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279 of 300 people found the following review helpful
*A full summary of this book is available here: An Executive Summary of Peter Diamandis and Steven Kotler's 'Abundance: The Future Is Better Than You Think'

In their new book `Abundance: The Future Is Better Than You Think', Peter Diamandis and Steven Kotler argue that, despite the problems that our technology has recently created (including dwindling resources, global warming, and a population explosion that threatens to confound [and in some cases already does confound] our advances in agricultural production and medicine), we needn't discard our techno-optimism after all. Indeed, according to Diamandis, the world is on the precipice of another explosion in technology that will soon bring refuge from many of our current problems, and abundance to our doorstep. Not content to let the goal or the timeline remain vague, Diamandis is happy to hang a more precise definition on each. When it comes to abundance, Diamandis defines it as "a world of nine billion people with clean water, nutritious food, affordable housing, personalized education, top-tier medical care, and non-polluting, ubiquitous energy" (loc. 317), and, to top it all off, the freedom to pursue their goals and aspirations unhindered by political repression. With regards to the timeline, Diamandis claims that it "should be achievable within twenty-five years, with noticeable change possible within the next decade" (loc. 580).

In an attempt to convince us that this goal is achievable (and convincing he is), Diamandis takes us through the latest technological developments (and those that will soon be coming down the pipe) in numerous fields such as water filtration and sanitation (including advancements in water desalination, nano-filtering, sewage recycling, and the smart-water-grid); food production (including the next generation of genetically modified foods, vertical farming, in-vitro meat, and agroecology); education (including personalized education, the OLPC [One Laptop Per Child program], AI education programs, and advancements in educational games, video-games and computer programs); energy (including solar and wind power, the next generation of nuclear energy and algal biofuel, the smart-energy-grid, and battery-encapsulated energy storage); healthcare (including stem cell therapy and organ creation, robotic medical care-givers and surgeons, genomic medicine [based on your individual genome], and Lab-on-a-Chip technology [a diagnostic tool compatible with your cell phone that can instantly analyze samples of saliva, urine and blood]), and many, many more.

According to Diamandis, the technological innovations mentioned above are being spurred on by 3 forces in particular these days that are likely to bring us to a state of abundance even quicker than we might otherwise expect, and one that extends to all parts of the world. The 3 forces are (in reverse order as to how they are presented), 1) the rise of the bottom billion--which consists in the fact that the world's poorest have recently begun plugging into the world economy in a very substantial way, both as a consumer and as a producer of goods (largely as a result of the communications revolution, and the fact that cell phones are now spreading even to the world's poorest populations); 2) the rising phenomenon of the tech-philanthropists--a new breed of wealthy individuals who are more philanthropic than ever, and who are applying their efforts to global solutions (and particularly in the developing world); and 3) the rising phenomenon of DIY innovation--which includes the ability of small organizations, and even individuals to make contributions even in the most advanced technological domains (such as computing, biotechnology, and even space travel).

With regards to this last force, part of Diamandis' purpose here is to inspire the layperson to enter the fray with their own contributions towards abundance by way of joining one of the numerous open-source innovation projects available on line, or throwing their hand into one of the many incentivized technological prizes in existence, or in some other manner of their own devising. In this regard, the authors are very successful, as the work is both invigorating and inspiring, and I highly recommend it. A full summary of the book is available here: An Executive Summary of Peter Diamandis and Steven Kotler's 'Abundance: The Future Is Better Than You Think'
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114 of 124 people found the following review helpful
on February 21, 2012
"Abundance" is a deeply optimistic book that suggests radical new technologies may soon transform society and lead to an era where the concept of scarcity no longer dominates economic and social thinking. The authors believe that advances now on the horizon could potentially solve many of the world's major problems by the year 2035.

The book includes a wealth of material on specific technologies that the authors feel may revolutionize energy (solar, algae-based biofuels and next generation nuclear), food production (genetic engineering, vertical farming and in-vitro meats), water scarcity (desalination using nanotechnology filters, rather than today's inefficient thermal or reverse osmosis plants) and health care (artificially intelligent "doctors", robotic nurses and cheap diagnostic chips) to mention just a few. The authors also suggest that much of this progress will be driven by independent inventors (who they call "DIY innovators") and wealthy technology philanthropists.

