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The exponential economy

August 19, 2008

How much will you pay for the next best thing?

According to xconomy.com the exponential economy is, “the realm of business and innovation characterized by exponential technological growth and responsible for an increasing share of productivity and overall economic growth.”

What does this mean though? Fortunately, it is not difficult to get a sense of what is meant by an exponential economy and exponential technology growth. In fact, you might have been witnessing these phenomena without being aware that Nathan Myhrvold, the founder of Intellectual Ventures, formed a theory in 2002 to explain them.

Myhrvold explains how exponential technology performance and price are correlated; “Mass-market software has an exponential price/performance curve. If you bought Microsoft Windows or Adobe PageMaker or–pick any other application you could possibly imagine–and you look at it over a period of time, you’re paying almost the same amount or even less in real dollars for an increasing amount of technology–an exponentially increasing amount.” (technologyreview.com). What this means is that certain technologies have exponentially better performance over a period of time, yet the price stays about the same, or decreases.

Back in 2002 Myhrvold identified that, “Genomics is going through an exponential revolution. So regardless of whether you’re a doctor trying to save somebody’s life, or you’re trying to make new cosmetics, genomics and proteomics and the tools associated with them become indispensable. The Human Genome Project was a gigantic project, eight years, $12 billion, to sequence the entire human genome. And I claim it’ll be down to the $10 range to sequence individual genomes.” (technologyreview.com). This helps put into context how exponential technology growth is beneficial. Notably, Myhrvold was correct that the cost of sequencing human genomes would decrease greatly, which is great news for scientists.

The cost to sequence an entire human genome is now $50,000, rather than $3 billion (scientificblogging.com).
It is likely that the reason genomics has been able to decrease the price of sequencing human genomes is because they embraced investment in research for genomics technology, consequently, the technology became far more efficient. If they had not, then it would still cost $3 billion a genome.

So, in relatively the same way that computer software survives in the mass-market by increasing the technology they offer (who would upgrade their software if it offered nothing new?), genomics ensures its exponential future by offering more important scientific data for less money. The only perceivable difference is that software is very much within the mass-market, whereas this kind of advancement in genomics seems to only be indirectly so.

If you want to know what experts have to say about the exponential economy go visit xconomy.com. Also, check out the article about the exponential economy written by Myhrvold himself!

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Nick Glanville @ MaRS

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Nick Glanville is interning with MaRS while he finishes studies at the University of Toronto.

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