Abundance: The Future Is Better Than You Think
In Abundance: Why the Future is Better Than You Think, (Free Press, February 21) Peter Diamandis and Steven Kotler offer a vision of the future that’s truly awesome in both the most traditional and modern understandings of the word; it’s as big as it as awe inspiring.
The Abundance vision is also a welcome change from what I’ve been hearing too much of lately. To the casual observer, and to more than a few of the individuals who call themselves futurists, the grand challenges of the next century are simply insurmountable. We will have too many people needing too many resources and producing too much pollution. The world population is expected to reach 9.2 billion in 2050, up from seven billion today. At the present rate of consumption, we’ll need three new planets by the end of the century.
Consider the numbers, Experts conservatively predict that 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. The U.S., the world’s richest nation most able to deal with these problems, has severe challenges of its own. Our aging population already spends more money on healthcare than that of any other country (roughly 15% of our GDP).
Given those figures, it’s not surprising that so 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. Let’s shoot the messenger, goes this line of thinking; and it’s catching on. Public polls show Americans becoming more skeptical of mainstream scientific consensus on a variety of issues and increasingly isolationist. We want to go backward, to our childhoods, to the 1950s, anywhere but the future. Yet the future won’t wait.
This is what makes Peter Diamandis’s and Steven Kotler’s book such a timely and important rebuke to the current pessimism.
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.
No one is in a better position to cast light on these new ideas and solutions than Diamandis. As the Chairman and CEO of the X PRIZE Foundation and co-founder of Singularity University, Diamandis serves as 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 with the help of Steve Kotler. Diamandis’s journeys have brought him into contact with an amazing network of idea folks, from Craig Venter to Ray Kurzweil to members of Africa’s “Cheetah Generation,” and other entrepreneurs across the globe.
The story of the future as told by Diamandis and Kotler is a hopeful one. The cost of photovoltaic solar energy has fallen through the floor from $25 just a couple of decades ago to less than $5 per watt. The number of active community foundations has quadrupled since 1980. Internet adoption rates have advanced at a staggering clip and all of this is enabling smart people to do a lot more with a lot less. Tomorrow’s billion-dollar companies are springing up in places that we today dismiss as wastelands. In the next few years, breakthroughs in genetics, crop creation and distribution, educational gaming, nanomanufacturing, and artificial intelligence will allow humanity to rethink how we do everything, from how we raise food to how we teach the complicated skills necessary to succeed in this, humanity’s transitional century.
Diamandis and Kotler have already done a lot of thinking along those lines. They got to the future just a few steps before the rest of us. Their adventure jumps off the pages of Abundance.