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Abundance: The Future Is Better Than You Think Hardcover – February 21, 2012
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Providing abundance is humanity’s grandest challengeâthis is a book about how we rise to meet it.
We will soon be able to meet and exceed the basic needs of every man, woman and child on the planet. Abundance for all is within our grasp. This bold, contrarian view, backed up by exhaustive research, introduces our near-term future, where exponentially growing technologies and three other powerful forces are conspiring to better the lives of billions. An antidote to pessimism by tech entrepreneur turned philanthropist, Peter H. Diamandis and award-winning science writer Steven Kotler.
Since the dawn of humanity, a privileged few have lived in stark contrast to the hardscrabble majority. Conventional wisdom says this gap cannot be closed. But it is closingâfast. The authors document how four forcesâexponential technologies, the DIY innovator, the Technophilanthropist, and the Rising Billionâare conspiring to solve our biggest problems. Abundance establishes hard targets for change and lays out a strategic roadmap for governments, industry and entrepreneurs, giving us plenty of reason for optimism.
Examining human need by categoryâwater, food, energy, healthcare, education, freedomâDiamandis and Kotler introduce dozens of innovators making great strides in each area: Larry Page, Steven Hawking, Dean Kamen, Daniel Kahneman, Elon Musk, Bill Joy, Stewart Brand, Jeff Skoll, Ray Kurzweil, Ratan Tata, Craig Venter, among many, many others.
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The technologies mentioned in the book are amazing to learn about, but he never quite goes into enough detail for you to understand said technologies. It is a light read, definitely focused on looking pretty, scratching the surface, making sure you don't get bored.
I think he wanted to sound like an educator, but ended up just sounding like a used car salesman for "sustainable enterprises" and "abundance". You hear a lot of buzzwords in this book, way more than necessary.
Towards the end of the book, it gets more informative, and there are pages and pages of graphs, charts, and all that good stuff. In between, more writing, and you start to think that you got a break from being sold something. But of course, at the end of the book, you can find out where to go if you wanna be "coached" by Diamandis, or join his university, or find out about his xprize. There certainly is an "abundance" of mentions of his products and self advertisement.
But 1980 was quite a ways back on the still close to flat part of that exponential curve of technological progress that you may have seen in some of the magazine articles about Abundance, the book. I read it as a Kindle application on my iPad, PC, and iPhone seamlessly going from one to the other, depending on whether I was in my office, the kitchen, on the Stairmaster at my club, or in bed. On the PC or my iPad, I could click on any of the many highlighted references and be taken to the appendix and returned to where I had been reading with another click. On the PC, an internet reference in the text or appendix would take me to that external referenced article or graph or website. On the iPad, it would also take me back to where I was reading in the book when finished. This was the most elegant and useful integration of a book with Kindle technology that I have seen to date. Had the publisher chosen to allow Amazon's text to speech feature, I would have used my Kindle too.
That may seem a little off-point, but I include it to illustrate just one of the changes we have so adapted to in those 32 years that we just take them for granted. Dr. Diamandis makes a seemingly air-tight case for an exponential acceleration of change to solve the problems that face us now and in the future, whether it is in energy, scarcity of resources, health, education, and even freedom. He seems to share much of the vision of the future of his colleague Ray Kurzweil, who is referenced and quoted in the book, along with many, many other experts. Dr. Kurzweil and Dr. Diamandis are the co-founders of Singularity University. (singularityu.org) There are many excellent talks and other resources on the web by both of them, including a very recent fifteen minute or so talk by Dr. Diamandis at TED (ted.com). Just the existence of Singularity University and TED.com are confirmation of the rapid and impactful changes in communication and education discussed in the book. They include an interesting quote from The Rational Optimist where the author of that book, Matt Ridley compares the cross-pollination of ideas facilitated by communication to the mixing of genetic information in the natural world.
There were a couple of things in the book that I frankly wish were not there. Why the authors drag the name of Sarah Palin into a discussion of confirmation bias strikes me as inappropriate and more of an example of their own confirmation bias than hers - but then they would say that is just my confirmation bias. Less annoying but still a negative mark to me was a contradiction in two references to Thor Heyerdahl, the Norwegian explorer who sailed the raft Kon-Tiki across the Pacific in 1947. In the first they refer to Kon-Tiki as a raft, which it was, but in a reference a few pages later they describe the process of building it as if it were a dugout canoe, which it was not. Yes, I know - trivial, but it undermines the credibility, at least to me.
But I don't want to make too much of my small disagreements. This is a powerful, optimistic, well documented and well written look at our future. That future is coming, whether we like it or not, so we had better get our minds ready to recognize it as it occurs. I suppose the one concept that keeps reoccurring to me in the days since I finished the book is the thought that the ideas that may change my life in unforeseen ways may come from some kid in Nepal or Siberia or Somalia. He or she may be a part of the bottom billion now, but how many more potential Mozarts or Einsteins or Hawkings or Edisons or Whitneys or Fords or Kamens are out there to be discovered and allowed to blossom? How many will take their dirt-cheap laptop and connect up with the Kahn Academy or something like it and learn to create world-changing products or ideas?
As the creator of the X-prize and his many other accomplishments, Peter Diamandis has in my mind reserved a very honorable place in the future history of the world. With this current book, I think he has shown us how exciting and wonderful a history that is likely to be.
But it is refreshing to read a pop-science book on the issues facing humanity where things aren't all gloomy and we aren't all going to be cyborgs. Easy enough to read, so I'd buy the softcover or listen to the book-on-tape version (I bought both). It's worth it alone as an aide to help the despairing messages we are faced with continuously on the population problem, global warming, and other problems....perhaps there is a way out and we won't, gulp, go extinct - that's why I read the book cover to cover, as a counter-argument to all the doom and gloom. Yeah it's fluff, but at least its positive fluff instead of yet another doom and gloom book.