I'd urge everyone to also read The Lights in the Tunnel: Automation, Accelerating Technology and the Economy of the Future, a book that looks at many of the same technologies and trends as "Abundance" but really delves into the impact on the economy, incomes and the job market, and offers a different perspective. Both these books raise issues and discuss technologies that could be of transformative importance over the next 10-20 years. They are books that everyone should read.

I've rated Abundance highly because I think it introduces a very important perspective that should be a part of any discussion about the future. Having said that, I also think it has significant limitations and needs to be supplemented with other reading and research. The book's promise of future abundance relies heavily on technologies that will reduce the need for human labor: for example, artificial intelligence, robotics and 3d printing. If the authors' projections are correct, then those technologies will also eliminate millions of jobs. Many people, especially those without advanced educations, may be left with little in the way of marketable skills and no obvious way to earn an income. The authors do note this issue, but relegate it to about 3 pages in the appendix. It deserves much more than that; even if the future is abundant, the distribution of resources will still be of critical importance to individuals and society.
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94 of 111 people found the following review helpful
on April 24, 2012
First off, I loved this book. It made me consider for a change that mankind could not just be the causing problem, but also the solution to big issues like climate change, overpopulation and dwindling resources that plague us today. It was amazingly refreshing to read about all those new technologies that are in progress of being developed, from water purification to renewable energies, medical bots, diagnostic apps on your smartphone, vertical gardens for local food production and supply, just to name a few. This read sure brings the optimist out in you, and makes you feel good about being part of the human race again.

I would love to give it 5 stars, but I settle for only 3 (3 1/2 if I had the option), because there is great danger here that you are left with a false sense of security about the future. Even though there is much cause for optimism, there are a few things that I wish the authors would have brought to the readers awareness with more emphasis (they actually do point them out, but not clearly enough in my opinion). They missed the opportunity to clearly communicate that everyone of us has responsibilities we have to meet if we want to see this future happen.

1) Time for business as usual is running out.

After finishing the last pages of the book and still riding high on this most welcome endorphin flush it promotes, one could feel confident to simply put all the chips on one bet and bank on the vision that help in form of brilliant new technologies is on the way, the future is secure, and no further personal action is needed to make this future happen, other than not hindering private entrepreneurship and free markets in their activities in form of government intervention, bureaucracy, or rules and regulations. I don't think that is what the authors are trying to say, but it might be perceived this way.

Until those tech solutions become available AND INTEGRATED, the best course of action for every consumer still is to be frugal with energy and resources, and show more respect and empathy to all the other species we share this planet with. That means we still should try conserve water and energy, buy a fuel efficient car, drive less, consume less plastic to keep it from clogging up the oceans and landfills, etc, you get the idea. No, this won't solve the problems, but it sends important signals to people around us, and more importantly the markets, and if done on a large scale it might buy valuable time!

2) All these innovations and new technologies don't just have to be developed and made available on a massive scale, they also have to be accepted by mainstream.

Just because new technologies are available and affordable, we can't simply assume that they will be widely accepted. New ideas and inventions also mean a lot of change in a very short time, and many people don't deal all that well with change, now matter how benign it might be. As an example I would like to take the nurse robots that could take care of our elderlies to bring down end of life and health care costs. Many people might resist this approach as 'inhuman'. And as amazing as this 'no plumbing, turn poop into power' toilet sounds, it might not get embraced by the home depot shopper right away simply because he knows from experience that the water toilet works, but who knows if the new one doesn't turn out downright disgusting?

Old habits die hard. As an example take an alternative technology that is already available today, the electric car, which I think deserves a lot more credit than it currently gets. Yes, it is not without flaws, from battery production and recycling all the way to range anxiety. Yes, it uses your local power plant and thus still contributes to the carbon footprint. But the bottom line is that an electric car is still many times more energy efficient than a conventional car, just because it so much more effective turning that energy into speed, not 90% heat that disappears into the atmosphere. Most people don't realize that their internal combustion car is mainly a HUGE RADIATOR that they haul around. Nor do they realize how convenient it is not to have to get gas at a filthy gas station any more. Instead the car can be topped off in the driveway every night when power is cheap, and the power grid is underloaded anyway. There is hardly any costly maintenance, because there are a lot less moving parts to take care off. All that torque the electric motor provides makes it zippy, and the silent, magic carpet experience makes it really fun to drive. I think the electric car deserves a lot more consideration at least as a secondary vehicle, yet Nissan and GM are sitting on their Leafs and Volts, because people by nature are resisting too much change in a too short amount of time.

