Over 10,000 people of all nationalities gathered at the Moscow Open Innovations forum this week, so perhaps it is of no surprise that one of the most stimulating topics of discussion at the conference centred around the benefits of hyper-connectivity.
In the last decade alone, our accelerating inter-connectivity has made the world both a smaller and more complex place, where the spread of information from one corner of the globe to the other takes microseconds through the proliferation of mobile devices, email, instant messaging and social media.
However, Peter Diamandis, co-founder and chairman of Singularity University, thinks that “Compared to how we’ll be connected 10 years from now, we’re not connected yet.” Speaking at a panel on the first day of the conference, Diamandis believes that within a matter of years, hyper-connectivity will have accelerated to the point that “Distance will mean nothing anymore – where you live and where you work do not need to be the same.”
True, the invention of the Internet seems to have accelerated the life-span of a company at a colossal level. A company started in the 1920s had a 67-year runway of growth; today a company’s lifespan has been reduced to just 15 years. A prime example of this is in the social media industry: Bebo gave way to Myspace, which was effectively usurped by Facebook.
In an utterly open world where access to information is easy, there are plenty of pros and cons for businesses. “Hyper-connectivity gives you access to many more customers and with much less friction” Bob Mecalfe, co-inventor of the Ethernet and professor of innovation at the University of Austin, Texas, told us. “But it also gives your competitors the same access and access to your ideas."
It’s a double-edged sword that Diamandis – who built his fortune on the space travel and zero gravity industries - is keen to swing. “I believe we’re moving from a world of have and have-nots, to have and super-haves” he enthused. “The biggest difference between a billionaire and an impoverished member of a third-world country is how they use their time.” He believes that today the rich are granted access to a vast online world of communicative freedom, whilst the poor are limited geographically and technologically to the immediate region they're located in.
Hyper-connectivity, Diamandis believes, is the conduit to lifting people out of poverty. By giving individuals access to technologies, communities and the tools to innovate and raise their standards of living, over time “our contemporary notion of poverty will no longer exist.” It’s a bold statement, and perhaps a naïve one, but Diamandis talked animatedly about this move towards what he terms “technological socialism created by a world of abundance.”
If this hyper-connected utopia is indeed possible, it would open up endless doors of business possibility where the six billion or so people worldwide who are currently cut off from Internet technologies can enter and engage with the online community - that's six billion more customers for any growing business.
In his closing remarks - in stark opposition to the popular imaginings of dystopian, Matrix-like hyper-connectivity - Diamandis seemed energised by the notion of a new era of human history. “We’re reinventing what it means to be human,” he gushed. “We’re moving towards a world of seven billion hyper-connected humans and we can plug in to it. People will want to be connected. We’re evolving what humanity is, and it’s happening in the next few decades.”