139 of 162 people found the following review helpful
on February 1, 2013
*A full summary of this book is available here: An Executive Summary of Al Gore's 'The Future: Six Drivers of Global Change'
Our world is becoming increasingly integrated and complex, and changing faster and faster. Out of the morass of elements involved here, Al Gore identifies 6 themes or factors that are emerging as the major drivers of change. The factors are 1) Work: the movement of labor from West to East (outsourcing); and, at the same time, a shift towards much more automation (robosourcing); 2) Communications: the rise of the internet that has led to a wild proliferation of information, and the ability of the world's population to instantly connect with one another for a host of purposes--and the increasing reach of the internet from the developed to the developing world; 3) Power: the shifting of power from West to East; and, at the same time, the shifting of power from national governments to smaller players, such as businesses and corporations, but also rogue players, such as guerrilla and terror organizations; 4) Demographics: the enormous increase in the world's population, and the movement of peoples both within and across national borders (as the result of numerous factors); 5) Biotechnology: the increasing manipulation of DNA to produce not only new organisms with novel features, but new materials and fuels as well, and 6) Climate Change: the increase in world temperatures caused by the continuing build-up of CO2, as well as the numerous other climate effects that this entails.
While several of these drivers of change have the potential to bring great benefits to the world's people, all are fraught with potential dangers, and it is this that is Gore's focus in the book. This, as well as Gore's own advice as to how best to deal with the potential dangers.
When it comes to work, Gore argues that the major danger is that the increasing robosourcing of labour (and even services) threatens to eventually deprive a large portion of the world's population of gainful employment. The major solution is to increasingly redistribute wealth from the few who earn the bulk of wealth to public services provided by government.
When it comes to communications, the major threat is the vulnerability of people's personal information (and organizations' operational information) of being collected (or stolen) by numerous players (including corporations, governments and criminal organizations) and used for nefarious purposes. The major solution is to introduce new measures to ensure that information is protected, and people's privacy preserved.
When it comes to power, the major danger is that the private interests of groups that are gaining power (especially multi-national corporations) will increasingly run up against the interests and values of private citizens. The major solution is to reform our democracies to ensure that the interests of corporations do not continue to outbalance the interests of citizens.
When it comes to demographics, the major danger is that the continuing rise in the world's population will place an overbearing amount of stress on the world's natural resources, and that this will ultimately lead to the depletion of said resources. The major solution is to continue efforts to curb global population, and to introduce efforts to reduce consumption to sustainable levels.
When it comes to biotechnology, the major danger is that the discoveries and innovations that are being made here are being introduced faster than we are able to consider their ethical implications and potential negative consequences. The major solution is to ensure that we subject these innovations to full inquiry and public debate, in order that we may decide deliberately just what we want to allow, and what we do not.
When it comes to climate change, the major danger is that the world will experience irreversible climate effects, and that these effects will compromise the world's arable land and water sources to the point where we will not be able to meet our needs. The major solution is for the governments of the world to take action now to reduce CO2 emissions, by way of such measures as taxing CO2, and introducing a cap and trade system, as well as introducing subsidies for renewable energy sources (and cancelling those currently given to fossil fuel corporations).
Regardless of our political views, Gore's book does contain a lot of very interesting information about the world today, and the forces that are guiding change. It is of value to anyone who is interested in gaining a big-picture view of what is going on now, and where the world is potentially heading. It should be noted, though, that Gore is very single-minded (unduly, I believe) in what he believes are the solutions to the world's problems. They virtually always involve government interference and regulation. In other words, they are fully top-down. Gore gives very short shrift to the potential of bottom-up solutions (and is rather black and white in his thinking), which, I believe, is a major shortcoming of the book. Again, though, a worthwhile read no matter our political views. A full summary of the book is available here: An Executive Summary of Al Gore's 'The Future: Six Drivers of Global Change'
131 of 162 people found the following review helpful
'The Future' covers what author Gore believes are the six most important drivers of global change. They are, The emergence of
1)A deeply interconnected global economy.
