I love the subtitle of this book – “The Future is Better Than You Think”. Space entrepreneur and X-Prize founder Peter Diamandis and science writer Steven Kotler share a fantastic starting point to discover technologies that could help humans thrive without destroying everything else on the planet. The authors suggest that the ideas outlined in the book should be achievable within 25 years, with noticeable change possible within the next decade. Though there are gaps in reasoning and logic in many parts of the book as well as a chapter that reads like an X-Prize informercial, what I was most interested in were the solutions themselves, which fuel a sense of great possibility for “a world of nine billion people with clean water, nutritious food, affordable housing, personalised education, top-tier medical care, and nonpolluting, ubiquitous energy”.
Building The Pyramid
The US government defines poverty using two different metrics: “absolute poverty” and “relative poverty”. Absolute poverty measures the number of people living under a certain income threshold. Relative poverty is a seeing up with the Jones’ measure, comparing an individual’s income with the average income for an entire economy. But the difficulty with both terms is that advance is a global vision and neither hold up well when spread beyond borders.
Today 99% of Americans living below the poverty line have electricity, water, flushing toilets, and a refrigerator; 95% have a TV; 88% have a telephone; 71% have a car; and 70% even have air-conditioning. This may not seem like much, but 100 years ago men like Henry Ford and Cornelius Vanderbilt were among the richest on the planet, but they enjoyed few of these luxuries.
A Practical Definition – The Pyramid of Abundance
Abundance is not about providing everyone on this planet with a life of luxury––rather it’s about providing all with a life of possibility. To be able to live such a life requires having the basics covered and then some.
BASE: Simple physiological needs:
3 to 5 litres clean drinking water, 25 litres for bathing, cooking, cleaning
2000 calories or more of balanced and nutritious food
Durable shelter that protects against the elements and provides adequate reading light, ventilation, and sanitation
NEXT LEVEL: pave the way for two of the greatest abundance assets – specialisation and exchange.
Energy: the means to do work
Education: Decentralised and personalised and extremely interactive education.
TOP LEVEL: Health and Freedom
– Stopping millions of unnecessary deaths through prevention and easy treatments.
– Political liberty as a necessary component of sustainable development.
EVERYTHING outlined in the preceding pages should be achievable within 25 years.
Seeing the Forest Through the trees (Chapter dealing with cynicism)
Abundance is a big vision compressed into a small time frame. Overcoming the psychological blocks––cynicism, pessimism, and all those other crutches of contemporary thinking––that keep many of us from believing in the possibility of abundance is just as important.
Once reason abundance remains hard to accept is because we live in an extraordinarily uncertain world, and decision making in the face of uncertainty is never easy.
Our decisions decisions are made based on limited, often unreliable, information, and further hampered by internal limits and external limits. So our subconscious strategy: heuristics –– cognitive shortcuts that help us simplify the decision making process.
Most of the the time relying on this heuristic [clarity] works perfectly fine for judging the gap between A and B; however, when visibility is poor and the contours of objects are blurry, we tend to overestimate distance. The inverse is also true.
Once the media has us on high alert, for example, the chasm between rich and poor looks too big to bridge because the very emotions that would make us want to close that gap are currently locked out of the system.
Homo spies evolved in a world that was “local and linear”, but today’s environment is “global and exponential”.
Ray Kurzweil and the go-fast button:
“From an early age I placed a critical importance on pursuing ideas that embodied the best of our human values” – Ray Kurzweil.
Kurzweil used exponential growth charts in these books to make a handful of prediction about the future:
BOOK: The Age of Intelligent Machines (1988) – predicted the fall of the Soviet Union, computer winning the world chess championship, rise of intelligent weapons in warfare, autonomous cars, WWW.
BOOK: The Age of Spiritual Machines (1999) – blueprint extended to 2009, 2019, 2029, 2099. 108 predictions made for 2009, 89 have come true!
BOOK: The Singularity Is Near – plotted the future of dozens of technologies while trying to understand the ramifications this much progress had on the human race.
The Singularity is Near:
Craig Venter – J. Craig Venter Institute.
Venter created the world’s first synthetic lifeforms.
Blue Heron Biotechnology synthesises DNA – you can literally email BH a long string of As, Ts, Cs, and Gs – the four letters of the genetic alphabet – and they will return a vial filled with copies of that exact strand of DNA.
Venters actually goal is the creation of a very specific kind of of synthetic life – the kind that can manufacture ultra-low-cost fuels. Rather than drilling in the Earth to extract oil, he’s working on novel algae, whose molecular machinery can take carbon dioxide and water and create oil or any other kind of fuel.
Venter has spent the past 5 years sailing his research fact around the world, scooping up algae that is run through a DNA sequencing machine. He’s built a library of over 40 million different genes, which he can now call upon for designing his future biofuels. Other applications: high-performing vaccines designed in 24 hours rather than 2-3 months, ultra yield agriculture.
3d Printing: right now the emphasis is on novel geometric shapes; soon we’ll be altering the fundamental properties of materials themselves. Making materials within materials, and embedding and weaving multiple materials into complex patterns. Printing hard and soft materials in patterns that create bizarre and new structural behaviours.
Lab on a chip: low-cost, easy-to-use, point-of-care diagnostics designed specifically for the 60% of the developing world that lives beyond the reach of urban hospitals and medical infrastructures. Data it collects for diagnostic purposes can be uploaded to a cloud and analysed for deeper parents, giving real-time, worldwide disease information for combating and detecting early phases of pandemics.