So as consumers again I think we have the responsibility to give new technologies a chance and support their creators by purchasing them even if they feel a little strange to us. Iphones and ipads, and the world wide web had it easy because their wasn't really a similar established product in use that they had to compete with. Many new products and technologies will have to compete with well established products and will have a lot harder time making it mainstream.

3) Private enterprise can bring the solution, but also can be an obstacle to the changes we so badly need.

Not only will the consumer resist change, even more resistance to change is to be expected from the firms, cooperations, and manufacturers that are currently making money with conventional technology. Yes Exxon and other oil companies have a budget for renewable energiy research, but it is pretty much insignificant compared to what they spend on conventional drill site development. Why? Because drilling is the time proven way to make money for their share holders. That's where I think government should step in by creating incentives and support for start up companies and garage DIYers to make sure all those new ideas and creations we so badly need get a fair chance at survival. Free Markets are less effective in this regard because, again, change isn't easy, old habits die hard, and the old boy cooperations and power movers will resist change as long as there is money to be made the conventional way.

New technologies that come online will have flaws, and some of them might have the potential to produce a whole new host of collateral damage that will have to be taken care of later on. So another role for government should be to make sure we don't accidentally open another Pandora's box, by providing appropiate safety standards and test routines before a new product gets unleashed.

For us as consumers this means that we should take the time to do some research, keep in touch with what comes down the pipeline, consider the pros and cons of the products we buy on a broader scale than just cost and convenience, send the right buying signals to the markets, and make well informed decisions about who we vote into office. Just leaning back and looking forward to a golden tech future won't get us there.
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41 of 47 people found the following review helpful
on February 4, 2013
It is a loose collection of good news you might have overlooked. They cite Pinker and Kurzweil.

However, some of their logic made my hair stand on end. For example, they argue that the fuss over acid rain was a chicken little needless panic. because none of the terrible predicted things happened. They fail to notice that governments and industries made massive changes to improve the situation.

They argue that because people tend to pay more attention to bad news than good, all the global problems we worry about must be phantoms. That is a non-sequitur.

They waxed poetic about how wonderful life will be when we can produce McFood 100 times more efficiently.

The cited Japanese robotic factories as what we should aspire to in our personal lives.

Their Utopian vision is a Koch brothers wet dream, billions of docile humanoids, packed like sardines, consuming artificial everything, not a living thing left, whose prime directive is corporate profit. This book is collection of corporate excuses for raping the environment.

If you want a thoughtful and optimistic view, read the original Pinker and Kurzweil.
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81 of 98 people found the following review helpful
on December 15, 2013
The rampant naïve technological optimism expressed in this book, i.e., that technological innovation will be the solution to all our problems is highly problematic. Technological innovation during the last 200 years has been the main cause of the most serious problems we face today - climate change, global chemical pollution, bizarre human overpopulation, world hunger, brutal violence by military technologies, etc. Throughout the past century, brilliant technological innovators believed they would "save mankind". Alfred Nobel naively thought that his invention of dynamite would stop all wars because no one would dare to use it because of its destructive power. It was widely used in World War I. The promoters of nuclear energy in the 1950s said it would help mankind by generating electricity that is "too cheap to meter", only to subsequently poison the environment with radioactivity (i.e., Chernobyl and Fukushima). The promoters of genetic engineering (the authors are strongly pro-GMO) say they are saving billions from starvation, only to devastate ecosystems and push hundreds of thousands of East Indian famers to suicide. The inventors and promoters of the internet thought they would usher in a new era of global democracy - but now we learn that electronic communication technologies are used to spy on citizens worldwide, in a manner more repressive than ever envisioned by the Nazis or the East German secret police. So, how can we be sure that all these great technological innovations that the authors envision will be any better? Wishful thinking and enthusiastic optimism, as expressed by the authors, is neither sufficient nor convincing.