2)Planet-wide electronics linking to rapidly expanding volumes of data, ubiquitous sensors throughout the world, and intelligent devices and robots.
3)A new balance of political, economic, and military power that is shifting influence from West to East, from wealthy to emerging states, from political systems to markets, and from nation-states to private actors.
4)Rapid unsustainable growth in population, water and other natural resource consumption, and pollution - all guided by a distorted set of economic metrics (eg. 'quarterly capitalism,' GDP).
5)A new set of biochemical, genetic, and materials science technologies enabling us to alter plants, animals, and ourselves, as well as create new materials.
6)New relationships between humans and the Earth's ecology.
One of the most interesting sections was Gore's treatment of the new economy and its impact on the U.S. and the developed world. He contends we don't recognize the employment impact of automation (3D-printing and much cheaper and easier to program robots are the latest developments), 'self-sourcing' - eg. ordering items from the Internet instead of interacting with clerks, and outsourcing to other nations - eventually these trends will challenge the role of labor in the economy of the future.
Nobel-winner Stiglitz contends that the massive loss of agricultural jobs was a much larger factor than first thought in deepening the Great Recession, and another wrenching period may follow the job losses that have resulted from the 'Great Recession,' automation, and sending jobs to other nations.
Another result is the greater concentration of income in the hands of an elite few. In the U.S., half of all capital gains income goes to the top one-thousandth of one percent, rationalized on the basis that these are the 'job creators.' However, per Gore, with automation and off-shoring and sending jobs to Mexico, the impact of the capital they provide is negative on jobs. The top 1% have more wealth than the bottom 90%, the wealthiest 400 more aggregate wealth than the bottom 50%, and the five Walton children and one daughter-in-law of Sam/Bud Walton have more wealth than the bottom 30% of Americans. The top 1% now receive almost 25% of all U.S. income, up from 12% 25 years ago. The last decade in the U.S. is the only one where zero net jobs have been added to the economy, while productivity growth was higher than any decade since the 1960s.
The purchasing-power GDP of developing countries will pass that of advanced economies in 2013; they have also become the principal engine of world economic growth.
The growth and complexity of financial markets also worries the author. Exotic, 'manufactured financial products' now are traded in volumes 40X larger than all the world's stock markets; the estimated value of derivatives is now 13X the combined value of all stocks and bonds. High-speed, high frequency trading represents 60% of all trades in the U.S. and Europe. The share of the American economy now devoted to the financial sector has doubled from about 4% in 1980 to over 8% now. Less than 1% of derivatives are based on the value of actual commodities, 82% on interest rates, 11% on foreign exchange contracts, 6% on credit derivatives. The value of oil derivatives, for example, is 14X the value of all the actual oil traded. Nobel-winner Stiglitz calls the rationalization for these exotic instruments ('more market liquidity') 'fake liquidity.'
These trades are almost totally unregulated, thereby adding risk such as programs reacting to other programs rather than underlying market realities. On 5/6/2010 the value of the NYSE fell and then rose 1,000 points within 16 minutes, most likely due to interactions between such computer programs. A proposed solution, keep all offers open at least one second, was roundly defeated by lobbyists. Since U.S. banks were earning about $35 billion/year from derivative trading prior to 2008, they're not likely to be reigned in now.
Short-term capitalism is also addressed. A recent survey asked CEOs/CFOs their reaction to an investment that would create improved profits and sustainability in the future but cause them to slightly miss their next quarterly earnings reports. About 80% said 'No.'
World population numbers have quadrupled in less than a century, accelerating the pace of climate change. Farming will be significantly impacted. Weeds appear to benefit much more from extra CO2 than food crops. Corn, soybean, and wheat yields decrease when temperatures rise above levels close to those now existing, or in the recent past. (One study concluded wheat production is down 5.5% because of warming in the last decade.) The predicted impact on corn by the end of this century - a one-third decrease. In addition, increased droughts, disease, and predator insects will further decrease crop yields. Even diseases affecting humans will find the new environment more to their liking.
