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A Celebration Society Paperback – December 1, 2015
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"Rebound" by Kwame Alexander
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"This is an unusual book that you have to read. Most works on "the future" are familiar treatments of fairly well-known issues, whereas Jonathan Kolber has given us exactly what the title suggests--a celebration of the marvelous breakthroughs ahead and their profound possibilities. Well-researched and beautifully written, this book will inspire you."
~William E. Halal, George Washington University and President of TechCast Global; Author, Technology's Promise: Expert Knowledge on the Transformation of Business and Society
"Well-researched and instructive, this is a must-read for people interested in creating a more positive and meaningful society."
~Brian Vicente, Esq, Partner, Vicente Soderberg and Co-Director of Colorado's Amendment 64 campaign
"A par excellence achievement that connects 26 widely disparate domains. Very well written.... every chapter and page had great insights."
~Rohit Sharma, Founder of Perchingtree; Author, Luck Reengineering and Mental Model Innovation
"A monumental work that not only examines the human condition from numerous perspectives but, based on scientific research into many areas, offers real solutions to the many problems we humans of this planet face today and will most likely face tomorrow. Jonathan Kolber has done a masterful job."
"The research and writing of this book has obviously been a massive undertaking.... I started to read it as just another attempt at idealizing a Utopian Society. I had all the usual misgivings about his glossing over of inconvenient truths, or leaving gaping holes in his logic or reasoning. However, the further I read, the more my misgivings were addressed and answered convincingly."
~Steve Friedman, retired geology teacher
About the Author
When I was 14, I dreamt that I tried to join a society to protect and improve the world. The adult in charge smiled and said I was not yet ready, but someday I would be. I have spent my life getting ready. This book is the result.
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The real world rarely, if ever, works like that. And to accomplish it in a hundred different domains in a short timeframe …. at the risk of sounding cynical, I say not a chance.
Unless one buys into the concept of a global mind and its collective, sudden awakening and a massive rapid shift in thinking, the magnitude of the required changes are simply too fundamental and too quick to work in the described timeframe. For example, the author goes on to list several fundamental changes to how society works and says that this “can be structured and deployed on a local basis within the next decade or so”.
There is no precedent in the human history of anything of that magnitude – indeed, anything coming close to that magnitude – happening in that short a timeframe.
What comes to several technologies presented as solutions, I will borrow Ben Goldacre’s book title and say “I think you’ll find it’s a bit more complicated than that.” Some examples:
- As is common nowadays, solar power and battery storage is offered as one energy panacea. Yet, materials impact of batteries are completely glossed over, and inconvenient details like limited lifetimes of batteries are assumed to be solved soon enough.
- EROEI (Energy Return Over Energy Invested) is a critical factor for any energy source; this is not discussed, and for example there is zero evidence provided of hemp biomass and hemp oil (one of the major solutions offered) having an acceptable EROEI.
- Similarly, attempts at scaling algae biodiesel production have been ongoing for decades with no marked progress.
- The assumption that “AI research will soon lead us to a time when AIs replicate all manner of human intellectual functions”. Despite advances in automation and machine learning, the jury is still very much out on that point. Besides, what is “soon”?
One of the major failures of the book is taking potential preliminary results from research – or even just a theory/concept – and assuming they can be deployed en masse smoothly. This is exceedingly rarely the case. Several brave assumptions are also taken, such as taking “effective, widespread nanotechnology assemblers and disassemblers”, asteroid mining, plasma converters etc etc as a given. To the author’s credit, he does spell many of these assumptions out, but pays little attention to just how realistic they are.
On the positive side, Celebration Society does touch an enormously wide range of issues and technologies, and serves as good food for thought on a number of domains. Jonathan Kolber should be commended on attempting such a holistic approach to the world’s problems.
To summarize, Celebration Society is an interesting read and no doubt contains bits of new insights to most people. It paints a net positive vision of the future, but in its breadth-vs-depth approach, it misses or underestimates a vast number of challenges. Despite what the author claims - that Celebration Society is not about a utopia - Celebration Society is a utopian vision, not a roadmap.
More importantly, I would argue it’s not a realistic vision. At a minimum, it falls prey to Amara’s Law; “We tend to overestimate the effect of a technology in the short run and underestimate the effect in the long run.”
Kolber visualizes a new paradigm with an “economics of abundance” instead of the “economics of scarcity” that has governed thought for centuries. The abundance is created by technology transforming processes and procedures performed by robots. In this paradigm people obtain their identity in experiences (following their passion, doing what they want to do and helping others) instead of in the work they do (things they have to do) and the material possession they have. He gives numerous examples of the transformation, but does not flesh out the science of “the economics of abundance.”
Kolber's Society has their own currency and different levels of citizenship. He has limited discussion as to how his society will overcome current laws (especially in the USA) against alternate: currencies, taxation methods, ideology discrimination, etc. He does propose setting up a society in Iceland at a fee of $100,000 US per resident.
I believe these discussions are important. At some time in the future people will have do decide the type of government they will have on space stations and outposts on other planets with populations in the 10's and 100's of thousands of people. In the last few years there have been various secession movements in the USA and it is possible at some time in the future some of them will be successful. To those who live in highly populated parts of the country, the rural areas of the country may seem like deserts to which people may flee in times of serious turbulence as governments go broke and implode, which is possible at some time in the future. The people in the secession areas will need to set up their own government; their success will depend (at least partly) upon how much thought and preparation was made ahead of time.
In his book, Celebration Society, Jonathan Kolber tackles this question head on. He deals directly with the ramifications of many professions vanishing, and addresses the question of how a society can operate without individual economic growth as a goal - the answers of which may surprise you. He has taken the task of developing a workable societal system, where scarcity is not only removed, but human quality of life improves in staggering ways. Kolger accomplishes this with an exceptional level of investigation and historical perspective.
If ever there was a book that came close to sufficiently collecting all the most intelligent ideas and thoughts on potential consequences of future technology, Kolber has achieved it with Celebration Society. He addresses a wide array of topics ranging from government, education, energy, ethics, access to life's essentials, lacking only a discussion on issues of private property. It is a rare treat to find a book with an intriguing subject, an engrossing writer, and a well researched topic. In Celebration Society, we have all three.