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Don't be afraid of the singularity

US futurologist calls on people to adopt an 'exponential mindset'

Jonathan Knowles, a fellow at Singularity University, says we should get used to a breakneck pace of technological change.

TOKYO -- Technological advances will not stop, and the only way to cope is to get used to the changes, Jonathan Knowles, an American futurologist, said at the World Digital Summit in Tokyo.

The way to do this is to have an "exponential mindset," said the distinguished fellow of Singularity University, a Silicon Valley think tank. The singularity refers to a moment at which artificial intelligence exceeds that of humans, resulting in a potentially incomprehensible and unpredictable world.

He asked the audience to imagine where they would be if they were to take 30 exponential steps -- one, two, four, 16. They would have walked around the earth 26 times, he said by way of explaining the pace of today's technological change.

"What we need to do in this world of ever rapidly increasing innovation and technology," he said at the conference on Monday morning, "is to recognize those patterns so that we can better estimate the right trajectory to aim for as technologies are moving on that exponential curve."

Some say the singularity will come as early as 2029. Knowles didn't give a specific time frame but said "it will certainly happen. We are on that path."

He says some recent and around-the-corner innovations were once considered science fiction: driverless cars, digital bookstores, unmanned stores and computer-generated classical music. More such changes are on the way.

"These things are, to some, incomprehensively rapid and complicated," he said, "but with an exponential mindset, we can leverage these technologies, and we can make the lives of more people better."

In opening the symposium, Naotoshi Okada, president and CEO of Nikkei Inc., said, "Innovative technologies such as AI and autonomous driving will alter people's lives and industries in a dramatic way." 

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