Learning from superheroes

Speaking at the opening of the SingularityU Australian Summit, I made the case that exponential change is really a series of overlapping S-curves. And just maybe, “S” stands for superhero!

The rate of change in the world around us is amazing, exciting and, perhaps, just a little frightening. The challenge we all face is that mid-transformation it is hard to work out if we are in the middle of a big, forever ongoing, exponential change or the steepest point of inclination of an S-curve before we decelerate to a new normal.

Finding out where we are in this voyage of change is why Deloitte partners with Singularity University. Over the next two days we have the opportunity to see many of the changes in action across biology, technology and society. But it isn’t just the “what” that interests all of us, it is the “how” these changes will be wrought and, even more importantly “why”.

We challenge all of you to be active participants in understanding why change is inevitable and how we can make it better for everyone. To find and unleash each of our individual superpowers and come together as a community to drive change in a positive way.

When any of us think about superpowers and superheros we immediately start with flight, fire, strength and myriad of other capabilities we see up on the silver screen. But there is an even more important and common theme in these stories, that is of failure and redemption.

Almost all superheroes start with serious flaws. Fear, anger and loneliness is common amongst many of these characters. They often do wrong in the striving to counter what they see as wrong. The balance of the story is then of redemption. Stopping the arch villain, saving the city and, ultimately, in doing so they are saving themselves.

Coming into today, you’ve been asked to identify your favourite superhero. But I really wonder whether we can’t think of all of humanity as a superhero.

We have amazing powers, social and technological and we’ve spent millennia trying to harness our powers against feelings of fear in an uncertain world, anger at perceived wrongs and loneliness as we wonder if maybe we really are alone. Unfortunately, in doing that we have done so much harm, to each other, to entire societies, to our very planet.

But today, I believe humanity is genuinely at a crossroads where redemption is possible. Where our superpowers can be applied in a more enlightened way. Where our generation can achieve a lasting and positive legacy.

These crossroads come after thousands of years of agrarian society that has left much of our soil infertile, hundreds of years (and more) of invasion which have left entire cultures displaced, two hundred years of industrial revolution that has choked our atmosphere and some decades of an information and digital revolution that has threatened our very self-identity and privacy. We can and must do better.

Arguably, each of these changes is an S-curve with a slow start, an exponential middle, and a logarithmic end. By the time we’ve hit the top of each “S” though, we are well and truly into the next change making the exponential continual.

Today’s new S-curves are leading us into a fourth industrial revolution powered by new energy sources, into new sources of food that are more sustainable and ethical and even the immersion of our very brains into everything that we’ve created to-date. As scary as it sounds, in this room we have the power to make this latest change one of redemption where we don’t forget our mistakes of our past, but we do learn from them.

I believe that humanity is capable of great things and that together we are superheroes.

And for the record, my favourite superhero is Ant-Man. So much of our future starts with the smallest changes made with great purpose and strength.

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