I have the feeling that the authors do not really understand how technological innovation works and what its limitations are. As Jacque Ellul pointed out almost 50 years ago in The Technological Society, all technologies have both positive and negative effects, and it is impossible to separate them. It is a human tendency, including the authors', to think one can have only the positive without the negative.

Furthermore, all technologies have unintended social, economic, cultural, and environmental consequences. Even worse, our current scientific method, which is based on mechanistic reductionism, can NEVER predict these unintended, negative consequences. So, despite all the enthusiasm of technological innovators that THIS time their technology (or their wild-eyed ideas) will really solve certain environmental and social problems, it is extremely difficult if not impossible to predict negative consequences (For a good discussion of the limitations of technology, see Techno-Fix: Why Technology Won't Save Us Or the Environment). The authors should have thought more seriously about the potential negative consequences of their proposed innovations. More GMOs? More nuclear energy? "Vertical" farming? More robots to take care of elderly? Is this kind of technotopia desirable? Why?
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298 of 374 people found the following review helpful
on March 6, 2012
I looked forward to reading this book but by the time I got 20% of the way through I had to force myself to finish. I kept hoping there were some better sections further in.

Much of the book seemed to be a compilation of technology headlines. Being a longtime follower of technology news and a developer of new technology as well, I found the popular science hype about this research or that potential new product to be a little weak.

Couple that with weak exagerations on various topics it started to lose it's credability. For example in one case he mentions brute force fishing as an issue repeating a claim that 6 million square miles of ocean floor, an area the size of Russia, is destroyed each year. While I understand there are many issues with the current weak management of the ocean's fisheries that smells a little off. So, a quick check of google and I find the Atlantic Is 41 million sq. mi. I'm pretty sure they don't trawl the bottom of the deep trenches so it would seem that in that this repeated stat is a little over board.

Throughout it feels as if they are simplify categorizing and repeating technology claims of others. This approach gives the feeling of a long high school student book report. If you haven't read any significant tech news for the last five years maybe you will find some interesting information but that would be about it.
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17 of 19 people found the following review helpful
on May 2, 2013
Another in a long list of books (going back decades) selling the idea that technology is going to solve all our problems. It won't. We already have all the technology we will ever need to dramatically improve the lives of everyone on earth, including non-humans. We have the knowledge and technology we need to reverse desertification, produce clean water, deal with infectious diseases, expand small-scale, sustainable agriculture, and on and on.

Our problems are political in nature. Wealth is power; concentrated wealth is concentrated power, and it is concentrated power that is thwarting efforts to improve the lives of the have-nots. Two examples:

The vast consensus is that climate change is real and an existential threat to civilization. Yet, the concentrated power of the financial/political elites that own and control the fossil fuel industries is crippling our ability to respond to this situation in a timely manner. Literally millions of people around the world are going to pay severely so that the power of these elites is not diminished.

Back in the 1970s, a NGO (I forget which one) wanted to deal with infectious diseases in sub-Sarahan Africa. Their plan was to build and install millions of composting toilets. They learned that the patent for composting toilets was held by the Rockefeller Foundation. They went to the Foundation with their plan to seek a "waiver" on the patent rights. The Foundation refused and this refusal led to the death of hundreds of thousands in the subsequent 30+ years.

Mr Diamandis gives lip service to this problem in the book by referencing the "Arab Spring" in Egypt and how technology led to the downfall of the government. That's all well and good, but, unfortunately, the Egyptian government, like all governments, serves the interests of the financial elites. The Egyptian government may have been overthrown, but all that really happened is that one group of servants was replaced with another. The same people are actually in charge, which is why, for all the ballyhooing, life in Egypt has not substantially improved since the "revolution".

Mr Biamandis is a successful technocrat and entrepeneur. His universe consists largely of other technocrats and entrepeneurs. He has a very large blind spot, in my opinion, and it sullies both his analyses and his conclusions.
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16 of 18 people found the following review helpful
on January 17, 2014
The basic premise of Abundance is that there are a lot of problems in the world, and its hard to get people to change, but the right technological innovations will fix everything.

As someone who notices many of the same problems in the world, I want to believe the authors' assertions. And the book inspired me! The characters and anecdotes are appealing. I finished the book feeling nagged by a few big holes, but overall excited.

