When Peter Diamandis and Ray Kurzweil founded Singularity University, they did so on the radical notion that exponential technologies could play a fundamental role in solving our biggest social problems. In particular they believed that digital technologies—which rapidly fall in cost, increase in sophistication, and globally scale—can create a world of abundance.In my role as Vice Chair of Global Grand Challenges at Singularity University, I see this core thesis playing out every day in both our own ecosystem as well as the broader world. For example, consider 360Ed, which was created during our Global Solutions Program (now Global Startup Program) in 2016, closed a deal in 2018 to deliver high-quality digital student-centered learning to 1.3 million children in Myanmar with plans to expand globally—or Iron Ox, the first autonomous farm in the US, recently announced they can generate food yields 30 times greater than a traditional farm—or the growing cultured meat industry which expects to produce healthy, environmentally-friendly cultured meat at $2-$4 per pound by 2020—or ICON, which announced plans to build high quality affordable 3D-printed houses for $4,000-$10,000 in 24 hours. Given these are technology companies, their products and services should continue to fall in cost and rapidly scale around the world.As we move into a world where exponential technologies are driving down costs and democratizing access to basic goods and services including the tools people need to solve their own problems, I believe we are seeing a new field of social impact emerge. This is a field where our scarcity-based social problems will go away, and a new set of social problems, primarily related to ethics, equity, governance, purpose, and resilience, are emerging.When any new field emerges, it becomes important to define what the new problems are, as well as what success looks like in solving those problems. In this post, I make the case that we can actually use Peter Diamandis’ and Steve Kotler’s “Six Ds” framework, originally created to describe why digital technology is so disruptive, as a framework for actually measuring what social impact looks like in an exponential world. To be clear, this is early thinking and is not comprehensive of all social problems, but it is an area I believe worthy of exploration and deeper thinking. I would love to know your feedback and reactions as well as other ways you think we might measure social impact in an exponential world.
One of the foundational courses we teach at Singularity University, “Introduction to Exponential Technologies,” covers our core concepts about how exponential and digital technologies behave. In particular we teach the “6Ds,” a framework which explains how exponential technologies go from being deceptive, where few people see them coming, to disruptive, where they became the main way of doing things in the world. In particular, during that transformation, exponential technologies go through a set of steps including being digitized, demonetized, dematerialized, and democratized.You can check out a refresher on the 6Ds here.While we are initially using this framework to explain how exponential technology behaves, we can also flip it to use it as a way to understand how well the benefits of exponential technologies are serving everyone in the world and how well we are controlling for the challenges they might also create.For example, what percentage of your country’s social services and basic goods are digitized, de-monetized, dematerialized, and democratized? And what percentage of your citizens are resilient and can thrive in a world of disruption and accelerating change?Below I have used the 6Ds as a framework for digging deep into these questions and their social implications. While the original framework was created by Peter Diamandis and Steve Kotler, I have added my own questions based on my career working in social impact, and especially under the mentorship of Bill Drayton, the founder of the field of social entrepreneurship, when I worked with him for nearly ten years at Ashoka. In addition, I chose to think about it from a policymaker or governmental leader’s perspective, but anyone leading a community, company, or institution could adapt it.
Using the digitization framework, we want to understand how well citizens can access basic goods and services through digitization. For example, we might ask:
Using the demonetization framework, we want to understand how far digitization has driven (or can drive down) the costs of products and services that are basic goods and essential to human thriving in society. For example, we might ask:
Demonetization, of course, opens up a number of other questions related to profit distribution, business models, economic models, political models, and values, which we will address under the “Democratization” framework.
As products and services are digitized, they also dematerialize. Dematerialization not only makes accessibility easier (imagine students in a war zone able to access digital education or healthcare online) but can also be very important to environmental impact and sustainability. Here we can ask:
Once products and services or digitized, demonetized, and dematerialized, in theory they should be democratized. Peter Diamandis originally used the term “democratized” to explain how products and services become ubiquitous and available to everyone, rather than only those with large amounts of resources such as the wealthy, governments, or large organizations. In this framework, I would like to expand on that definition to address some of the challenging questions that emerge around digitization related to ethics, equity, politics, economics, and ultimately our values. While this section reflects my own values and initial thinking, I encourage others you to explore what it would look like to incorporate your own values into this section.
The deceptive and disruption frameworks exist to help people understand how a digital product or service can so quickly go from being unknown to the majority of the world, to suddenly becoming a product or service that millions or billions of people are using, in the process possibly driving certain companies out of business, spawning entirely new industries full of opportunities for new companies, and changing our social, cultural, and economic patterns. We can use this framework to ask how resilient our population is to disruption and if our population can thrive in world of accelerating change. Here we can ask:
Do you think exponential technologies are creating a new field of social impact? What do you think of using the 6Ds as a framework for measuring social impact? How do your values intersect with the process of digitization, dematerialization, and demonetization, and what are the implications for society, economics, and governance? I would love to get your comments here.