What will the future hold?

Published in category: People

Yuri Van Geest

To say that Yuri van Geest is a ‘forwardthinking’ person is a slight understatement. “I am active in the space between technology, innovation and digitalisation as well as strategy and organisational models. Looking at how the business environment is becoming exponential due to globalisation technology.”

Since 2008, he has been involved with the Singularity University. This is an unprecedented melange of cutting edge scientists, think-tank innovators and futureproof business developers located in the Silicon Valley. Its mission is to ‘educate, inspire and empower leaders to apply exponential technologies to address humanity’s grand challenges’.

He is the initiator of the Singularity University in the Netherlands. Based in Eindhoven, with offices in Amsterdam and Rotterdam as well, it aims to bring the best insights in terms of science and technology to the Netherlands.

In 2014, he co-authored the multi-award winning book ‘Exponential Organizations’ with Salim Ismail, Michael S. Malone and Peter H. Diamandis. With over 200,000 copies sold in 15 different languages, this book describes how companies can accelerate growth by integrating technology into the business plan. According to McKinsey Consultants, the book is obligatory reading for all its global consultancy personnel.


In this magazine there are a number of articles demonstrating how Damen is incorporating technological advances in order to adapt to a rapidly changing world. Here, however, we step up a gear by talking to Yuri van Geest, one of the world’s leading experts on the subject of singularity (or how exponential technological growth will affect the world). He introduces to us the most pertinent points of singularity and shows how he thinks that these will affect the maritime industry.

Singularity is the term that describes a future moment in the history of the world when numerous exponentially growing technologies converge at one point in time. Crucially, the scope of these technologies is so broad that singularity will have a profound effect on the world as we know it. Socially, scientifically, economically, biologically: every aspect of our lives will be affected. When this moment will come is not known, but many thinkers believe that singularity will be a historical ‘point-of-no-return’.

These technologies encompass (but are not limited to) biotech, nanotech, neurotech, solar energy, artificial intelligence, ICT, drones and robots. “These technologies are simultaneously growing at exponential rates. They are doubling in capacity every 18 months,” states Mr Van Geest. “What we expect in the next 10 years is of the same magnitude of change that occurred over the last 50 years. The pace of change is accelerating and it will not stop.”

Crucially, this exponential growth coincides with the exponential reduction in related costs. With efficiency doubling every 2 years, solar power is a good example. “10 years ago solar energy cost $1 per kilowatt hour. Today the same amount of energy costs just 4 dollar cents. I think that in the next 20 years this is going to solve the world’s energy problems.”

Solar power is just one example though: “If you combine all those technologies you get radical solutions to global challenges such as water and food shortages, energy, healthcare and education. This will impact individuals, organisations, societies – the whole planet. Any technology is a way to transform a particular scarcity into abundance.”

In the future of the world’s maritime markets, Mr Van Geest believes that change will come in two layers. “The first layer affects the organisational aspects of business. Companies and organisations will have to take certain steps to stay in business”, he says. “The first step is to transform leadership at all levels and to increase diversity. More women, more young people and more ethnicity. Diverse teams are more robust.”

The second step is to create a portfolio that includes external startups that disrupt your products and services. “This has to be done at a product level and an organisational level. This should also include internal start-ups within the organisation reporting to the CEO with full autonomy. The thinking behind this point is that if a third party is going to disrupt your business model, it should be an entity that you have control of and can manage.

“The second layer concerns the exponential technologies. According to Mr Van Geest, nanotechnology, especially graphene will have far-reaching effects on the maritime industry. This is a material that is 200 times stronger and 6 times lighter than steel and so will be used to build more robust and more sustainable ships. Ships with such nano-coatings will also be self-cleaning, which will therefore have a major impact on the maintenance and repair sectors.”

“Drones are also experiencing exponentials – in terms of decreasing costs and increasing capacity. 10 years ago, a military drone cost $4.5 million. Now you have similar functionality for a few hundred dollars. Drone payload and range is doubling every 9 months.” This will have an impact on regional distribution services – it is not unthinkable to envisage drones performing local deliveries of maritime components, for example.