Unfortunately, in reflection the excitement wore off. There are plenty of technical problems with the book – for instance, a few of the stories (computer education in the villages, do-everything water filters) are exaggerated and don't pan out as well in the real world. Devoting a major pillar of the book to the author's own X-prizes project was lame. Wasting a whole chapter on the claim that all their opponents are just deluded by their brain chemistry was a waste of space. But the real difficulties are fundamental philosophical problems with expecting technology to change the world.

First off, the human tendency toward greed has proven able to absorb anything it's been given. Everyone always wants more. The idea that we could produce so much that the rich people would be satisfied and let the poor have enough, without major society changes, doesn't fit with any period in human history. The powerful have always been able to limit other people's access to resources whenever it benefited them, and the authors never explain how they'd keep powerful corporations and powerful governments from continuing to do such a thing. On occasion they allude to such problems (such as Monsanto's wield of patents to force farmers to be reliant on their products indefinitely), but they just “hope” such things will change.

Second, the degree to which wealth disparity, rather than absolute wealth alone, contributes to societal problems is never dealt with. Problems like violence and mental health appear not to be connected just to a nation's overall resources, but to its ability to deal out those resources evenly. That's one reason that Americans are less happy now than we were in the 1950s and 1960s (despite having FAR more stuff, including all the innovations the authors praise), and why many countries – including Sweden, Norway, Denmark, New Zealand, etc. - do better than America an d England on nearly every social index despite having far less money at their disposal. The authors don't deal with that issue at all.

Finally, the book shows absolutely no real interest in the people and things that the authors claim to be trying to preserve. They want to solve poverty, yet don't show any knowledge of the experience of the poor or any desire to ask them what they want. They want to save the environment, but everything they propose is irrelevant to and often disregarding of nature. They want to preserve land, but seem to think they could do that by just destroying small bits of land more efficiently, and hope that other land will be saved in the process. In general, they reach for technological numbers and statistics, but completely ignore the much greater damage to human societal structures and the Earth's environmental balance that are caused by both previous technological "advancements" and their own proposed technological "solutions".

As long as the people with power are obsessed with the greed for more things, they will continue abusing the poor, nature, and the land in order to satisfy their greed. Technology is neutral – no matter what you invent, the powerful aren't going to give up their desire to own more than everyone else, to possess the land, to control other peoples' lives. The authors are right that greed is part of the problem. They're right that people's nature is difficult to change. They're wrong that we can just hope that enough technology will just make that issue go away. It has never, ever worked before.
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44 of 55 people found the following review helpful
on March 19, 2012
This author's Abundance thesis depends entirely on geometric, or exponential, growth - as illustrated in his graphical Reference 80 (on page 292) where such growth is seen to arrive exponentially from a cascade of S-curves. But it is very well established that S-curves, which are the dominant feature of technology growth, are actually composed of a sequence of interrupted exponential segments having diminishing growth rates as time progresses, a complete inversion of origin compared to what these authors claim.

They may have fallen into this trap by virtue of being enthralled by Moore's Law. Unfortunately Moore's Law applies to an engineering parameter of what economists call 'intermediate goods'. What the authors needed to consider more carefully is the diffusion of final goods - and that's quite a different proposition, and much slower. It is behind the critique provided by Rob Atkinson during Tom Ashbrook's WBUR radio On Point review 'Will Innovation Save Us - 02/29/12' with author Peter Diamandis.

And a clue to the poor scholarship of Abundance occurs very early, at the beginning of Chapter One (page 3) in 'The Lesson of Aluminum'. Whether it is true or not that the ancients knew how to extract aluminum is less important than that these authors, in view of what it has actually taken in modern times to extract aluminum, consider the claim unremarkable. I was incredulous and you should be too. But the authors accept it without citation.

We need optimism, but it needs to have a better basis than this.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on March 31, 2013
Everyone should read this uplifting and very informative book. There are much more good things around us than bad. After reading the book, I became very selective on what I read or watch in the news. The change benefited me in three ways;
1) Save time by ignoring the sometimes meaningless sensational news,
2) Much less aggravation from listening and digesting negative news and
3) Being happier and more informed by focusing on useful and important news that positively affect our every day lives.
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