Dr. James Hanson's recent analysis of the accumulation of 150 square-mile blocks covering most of the world found a 100X increase in extreme high temperatures in recent years vs. earlier decades. He foresees a 'multi-meter' sea rise by the end of this century; 50% of the world population lives within 15 miles of a coastline. Frozen methane underlying Northern areas represents a major 'wild card' that may further accelerate global warming - if released in major quantities.
Those campaigning against taking action to moderate global warming are largely 'liars for hire,' fueled by those with $7 trillion in assets at risk, largely energy companies and their major owners.
On the down side, Gore still supports Free Trade (despite his cautions about the impact on jobs in the U.S.), though he's upset that this encourages pollution by sending production to areas with less restrictions on pollution. Another major problem - Gore is totally unaware of the coming revolution in education, courtesy of the Internet, or the reasons why U.S. health care expenditures (18% of GDP) can and should be significantly reduced (eg. Japan and Taiwan spend only 8% of GDP on health care, 4% for Singapore).
147 of 189 people found the following review helpful
on January 30, 2013
In "The Future" Al Gore moves beyond his traditional focus on climate change and takes on the major agents of change in today's global world. The book is very ambitious (and quite long). It looks at the six major forces that are transforming the world, and which will create the major challenges and opportunities for humanity going forward.
The part I liked best focused on how globalization and especially technology are transforming the economy and labor markets. Gore divides this into outsourcing and "robosourcing" (what he calls replacement of jobs by smart machines and robots). Unlike others who feel today's technology is just a continuation of what has come before, Gore sees it as a totally new force with dramatic (and often negative) consequences for workers.
As he points out, advanced information technology is a major driver of inequality. As machines are able to do more work, capital is worth more relative to labor. He notes that in the United States, "50 percent of capital gains to to the top one thousandth of one percent." (For more on technology transforming the job market, I would also recommend The Lights in the Tunnel: Automation, Accelerating Technology and the Economy of the Future, which all about how robots and AI will affect jobs).
Beyond this Gore takes on the other trends. For example, he is very optimistic about the global connectivity allowed by technology, calling it the "global mind." Gore seems to think this we lead to more collaboration and emerging consensus on big political issues. But there is plenty of reason to be skeptical... In the U.S. lots of evidence suggests that blogs and social media have actually divided us along even more extreme lines. Liberals and conservatives live almost in different informational universes...so how exactly will the "global mind" overcome this and help solve the challenges we face?
This is a big book that takes on big issues. Many people will not agree with Gore's analysis and certainly not with his prescriptions. Nonetheless, I think it is an important book that does a good job of focusing on the things we will have to struggle with in the next decades.
40 of 50 people found the following review helpful
on February 4, 2013
Some of the posted reviews here absolutely amaze me. Please actually read the book before posting a review. I have read all of Al Gore's books and this is by far the most compelling. I started reading this book in some ways expecting more of the same after reading Inconvenient Truth and Our Choice, however this book aims to move into new territory in many ways. I was amazed at some of the topics and the views expressed. I found it a compelling and thought provoking read.
If you enjoy reading intelligent debate and viewpoints which are not simply a rehash of the mainstream you will enjoy this book. I would be wrong to say this was an easy read, it is written to make you think, to challenge, to debate. I absolutely enjoyed it and felt somewhat inspired by it......and unlike some of the reviewers here I did actually read it. Ignore the pathetic 1 stars reviews here....they are frequently written by people who have not read the book and simply have an aversion to Al Gore...simply on principle
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on May 31, 2013
The Future is Al Gore's latest foray into speculation about where he thinks the world is headed over the next several decades. In this well-written and thought-provoking book, he hasn't found a lot of reasons to be any more optimistic than he was in An Inconvenient Truth seven years ago, at least with regard to such frightening prospects as massive global climate change, the continued and increasing disproportionate power in the hands of corporations and their lobbyists, and the dangerously sky-rocketing affluence of new middle classes throughout the developing world.
