetted identity, which is the base prerequisite to participating in any form of ownership or transactions in the global economy.”
Entrepreneur and SU faculty member Amin Toufani gave an overview of how exponential economics, or “exonomics,” can connect people to prosperity.
“To have a contract with someone, you need to trust them, and you need to have an enforcement mechanism,” noted Toufani. “Blockchain technology is showing us a path to where you can bypass both. Enforcement is automatic and your can trust you counterparty. What if your car offered some bitcoins to the car in front of you? And if and when the cars clear the lane the contract is settled? Enforcement is automatic, you do not need to trust the cars in front of you.”
Ray Kurzweil, who is known for his wildly optimistic predictions about how futuristic technology just behind the corner are poised to reshape the world and eliminate disease, aging and death itself, expressed cautious optimism about blockchain technology, but not wild enthusiasm.
“I think the theory is sound,” said Kurzweil. “People don’t yet have confidence in it; they’ve seen too many examples of supposedly secure systems being compromised in one way or another. I think once we can demonstrate confidence, then yes, a blockchain currency makes sense, and being able to document transactions securely, but there’s a lot to work out.”
However, Kurzweil sounded much less optimistic about the future of bitcoin as a currency.
“Currencies like the dollar have provided reasonable stability,” said Kurzweil. “Bitcoin has not. And it’s not clear to me that the whole mining paradigm can provide that type of stability… We’ve seen tremendous instability with bitcoin, so I wouldn’t put my money into it. I certainly do think there could be alternatives to national currencies emerging in the future. Algorithmic ones are a possibility, I just don’t think we’ve arrived at the right algorithm yet.”
Picture from Wikimedia Commons.