Advances in sensor technology will improve maritime safety, security and integrity. “Again the fall in costs is exponential – a 90% decrease in 5 years. All chemical, physical and biological states will be detectable and manageable in real time.” [Editor’s note: Damen is already experimenting with remote monitoring; see the article on page 28.]

More sensors means more data, which in turn means a greater need for data analysis and response. “Based on the principles of neuroscience and cognitive psychology we have created algorithms that can interpret big data – Artificial Intelligence. A.I. will impact our whole lives: all products and services, all job sectors and functions. This will create opportunities as well as disruptions.”

The benefits to the shipping industry include identification of problems. “We will be able to track and diagnose issues – ultimately moving towards prevention of problems.” Emerging with A.I. technology is an increased use of robots for cleaning and service functions. “While artificial intelligence represents an intellectual change, robots can be seen as a physical change.”

Affecting markets on a wide-ranging scale will be the escalation of 3D printing says Mr Van Geest. “Last year the speed of 3D printers increased 10,000-fold, using 4D thermoplastics. This will lead to a quantum shift in global supply chains,” he says. 3D printing is only the start however: “The next step is molecular assembly, which is the most advanced form of physical production. And don’t forget, even if you see nothing today, that doesn’t mean it’s going to take another 300 years to happen. We expect this to flourish in the next 10 to 15 years based on recent breakthroughs.”

On a broader scale, he talks about the subject of the blockchain, which is expected to change the future of financial transactions as we know them. “This is a complex story of what is perhaps the most revolutionary technology. It concerns algorithmic automated trust where the trust is the underlying core of every economic transaction. It is a public ledger spread across millions of computers. It allows for more efficiency, effectiveness, speed, security, honesty and makes fraud, corruption and piracy impossible.”

“The supply chain of physical products will transform into an open source database that is more efficient and effective and without fraud.” With decentralisation playing a significant part in the concept of the blockchain, he says this is the most significant emerging technology. “It’s not here yet, but it’s evolving in the next five years. Companies have to explore this right now otherwise they’ll be outdated.”

Which brings us to one of the most interesting matters on the subject of singularity: Technologies have the capacity to help organisations advance towards a productive and sustainable future. The question is how will those organisations integrate and utilize technology into their business strategies. Mr Van Geest concludes: “If you are able to ask the right questions then technology will give you the right answers. Increasingly, we move to algorithmic organisations, robotics corporations or self-driving, automated companies. Software is eating the world.”

Note from the editor: This article does not necessarily represent the views of Damen. It is an attempt to find some possible answers or directions when looking to the future of shipping and shipbuilding. The vision and ideas of Mr van Geest can perhaps serve to start a discussion with our partners on the question ‘How will technology impact our future?’

When discussing singularity, it is helpful to be able to grasp two additional key concepts. The first of which is exponential growth: the consecutive doubling of a value within a set time scale. It is an idea that has been known for millennia, as illustrated by this Indian legend:

An ancient Indian king rewarded a wise man who had invented the game of chess by telling him that he could ask for any prize he desired. The wise man asked for one grain of rice for the first square of the chess board, two grains for the second square, four grains for the third square and so on – for all 64 squares on the chessboard. The king agreed; without realising the implications of the promise. If the agreement were to be fulfilled, the king would need 8,446,744,073,709,551,615 grains of rice weighing 461,168,602,000 tons (a pile of rice this high would be larger than Mount Everest).

Even though the story is old, the concept is still relevant today. The term ‘the second half of the chessboard’ is used in technology theory to describe the impact of exponential growth in the modern world. For example, the second half of the chessboard contains 4 billion times more rice than the first half.

The second concept concerns Moore’s Law. In 1965 Gordon E. Moore, cofounder of the Intel Corporation, observed the exponential increase in the number of components in integrated computer circuits. He consequently predicted that this expansion would continue at a pace that would double every two years.

This model became known as Moore’s Law (which is an observation rather than an actual physical law). Although it originates in the realm in computing technology, the thinking behind Moore’s Law can be applied to the forces that drive various other technological, economic and social changes.

Many areas of technology – sensors, networks, artificial intelligence, robotics, digital manufacturing, nanomaterials, neurotech, biotech, drones and sustainable energy – are experiencing the exponential effects of Moore’s Law.