The key to this book, as opposed to Gore's earlier work, is that he does not focus on a single major issue that will impact humanity, but rather that he focuses on the interconnectivity of six major factors (as indicated by the book's subtitle). These are: Earth Inc. (the rapidly growing and inter-connected global economy); The Global Mind (personal rather than economic or corporate connectivity - and his hopes for a new kind of electronic egalitarianism); Power in the Balance (the shift of global economic power, particularly from West to East); Outgrowth (our ever-greater demands on ever-dwindling resources, addressing both energy and food consumption patterns); The Reinvention of Life and Death (the additional stresses placed on society by an aging population, looking at Japan as the new paradigm that will eventually be realized in most industrial nations, as well as the costs - social and financial - of new life-extending and -improving technologies that may or may not be available to all); and The Edge (Gore's most pessimistic look yet at just where we are as a planetary eco-system - the title of this chapter gives a pretty clear indication of exactly where he feels we are). This approach works very well, and is one of the book's greatest strengths.
The other strength is the depth of research conducted. While the book proper weighs in at 374 pages, the bibliography and notes are an additional 154 pages. Climate change deniers tend to rely on anecdotal evidence (Fox News's response to the blizzard (the "Snowpocalypse") in Washington DC three years ago comes to mind - to paraphrase: "Well, that sure makes those Global Warming people look bad!"), whereas those knelling the bells have had the science solidly on their side for the last two decades at least; however, never in my reading have I come across a clearer argument, with a greater abundance of solid and varied evidence, that we as a planetary civilization are facing some very difficult times, than that made in this book. Kudos both to Gore and to his team of researchers.
This is not to say that Gore is all gloom and doom. Each chapter suggests solutions, alternate paths, or better possibilities that we can still reach if we can find the will. The greatest hope comes in his chapter on The Global Mind. He addresses the Arab Spring and the Occupy movements as two recent revolutionary actions that have ties to shared information and social networks, more so for the latter than for the former (this has more to do with the ubiquity of devices, connectivity, and reduced censorship as opposed to an active and conscience choice of differing methods of organization). He suggests that this could possibly be a harbinger of things to come, when people are able to find new centres of power within networks, and eventually move to a greater and more transparent form of democracy. High hopes indeed, somewhat tempered by his concerns over several countries that are choosing to follow in China's footsteps - tight controls, censored sites, and limited connectivity to social networking not directly controlled by the government.
Gore ends the book with a call to action, and expresses grave concerns over our ability to come to consensus in a timely fashion. We are, according to his research, approaching a precipice (his "Edge") which, should we not halt our forward momentum, we may pass over into thin air without realizing it until it is far too late, much like Wile E. Coyote running in place before falling to the canyon floor below.
Steve's Grade: A
A well-written, solidly researched extrapolatory journey into a frightening and challenging future that is becoming all the more likely with each passing year.
67 of 88 people found the following review helpful
on February 1, 2013
This is a discussion where the sources, and thus the footnotes, count for everything. Gore is Gore and always impressive, but he is basically a compiler of the scientific and social science work performed in depth, one assumes, by others. At the end of this book there is a very long section of notes containing references, something in the range of 400 to 500 per chapter. One thus is constantly wanting to go from the text, which contains no actual footnote numbers, to the section of notes to see if there is a reference for the huge number of fascinating factual statements the text contains. But on my Kindle that is completely impossible. This makes the entire book in the Kindle format almost unreadable, unless one simply doesn't care about the quality of Mr. Gore's discussion.
