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Friday, June 5, 2015

Exponential Finance: Exploring technology's role in human evolution

Technologists, financial services professionals and global industry leaders convened June 2 and 3, 2015, in Battery Park City in New York City for the second annual Exponential Finance Conference hosted by CNBC and Singularity University. Over 40 speakers and 500 attendees participated in the two-day event, co-sponsored by Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu Ltd., Credit Suisse Group AG and an honor roll of participating partner companies. The interdisciplinary agenda focused on technology's double-edged role as a disruptor of traditional industry and as a resource that can be tapped to solve complex global issues. Technology demos on the main stage and in the exhibit hall's Innovation Lab included artificial intelligence, big data, robotics, 3D printing, digital medicine, bitcoin/blockchain, autonomous vehicles and nanotechnology. These digital technologies are transforming traditional models in the banking, wealth advisory, capital formation, insurance and healthcare sectors, motivating many leaders to disrupt their businesses before their competitors do it for them.

The conference itself was disruptive. In addition to business leaders, the stage was shared by poets and contemporary artists whose provocative performances promoted a conceptual framework of global, exponential thinking. Panel discussions and live demos highlighted the need for agile, flexible organizational models that continuously adapt in concert with the accelerating pace of innovation.

From linear to exponential thinking

Dr. Peter H. Diamandis, co-founder and Executive Chairman of Singularity University and best-selling author of Abundance: The Future is Better Than You Think and newly released Bold: How to Go Big, Create Wealth, and Impact the Word, has charted the evolution of human thinking from "local and linear" to "global and exponential." Linear thinking from century to century encompassed everything contained within the perimeters of "a day's walk." The only things that affected people were those that were directly accessible. Events taking place on the other side of the world remained outside of their scope.

"Today we're living in a world that's global and exponential," Diamandis said to a rapt audience at the conference. He cited You Tube, Instagram, Dropbox, Uber, Oculus Virtual Reality, WhatsApp, Snapchat, and Airbnb as examples of exponential enterprises. All involved entrepreneurs who transitioned in record time from "I've got an idea" to "I run a billion dollar company," he noted. These companies followed an evolutionary path that Diamandis defines as the "Six D's of Exponentials: digitalization, deception, disruption, demonetization, dematerialization and democratization." The initial concept phase, in which a technology is digitalized, is followed by a period of deceptive growth, which leads to disruption, causing demonetization's "race to the bottom" in pricing. The dematerialized digital product replaces the tangible, analog product to become widely distributed, or democratized.

Diamandis cited Eastman Kodak Co. as an example of this trend. "They owned the IP [intellectual property] but failed to capitalize on digital imagery," and as a result, a startup company with 13 employees called Instagram become a billion dollar company, creating "a new kind of Kodak moment," he said.

Star lineup of speakers

Diamandis co-emceed the conference with CNBC's On-Air Stocks Editor Bob Pisani and Salim Ismail, Singularity University's Global Ambassador. They introduced an array of thought leaders who shared insights and predictions on game-changing technologies. A few robots had a star turn on the big stage, to the vast delight of audience members.

Will Weisman, Executive Director of Conferences at Singularity University, noted that some attendees might question why a finance conference would want to tackle topics such as artificial intelligence, networking, robotics, digital currencies and digital medicine. "We're confident we can help you form direct and meaningful connections between these seemingly disparate worlds," he said.

Presenters, exhibitors, and attendees tweeted using hashtag #xfinance throughout the conference. Many were inspired by the offer of a free drone to the most productive tweeter. Bartt Charles Kellerman, Chief Executive Officer and founder of Global Capital Acquisition LLC, said, "This conference was Twitter gold. I couldn't stop tweeting!" Among his favorites were Bob Pisani's comment, "I'm interested in the future because that is where I'm going to spend the rest of my life," and Brett King's pronouncement that, "Everyone here pretty much agrees that bank tellers will have no place in the digital future."

Apps, props, prizes

A professional photo studio filled with props and gadgets enabled participants to create personalized digital keepsakes. Sharpie pens and packs of trading cards featuring each of the speakers provided an additional platform for attendees to take notes during presentations and post commentary on community bulletin boards.

A mobile app with built-in scanner enabled members to follow the agenda, chat in real-time and connect with each other. Many audience members no longer carry cash or business cards. Deborah Reuben, founder and Consultant at Reuben Creative LLC, said, "There's no reason to carry cards in the digital world, with so many opportunities for professionals to connect and exchange information."

The XCS Challenge, a competition for early-stage companies identified 15 finalists and three category winners from the 32 startup contestants, and one grand prize winner. Grand Champion EatLimmo is a Mexican technology company that developed a way to transform discarded parts of fruit into nutritious, affordable, functional ingredients for the food-processing industry.

Meeting global grand challenges

Singularity University, founded in 2008 by Peter Diamandis and Ray Kurzweil and based in NASA's research campus in Silicon Valley, Calif., is focused on utilizing advanced technologies to positively impact billions of people. The Exponential Conference Series addresses how advanced technologies impact verticals such as finance, healthcare and manufacturing.

Following are sweeping, global challenges Singularity University and its partners are striving to address through enlightened use of exponential technologies:

  • Food: Providing nutritious, sustainable diets for healthy and active lives
  • Energy: Employing reliable, clean energy sources
  • Water: Providing clean, reliable water for consumption, sanitation and economic production
  • Security: Protecting people and infrastructure from harm
  • Global Health: Offering access to basic healthcare and medical advancements
  • Education: Fostering empowered, knowledgeable citizens
  • Environment: Sustainable environments and earth systems
  • Poverty: Eradicating destitution and ensuring basic socioeconomic opportunity
  • Space: Addressing global needs and threats via space exploration
end of article

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