In the face of Islamic State (ISIL/ISIS), ebola, overpopulation, poverty and global climate change is there reason for optimism? Yes, according to the authors of "Abundance: The Future Is Better Than You Think."
The first thing to do is determine how far we've come – from the stone age to what Peter H. Diamandis and Steven Kotler call the new "Cooperation Age": from millions of years as hunter-gatherers and nomads – to thousands of years as farmers – to hundreds of years in the industrial age – to decades in the information age – to now, a new age of cooperation.
The book opens with "The Lesson of Aluminum" and the recounting of a story by Pliny the Elder (b. AD 23 – d. AD 79). Pliny was a naval and army commander in the Roman Empire who became a philosopher and author of "Naturalis Historia." He tells about a goldsmith who presented Emperor Tiberius with an unnaturally light and shiny plate that had been extracted from plain clay (bauxite) through a secret technique known only to himself and the gods:
"Tiberius, though, was a little concerned. The emperor was one of the great generals, a warmonger who conquered most of what is now Europe and amassed a fortune of gold and silver along the way. He was also a financial expert who knew the value of his treasure would seriously decline if people suddenly knew the value of his treasure would seriously decline if people suddenly had access to a shiny new metal rarer than gold. 'Therefore,' recounts Pliny, 'instead of giving the goldsmith the regard expected, he ordered him to be beheaded.'"Of course, aluminum would be rediscovered and, through technology, would become plentiful and cheap, certainly nothing to lose one's head over.
Times have changed, at least in most parts of the world. Over time people have become, in general, less superstitious, more accepting of new technology and more willing to cooperate. Can we continue to evolve beyond our reptilian amygdala part of the brain and move away from cognitive biases of the mind?
The authors of "Abundance" think so, despite obvious challenges.
Diamandis and Kotler show in dozens of charts and through examples from Ray Kurzweil, Google and the U.S. Air Force that the rate of change in the world is moving exponentially.
Some examples of future technology or innovation changing the world: artificial intelligence, nanotechnology, 3D printers, genetic engineering, the Cloud and smartphones.
|Venter is awarded the National Medal of Science by President Barack Obama|
Water: Self-taught physicist and entrepreneur Dean Kamen developed a distiller capable of recycling its own energy. "The current version [of Slingshot] can purify 1,000 liters (250 gallons) of water a day using the same amount of energy it takes to run a hair dryer."
Communication and connectivity: Vint Cerf, a father of the internet, foresees a future of networks and sensors that will be a "central nervous system for the planet."
Food: Former futurist Sir Winston Churchill foresaw synthetically grown food:
"In 1931 Winston Churchill said, 'Fifty years hence, we shall escape the absurdity of growing a whole chicken in order to eat the breast or wing by growing these parts separately under a suitable medium.' As it turns out, it took a few extra decades for biotechnologists to deliver on Churchill's promise, but more and more, it looks like it was worth the wait. Cultured meat (or in-vitro meat, as some prefer) is meat grown from stem cells."The U.S. military pioneered modern development of hydroponics at the end of World War II on Ascension Island in the South Atlantic, later on Iwo Jima and in Chofu, Japan in the western Pacific, and even in Iraq and Bahrain in the Middle East, where troops guarded the oil supply. The idea was to grow food locally regardless of the availability or viability of soil and not to have to rely on transportation logistics.
The future of agriculture lies in rediscovering hydroponics, refining aquaculture, using aeroponics and developing vertical farming, including extensively in cities.
Hackers, do-it-yourselfers, garage biologists and techno-philanthropists – people inspired by the counter-culture movement of the 60s – are sharing ideas for how to tackle problems. They are committed to a world of sustainment, cooperation and hope and away from consumption, destruction and greed.
As always the key to the future lies in education and freedom, which is "both an idea and access to ideas." The authors postulate that freedom and the need to make a difference is at the hierarchy of needs for people. Freedom to educate and be educated is tied to good health:
"Recent research into the relationship between health and education found that better-educated people live longer and healthier lives. they have fewer heart attacks and are less likely to become obese and develop diabetes. We also know that there's a direct correlation between a well-educated population and a stable, free society. The more well educated the population, the more durable its democracy. But these advances pale before what's possible if we start educating the women of tomorrow alongside the men."Two-thirds of the 130 million children who are not in school are girls. The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) concludes that educating these girls is "the key to health and nutrition; to overall improvements in the standard of living; to better agricultural and environmental practices; to higher gross national product; and to greater involvement and gender balance in decision making at all levels of society."
A quality education empowers women and reduces fear, poverty and birth rates.
Last Friday, Malala Yousafzai, 17, became the youngest winner of the Nobel Peace Prize. Malala, a muslim from Pakistan, along with children's rights activist Kailash Satyarthi, a hindi from India, were awarded the prize. According to Nobel.org: "The Nobel Peace Prize 2014 was awarded jointly to Kailash Satyarthi and Malala Yousafzai "for their struggle against the suppression of children and young people and for the right of all children to education."
"Abundance" presents the ideas of dozens of thinkers, inventors and philanthropists, including Arthur C. Clarke, Stewart Brand, Margaret Mead, Catherine Mohr, Martin Luther King Jr., Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Salman Khan (Khan Academy), Matt Ridley, Bill McKibben and Ray Kurzweil: "Kurzweil learned that human ideas were all powerful. DaVinci's ideas symbolized the power of invention to transcend human limitations. Hitler's ideas showed the power to destroy."
In WWII, the free world cooperated to defeat Imperial Japan and fascist Germany. Both nations are now globally connected democracies, educated and free. Of note, the nation's Maritime Strategy for the Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard is called "A Cooperative Strategy for 21st Century Seapower."
The idea of cooperation growing in an interconnected world comes together in a chain equation: new technology creates specialization that increases cooperation that leads to more capability that generates more technology, and the cycle continues – an engine of change and a reason for hope and optimism in "Abundance."