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Book of the Day: Abundance – The Future Is Better Than You Think

photo of Franco Iacomella

Franco Iacomella
8th May 2012


Abundance: The Future Is Better Than You Think. Peter H. Diamandis. Free Press. 2012.

Overview

We will soon be able to meet and exceed the basic needs of every man, woman and child on the planet. Abundance for all is within our grasp. This bold, contrarian view, backed up by exhaustive research, introduces our near-term future, where exponentially growing technologies and three other powerful forces are conspiring to better the lives of billions. An antidote to pessimism by tech entrepreneur turned philanthropist, Peter H. Diamandis and award-winning science writer Steven Kotler.

Since the dawn of humanity, a privileged few have lived in stark contrast to the hardscrabble majority. Conventional wisdom says this gap cannot be closed. But it is closing—fast. The authors document how four forces—exponential technologies, the DIY innovator, the Technophilanthropist, and the Rising Billion—are conspiring to solve our biggest problems. Abundance establishes hard targets for change and lays out a strategic roadmap for governments, industry and entrepreneurs, giving us plenty of reason for optimism.

Examining human need by category—water, food, energy, healthcare, education, freedom—Diamandis and Kotler introduce dozens of innovators making great strides in each area: Larry Page, Steven Hawking, Dean Kamen, Daniel Kahneman, Elon Musk, Bill Joy, Stewart Brand, Jeff Skoll, Ray Kurzweil, Ratan Tata, Craig Venter, among many, many other

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3 Responses to “Book of the Day: Abundance – The Future Is Better Than You Think”

  1. Matthew Slater Says:

    Reasoned promises of future abundance are nothing new and are of no interest to me. I would like to posit that abundance is here, maybe always has been, but it’s just unevenly distributed.
    In this view, we don’t wait for abundance to happen, but we are urged to unlock it!

  2. Dale Carrico Says:

    Schlock and Awesome; Or, The Futurists Are Worse Than You Think

    Very Serious Futurologist Patrick Tucker begins his discussion of the book Abundance: The Future is Better Than You Think by Peter Diamandis and Steven Kotler by complaining that too “many of us have fallen to the urge to surrender, to turn away from the growing needs of a bulging global population, to deny the reality of humanity’s impact on the Earth and the climate, to nurse our collective anxiety with the false comfort of ignorance and isolationism.” He cites as a cause of this a number of impacts of global human population growth which suggests, all things being equal, “energy demand will rise by 60% between 2002 and 2030. The number of people on the brink of starvation is above one-sixth of the total number of people on the planet, or at least one billion people, according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). It will only get worse as current trends predict that two-thirds of the global population will live in a water-stressed environment by the year 2030, a phenomenon exacerbated by climate change.”

    Tucker follows this sobering stock-taking and admonition of those who prefer escapism over actually grappling with the urgent problems at hand by doing what anybody who doesn’t actually follow futurism would regard as flabbergasting: he advocates precisely the escapism he admonished a moment before. Tucker enthuses: “Nine billion people in 2050, all needing food, shelter, clean air, intellectual and physical stimulation, isn’t the big problem we think it is, say Diamandis and Kotler. It’s actually nine billion problems but with nine billion potential solvers. Once you start counting the solutions, the ideas, the assets that we have and those that we are inventing — once you begin counting the new connections that we’re making daily, hourly, and globally — those nine billion problems look pretty paltry.”

    Needless to say, even if it were true that the “connections” being made on Facebook and Twitter weren’t mostly one-liners by comedians and sales pitches and pretexts for marketing and surveillance and actually were substantial as absolutely they are not, even if it were true that guru-wannabes and think-tank ego-fluffers and celebrity CEOs weren’t mostly endlessly repackaging stale useless crap and flogging hyperbolic press releases to skim profits from the unwary in the face of crumbling infrastructure and diminishing returns and actually were stunning “idea leaders” as absolutely they are not, even if it were true that real solutions equal to our problems were being proposed and implemented through entrepreneurial innovation and functional accountable public-spirited well-governed civic apparatuses as absolutely they are not, even if all these things were true as absolutely they are not, even then the global problems of climate change, resource descent, exploitation, starvation, pandemics would be the farthest imaginable thing from “look[ing] pretty paltry.” It is hard to express just how appalling, how irresponsible, how cynical that statement is, especially coming as it does on the heels of something like a recognition of the scope and scale of some of the planetary problems that beset us.

    When Diamandis and Kotler suavely and cynically propose that nine billion actually needy people living in a stressed finite planet aren’t a problem but “nine billion potential solvers” it is hard not to gasp at the outrageous glibness of their response. Everybody is born with a stomach that renders them vulnerable to starvation, but nobody is born with an education or access to law or influence to change their circumstances just because they are also born with a brain. Like millions and millions and millions of precarious, silenced, exploited, starving, unhealthy human beings on earth right now — every one of whom is “a potential problem solver” in the utterly vacuous and smug sense Diamandis and Kotler deploy to reassure the privileged readers of their books that the catastrophic environmental and socioecomic and demographic realities that beset us won’t actually impinge on their own privileged existences — so too few of the nine billion “potential problem solvers” on their way will have anything like the means to implement solutions to our problems even as they suffer the worst effects of the failure to solve them.

