Sunday, March 31, 2013

Abundance : The Future is Better than You think - Peter H Diamandis & Steven Kotler

The world economy is at a stand still, and many countries are struggling to stay afloat, marred with economic turmoil. The terrorism continue to be a major cause of concern around the globe. The prices of essential commodities are raising, the oil price is at a high never before with no signs of easing. The doomsday predictors are on the prowl , as every news that comes out  are of cynical in nature. The population is increasing and after all these years, there are many around the globe who continue to live in pitiable conditions, and in poverty.

Among these disturbing news, here is a book comes with "abundance" of positive news. Peter Diamandis along with Steven Kotler, brings out a book, dedicated to the technical advancement of the world over the last few decades and predicts that these advancements will help us to see through the explosion of population and the ever increasing demand for resources. He starts his book with the tale of Aluminum. In the early days of Roman empire, guests were honoured by serving them food in vessels and plates made by Aluminum, while the hosts were to be content with golden or silver plates. Aluminum 3rd largest element in the crust of earth was one metal extremely difficult to extract, well, until late 19th century, until the electrolysis process was developed. Look at the Multi fold in reduction in cost of production, supported with its availability, making it one of the cheapest metal in less than 100 years.  He cites many such examples, in cost of communication by the exponential growth in mobile communications technologies, the spread of electricity, the overall reduction in poverty in the world, with enough data to prove his point.

Instead of getting bogged down with the negative thoughts and the propaganda, he urge us to look at the possibilities of creating a time of abundance. Abundance is not an idea, but a way of moving forward.  Discussing the concept of his idea of abundance and the exponential growth experienced in technologies post the second world war, he set the discussion to the future . In a model of "Abundance Pyramid"  he puts "Food, Water and Shelter" as the basic needs. While this is obvious and looks like an election propaganda of the political parties, he gives us some direction in achieving 'abundance' in these areas. The second tier is build with "energy, Education and ICT(information and communication technologies)" and the top of the pyramid consists of "Health Care and Freedom".

Only 3% of the water available in this planet is usable by humans. The vast sea covers a large part of them and many are hidden in large glaciers of the poles. The available water is not safe enough to drink. With the improvement in technologies and the continuous campaign by environmentalist, we have started showing progress towards improving the quality of water and develop newer and cheaper methods of desalination of sea water. It is also important to note that water related health issues causes deaths of large number of human apart from the amount of money spent on medical expenses. An improvement in the water distribution will not only reduce the health risks, but will also ensure these money can spend for other welfare measures.
On feeding 9 Billion ( expected population by year 2050), he put forward many advanced technologies in farming, including vertical farming, use of genetically modified crops , cultured meat, synthetic biotechnology, poly culture, new modes of aquaculture and many similar ideas.  How will all these be possible, and what drive these changes ? He cast his bets on two parameters , one on Do it Yourself Innovation or on the power of small groups and the second on the new breed of 'techno-philanthropists'. The strong social movements, the emergence of small groups of individuals all around the world, speeding up these movements and on the other hand, the financial and moral support provided by the newly wealthy individuals ( Bill Gates and co..) pumping the financial power need for such an endeavor.

The energy needs are also discussed at length, but largely around the renewable energy. The amount of solar energy that earth receive is good enough to supply enough energy for the entire world. One of the issue still holding this explosion of energy abundance, is the restraint with regards to storage of these energy. With the newer technology emerging in the battery like flywheel should bring the much needed improvement in this area. Education is the next agenda, which empower the populace and thus reduce the explosion of  population and in the need for the additional healthcare need.

While all these looks possible and very much within reach, what they do not cover is the limitation of these technologies. His bet on technology advancement to come to the rescue, is too optimistic and single focused. Some of the other aspect of this he does not discuss or avoid discussing. One of the key issue of the imbalance of the living conditions can be attributed to the greed of select people. The entire wealth of the world is controlled by 1% or less of the world. Thus creating a huge imbalance in the distribution. A better distribution of the resources among the world is one of the first step towards self sufficiency.  The greed for control, to have single ownership of the entire resources of the universe. The entire book only discuss the increase of production of essential commodities for a burgeoning population, but no discussion in reduction in consumption. One part of the world continue to consume everything with abandon, while the other side of the planet struggle for the essentials of life.

To his credit, the book gives some key thought on the repercussion of these technologies falling in the hands of the criminals. For every positive development in the innovation, there is a dark side of it being used for activities of sabotage.  In an ever increasingly interconnected world, it is much more simple to access any data, any device, any individual by hackers. There is already existing worries about the leakage of nuclear secrets being available with the terrorists.  Cyber Crime, Bio-terrorism, the increasing dependency on the AI/Robotics making human redundant and unemployed etc are some of the possible outcome of these technological advancements in the coming decades.

In general, what this book achieve is to give us a different perspective, a perspective that tells us that while the future looks bleak supported by data and analysis, it is possible to turn the course and direction. All it takes is a bit more planning and focus. The universe provide us with enough and more. The language is positive and full of energy, it also propagate the confidence that the book stands for. Thus it is a fast and engaging read. Most of the data and analysis moved to the end of the book in the form of appendix , thus not hampering with the flow of the reading.
Abundance - The Future is Better than You Think (2012)

Peter H Diamandis & Steven Kotler

Free Press

400 Pages
 NY Times, Wall Street JournalWiki Entry, Official Page

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