Slingshot: current version purifies 1000l of water a day using the same amount of energy it takes to run a hair dryer. Powered by an engine than can burn almost anything. In Bangladesh the engine ran only on cow dung and also provided villagers with enough electricity to charge their phones and power their lights. It is designed to run maintenance free for at least 5 years.
UAE based- DIME hydrophobic materials – a nano-based hydrophobic sand, a 10cm layer of which, when placed beneath desert topsoil, decreases water loss by 75%.
The Smart Grid for Water: an intelligent network for all our waterworks using sensors, smart meters, and AI-drive automations in our pipes, sewers, rivers, lakes, reservoirs, harbours, and eventually oceans. It could save the US 30 to 50% of its total water use. IBM believes that its smart grid for water will be worth over $20 billion. Started testing in the Amazon basin, Galway Bay in Ireland, the Netherlands, and DC, among others.
Toilets: the modern toilet hasn’t been innovated since the 19th century. The Gates Foundation has a project to revolutionise sanitation. Toilets that burn the focal portion of human waste into energy that completely cleans up the urine, turning it back into water and solids. The left over energy can be used for cell phones and lights. All can be done with off-the-shelf parts. The biggest challenge is that it has to be done at a cost of 5 cents a day because that’s the cost that’s affordable in the developing world. Solutions to: disease burden by removing faces, distributed (not requiring massive upfront investment) and net positive for water and power, water savings, and processing all organic waste in the home.
“This distant image of our tiny world…underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another, and to preserve and cheers the pale blue dot, the only home we’ve ever known” – Carl Sagan.
Feeding 9 Billion:
No one wants to see a few companies in the charge of the world’s food supply, so who owns the seed is a real concern. But this tool won’t last. In the book Tomorrow’s Table” Pamela Ronald and Raoul Adamchak write “It [Genetic Engineering] is a relatively simple tech that scientist in most countries, including many developing countries, have perfected. The product of GE technology, a seed, requires no extra maintenance or additional family skills”.
Michael Pollan called for an open source movement for GE crops.
We already produce more than enough food to feed the world, but there’s incredible waste in our distribution system. It’s time to move the farm.
Pan American Airways grew veggies on Wake Island in the 1930s so that passengers could enjoy leafy greens with their mid-flight meal.
Aeroponics – discovered in 1989 Richard Stoner that it was possible to suspend plants in midair, delivering food through a nutrient rich mist. 70% more efficient than hydroponics which is 70% more efficient than traditional agriculture. We could drop water use from 70% to 6%.
Vertical farms: nutrition is hydroponically or aeroponically delivered. Designed for maximum sunshine. Electricity for lights generated by capturing energy we now flush down our toilets. NYC alone is shitting away 900 million kilowatts of electricity every year.
70% of foodstuff’s final retail price comes from transportation, storage, and handling.
Real promise of VFs comes from adding tomorrow technologies to today’s ideas (embedded sensors perfecting temperatures, PH balance, untried flows. AI and robotics that maximise planting, growing, harvesting of every square meter.
Vertical farms and urban aquaculture.
Cultured meat is meat grown from stem cells in bioreactors. Pioneered by NASA in late 90s. PETA create a $1 million incentive prize to move things along. e.g. Beef that prevents heart attacks, nutritionally fortified meat.
PETA president Ingrid Newark: “If people are unwilling to stop eating animals by the billions, then what a joy to be able to give them animal flesh that comes without the hour of the slaughterhouse, the transport truck, and the mutilations, pain and suffering of factory farming.”
They think exponential, not linear.
Hyperagents: think long term, go against conventional wisdom, take up ideas too risky for governments to deploy substantial resources quickly when the situation demands it––above all, try something new.
Mo Ibrahim, a Sudanese telco tycoon, through the Ibrahim Prize for Achievement in African Leadership, awards $5 million (and $200000 a year for life afterward) to any African leader who serves out his or her term within the limits of a country’s constitution and then leaves office voluntarily.
Just as Africa’s lack of copper landlines allowed for the explosive elopement of wireless systems, its lack of large-scale, centralised coal and petroleum power plants could pave the way for decentralised, renewable-power generation architectures.
There is more energy in the sunlight that strikes the earth in 1 hour than all the fossil energy consumed in 1 year.
Solar prices are falling 5-6% a year, capacity growing at a rate of 30% a year.
Solar is an exponential technology.
Minimally invading education. Self-organised learning environments.
If boredom is the number one cause of truancy, then our new education system needs to be effective, scalable, and wildly entertaining. Learning needs to become addictive.
Game=based learning that is so deep, immersive, and totally addictive that we’re going to look back on the 100 year ehemogy of the industrial model and wonder why it ever hung around for so long.
0-cost diagnostics. Tribogenics, a company aiming to build the world’s smallest and cheapest X-ray machine. Costs less than $1, uses triboluminescense to create X-rays. Could be powered by solar.
3-D printing organs.
P4 medicine – Predictive, Personalised, Preventive, and Participatory.
– The power of incentive prizes.
– The Evolution of a Great Idea:
“In the beginning people tell you that’s a crazy idea, and it’ll never work. Next people say your idea might work, but it’s not worth doing. Finally, eventually, people say, I told you that it was a great idea all along!” – Arthur C Clarke.
– The true promise of abundance was one of creating a world of possibility: a world where everyone’s day are spent dreaming and doing, not scrapping and scraping.
– The adjacent possible – the long list of first-order possibilities that open up whenever a new discover is made.