8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on March 7, 2013
This book should be read by everyone - the author nicely highlights the most pertinent changes taking place in science, computing, economics, politics, demographics, ethics, and mankind's seemingly fatalistic march into the future. The book is very broad in its reach, and very comprehensive. The author's staff has done an excellent job of cataloging every event of the past and projecting its ramifications for the future. But there are some problems:
The book is written in an almost stream-of-consciousness style: It relies almost exclusively on text with virtually no graphics to illustrate its ideas. At some point in reading this book, one might suspect that much of the text could be brought together into a more cohesive whole. As is, the book gives us a seemingly endless string of data, each datum accompanied by its own futuristic implication, but lacking in some logical thread that might pull the whole thing together. That is, we suspect that correlations and dependencies between the various effects mentioned might mitigate or amplify the author's conclusions, but we're not given a framework in which to explore this possibility. For example, globalization may lead to a world dominated by powerful corporations that will overwhelm the significance of nation-states and evolve into an entity the author calls Earth, Inc. But the growth of social networking may integrate the world population into a common community the author calls the Global Mind. Clearly, these phenomena would be related; but how? One might wish for more cohesion among the six sections of the book.
In the end the author becomes most visceral in his discussion of the consequences of global warming and climate change. But even though many misdeeds by governments, the world's population and corporations have brought us to the very edge of disaster, and perhaps it's already too late to heal the planet's damaged atmosphere, we're not given any realistic options to deal with the situation. Carbon based fuels cannot be realistically replaced by alternative sources except over some extended period of time, if ever. There is too much investment in gas, oil, and coal to expect that the planet could simply switch to different energy sources at will. Indeed, the conversion from fossil based fuels to alternative fuels would itself have a significant impact on life on earth - we're talking about a huge change. The change to sustainable energy will require reasonable and realistic proposals: True, it's a travesty that the U.S. did not sign on to the Kyoto Protocol, but let's move on. Progress is being made: the U.S. Navy is trying to switch the fleet to sustainable fuels; China is flooding the world with cheap solar panels; the new Tesla was named car of the year; etc. Things aren't entirely bleak. It might have been more productive if the author did less to emphasize the edge of doom, and more to highlight new initiatives that might lead to a new beginning.
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
In the future, according to the former vice president, national governments will hold less sway than multinational corporations, there will be no privacy and all the world's information will be freely available, we will struggle with basic strategic resources like topsoil and fresh water all the while we will try to change the genetic make-up of humanity (with possibly costly genetic failures) and continue to ruin our planet's ecology and climate by the reckless use of greenhouse gasses. Yeah, the future looks a lot like Blade Runner: The Final Cut.
The problem with Gore's book? It's right on. The changes that science fiction writers have seen and envisioned coming are coming and are even here. (Consider The Windup Girl for a recent, excellent novel with similar themes.)
Unlike Science Fiction, the Vice President breaks down the coming changes in deep, but easier to understand sections:
1) Earth, Inc. - the globalization of economic factors, the movement of labor from developed to developing countries and "robosourcing" (the movement of labor from humans to robots.
2) The Global Mind -the rise of the internet to connect all of mankind in network similar to the way a mind works with billions of bits of information travelling instantaneously around the globe and (frighteningly) the complete lack of privacy users can expect.
3) The change in power - from U.S. centric to global, from governments to corporations.
4) Strategic Resource Loss - the depletion of strategic resources like topsoil and fresh water due to the increase in the world's population.
5) Future Science - the technology that is rapidly changing the way we practice medicine, how we have the power to manipulate DNA and the path of our genetic future along with new techs that will impact our world and lives.
6) Climate Change - (of course) the impact of manmade global warming and climate changes due to reckless use of greenhouse gases.
