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Infinite Progress: How the Internet and Technology Will End Ignorance, Disease, Poverty, Hunger, and War Hardcover – March 12, 2013
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"This is a valuable book--an antidote to the harmful gloom and moralizing that pervades most discussions of the future, and a beacon showing us the paths we could take."
--Steven Pinker, professor of Psychology, Harvard University, and author of The Better Angels of Our Nature
About the Author
Byron Reese is the founder of several high-tech companies and has obtained or has pending numerous patents in disciplines as varied as crowdsourcing, content creation, and psychographics. Together the websites he has launched have received over a billion visitors, covering a variety of topics including news, reference, and history.
Bloomberg Businessweek credits Reese as having ''quietly pioneered a new breed of media company'' and the Financial Times describes him as one of the ''new wave of internet entrepreneurs out to turn the economics of the media industry on its head.'' Even Business Insider calls him an ''awesome guy.''
Reese currently heads up research and development for Demand Media (NYSE: DMD)
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The book starts with its 5 premises: 1) Futurists often get it wrong 2) History can help us get it right 3) Internet + Ingenuity= Infinite Progress 4) Accelerating Progress is inevitable 5) The new Renaissance has begun. If you agree with his premises than you are ready to tackle the five major social issues he believes will be solved.
The End of Ignorance
Bryan Reese is unapologetically optimistic about the future, arguing that accelerating positive progress is inevitable, primarily due to the end of Ignorance. Not ignorance of fact, but ignorance due to lack of wisdom. Ignorance will end because of its high cost.
Reese argues that the current dissonance of opinion, facts, and values are a temporary condition that will end as more and more anonymous personal data is captured into a digital echo that will en capture a quadrillion life experiences driving AI driven information and suggested decisions incorporating personal values and preferences. The causal impact of our individual and collective decisions will inform our future decisions.
Another fascinating point, a technological invention than tore the social fabric was the invention of Air Conditioning. Suddenly people stayed in their houses instead of on their porch visiting with their neighbors. While the internet can be isolating, the current generation of youth writes more than any generation before it and communicates more.
While the social effect and impact of technology is well reasoned, the actual implementation of a system that captures your digital echo and turns it into insight is left to the imagination. The assumption is that free market economics will drive towards such a powerful collection of data. It is hard to argue against the fact that very soon most of humanity will be connected via the internet and the amount of learning available for free is exponentially growing. Ultimately the value of capturing information on everything you do will break through the privacy concerns.
The End of Disease
What stands out in this section is the fact that most major breakthroughs in medicine and disease have occurred in the last 75 years. With the mapping of our genome, the opportunity for acceleration of research and treatment of disease is just beginning. The author contends that as more of our lifestyle choices and behavioral aspects are captured digitally, along with lots of sensor capability around the body, new correlations will be seen leading to new treatments and a better understanding of disease. As we accelerate our functional and genetic understanding of how the body works, new and more effective treatments are inevitable, over time leading to the end of disease.
The End of Poverty
The fundamental premise for the end of poverty is that technology will enable us to move into an “age of abundance” vs. the current world of scarcity. This re-alignment will enable a higher standard of living for everyone. This is perhaps the most ambitious of the predictions as there has always been poverty. Reese makes several optimistic assumptions like a “fair playing field” and financial transparency for new breakthroughs. I feel his argument that social disruption will only be temporary as workers are displaced due to technology is overly optimistic. He asserts if a job can be replaced by a machine, then it was non-value added to have a person doing it. The ultimate end state will be a population working on life fulfillment and personal development instead of “earning a living”. In his summary he acknowledges that “Even if I am too optimistic in describing a truly post-scarcity world, wealth will unquestionably continue to grow. Poverty will be redefined upward until, for all intent and purposes, poverty as we know it today no longer will exist.”
The End of Hunger
The end of hunger will be driven by changes in society’s expectation of food as a human right. Two enablers are greater information about our food source (information at the plant level not crop level) and genomics (genetically enhancing food to better meet human needs). Reese asserts that “If I am ultimately proven wrong and the world rejects GM foods, we will still end hunger.” Ultimately he confronts the reality of hunger “But I also believe that hunger will end when we decide to end it, not only at the point when we are able to end it.”
The End of War
The end of war will result from nations and their best and brightest citizens focusing on economic competition instead of military competition. Using numerous examples, Reese finds that trading partners do not go to war with each other. With almost all of the world population to be linked via the internet, English becoming the global language, and global supply chains, the negative effects of war on economies will ultimately make it less likely and more rare. Rich nations don’t go to war with rich nations, they go war with marginalized nations.
In my opinion Infinite Progress is a breath of fresh air that takes the reader outside the current “age of scarcity” to a future world where technology and information has addressed the primary existential issues facing humankind. I think it is smart that Reese does not include or suggest any timelines, but rather argues through force of reason that such changes are inevitable regardless of how long it takes. The reader will hope to live to see such major changes occur in their lifetime