    It should be emphasized that Diamandis is the Chairman and CEO of the X Prize Foundation — which in my view fosters the absurd Randroidal ideological fantasy that prize money and for-profit competition can beat public investment to solve intractable shared problems, so far with the result mostly of attracting huge amounts of attention pretending that brief-duration low-gravity amusement park quality plane rides in low earth orbit constitute a “space program” like NASA was and still is, with profitable space hotels and asteroid mining colonies on the way any minute now, of course, and also pretending that anybody was ever going to buy Elon Musk’s slick Green DeLorean boondoggle, all the while ignoring the indispensable role of government money still enabling everything the least bit substantial to come out of this whole narcissistic Silicon Valley CEO superstar circle-jerk through government contracts and public university educations anyway. Diamandis is also the founder of Singularity University, you know, where Very Serious digital utopians and other assorted futurological nuts fancy they are coding a history-ending Robot God who will solve all of our problems for us (if it doesn’t reduce the world instead to computronium goo, the equally idiotic disasterbatory place their fancy sometimes takes them to instead) through the application of an “artificial super-intelligence” that apart from not existing and never arriving despite interminable predictions by the experts pretty much every year on the year since the 1950s and seems even in principle to lack some fairly obvious and indispensable things that are always present in actually-existing exhibitions of intelligence, like biological brains functioning in living mortal bodies subject to limits imposed by the vantages in which they are situated and expressing themselves in the context of complex and dynamic societies engaged in historical stakeholder struggles.

    Tucker enthuses that “[n]o one is in a better position to cast light on these new ideas and solutions than Diamandis,” who is, Tucker proclaims, “a sort of international solutions hunter. His adventures rocketing around the world (and bringing the world to him at the Singularity University campus in Silicon Valley) are detailed wonderfully in this book… Diamandis’s journeys have brought him into contact with an amazing network of idea folks, from Craig Venter to Ray Kurzweil… and other entrepreneurs across the globe.” You will forgive me if I propose that Diamandis’s hob-nobbing with Craig Ventor and Ray Kurzweil and other boutique techno-fixers and entrepreneurial skimmers and scammers and TED squawkers means that almost EVERYONE is in a better position than him to cast light on our actual problems and engage in efforts at education, agitation, and organization to address them. Not to put too fine a point on it, I think Diamandis is just one more self-important bamboozlement peddler smiling his big toothy smile and raking in the dough from failure to failure while the world grows more perilous, precarious, and polluted by the minute.

    As I point out in my Futurological Brickbats: “XXIV. It is always magical thinking to declare an outcome need only be profitable for it to be possible.” “LVI. Futurologists keep confusing making bets with having thoughts.” Writes Tucker, “Diamandis and Kotler… got to the future just a few steps before the rest of us.” This is, of course, the deception and self-deception that drives the fraud of futurology through and through. Tucker titles his handwaving review, “An Awesome Adventure to the Future!” (The exclamation point is, I think, implied.) But as I never tire of pointing out (actually, I am tired of it), “The Future” is not a tourist destination. It is not a magical land. There is no there there, it isn’t an Emerald City certain lucky rich white people have seen before the rest of us have, that they can report back on, hold our hand and lead the way to while they endlessly pass the collection plate.

    More Futurological Brickbats: “V. Futurity is a register of freedom, “The Future” another prison-house built to confine it. Futurity is the openness in the present arising out of the ineradicable diversity of calculating, contending, and collaborative stakeholders who struggle to make and remake the shared world, peer to peer. Futurity cannot be delineated but only lived, in serial presents attesting always unpredictably to struggle and to expression. “The Future,” to the contrary, brandishing the shackle of its definite article, is always described from a parochial present and is always a funhouse mirror reflecting a parochial present back to itself, amplifying its desires and fears, confirming its prejudices, reassuring its Believers that the Key to History is in their hands.” “XII. To speak of “The Future” is always to indulge in reaction. All futurisms are finally retro-futurisms.”

    “The Future” conjured up by Diamandis and Kotler is less than a mirage, for what it offers as substance is nothing but escapism from the real present, what it offers as solutions are nothing but distractions from problems, what it offers as a championing of the intelligence of exploited, excluded millions is nothing but an insult to their intelligence.

  3. Michel Bauwens Says:

    I agree with your assessment, though I have not looked at the book with care. Because our blog is pluralist, members do feature books like this one or Digital Vertigo which I personally find objectionable.

    Michel

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