This book is so dense that the audio book is 18 hours long and filled with words that would make your average young adult reader grimace in lack of comprehension. There are some great call-outs, though, that everyone should be able to understand. (And some movies that warn of a similar issue, for those who do read at a young adult level :)
"When I became Vice President in 1993, there were on average four different offices representing the U.S. Department of Agriculture located within every one of the 3000 counties in the United States yet the percentage of total jobs represented by farm jobs had declined to 2%. In other words, a determined and expensive national policy to promote agriculture for a century and a half did little or nothing to prevent the massive loss of employment opportunities on farms. Although these policies arguably contributed to the massive increase in agricultural productivity. But the larger point is that many systemic technology driven changes are simply too powerful for any set of policies to hold back." The Vice President rightly points out that the changes are coming and will be more and more difficult to stop or slow if action isn't taken now. Unlike the above situation, which Republicans would likely love to read out of context, we are still early on in the genetic modification of humans and need to get ahead of the curve by making changes to our DNA illegal now, before they become commonplace. (Ala, The Island or Gattaca.)
A theme that comes up over and again is the Vice President's call to change accounting practices to count the costs of natural resources utilization and ecological impact: "The emergence of rapid unsustainable growth in population, cities, resources consumption, depletion of top soil, fresh water supplies and living species, pollution flows, and economic output that is measured and guided by an absurd and guided by a distorted set of universally accepted methods that blind us to the destructive consequences of self deceiving choices we are routinely making."
Some may jump at that "self deceiving choices" phrase and go for the cheap shot about the Vice President selling his cable TV channel to Al Jazeera, the fact is that the future envisioned in the book is coming and no amount of character assault should distract us from quick choices and changes. (Also seen in Mad Max and every other post-apocalyptic movie about the fall of society based on a scarcity of natural resources).
The scariest section in my opinion was the section on the Global Mind and the lack of privacy we should expect. I immediately drew a connection between this book's concerns and Arther C. Clarke and Stephen Baxter's prophetic novel, The Light of Other Days, where characters wore privacy suits to hide their gender and keep private their DNA.
This book reads like a cautionary tale of what our society is coming to and the massively important decisions we need to make. To make them, though, we need to get past the arguments over global warming and climate change and the partisan politics (Mr. Gore hasn't been in any elected office for 13 years!) I can't see any logical reason to oppose the conclusion that man has negatively impacted global climate change and we need to make adjustments. Even if you don't believe in climate change can't we at least agree that less smog is good for us?
I highly recommend this book. And if you enjoy audio books, I recommend the audio book version of this even more than the print version. The Vice President reads it himself, and while he can come across as the long winded professor who's lecture we all doodled through in High School, when he get's passionate about the subject you can hear it and frankly that helps with some who may doubt the veracity of Mr. Gore. This should build empathy; a great starting point for discussion and positive change.
A note to my Christian friends: why are you against climate change? Is it only because you are Republican and this is a Democrat issue? Have we looked at the research or just the Facebook timeline pictures with the snarky bumper sticker phrases? Taking care of the environment IS a Christian virtue and responsibility.
This book was provided by the publisher as a review copy.
4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on May 14, 2013
This book may be disturbing to many, and for that reason they may attempt to find fault. However it is the best, most thoroughly researched, documented, and well thought-out work on where we are and where we may be going on this planet that I have yet seen. Regardless of what anyone may think of Mr. Gore's politics the quality and depth of his work here should be required reading for all of the world's leaders, and for the rest of us as well.
As many of Mr. Gore's observations in his previous work, An Inconvenient Truth, are being confirmed by events in spite of the blathering of skeptics and deniers, I predict that many of the observations in The Future are accurate and that time will once again confirm the theses put forward in this work.
In spite of the myriad, complex, and interwoven problems that we face, the author remains an optimist. He proposes clear and doable approaches to facing the future with some confidence.
I urge everyone to read this book.
4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on May 4, 2013
This is a masterful book. I am amazed by Mr. Gore's mastery of science, history, technology, the arts, and so much more. It is well-researched and serves as an important integration of the trends that are dominating both our present and future. It is also a warning that much of our thought and our institutions must adjust to new problems that have arisen. He clearly sees into our future and I am grateful to him for making a commitment to illuminate us. What he is doing is actually more important to me than being President of the United States.