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The Ingenuity Gap: Facing the Economic, Environmental, and Other Challenges of an Increasingly Complex and Unpredictable Future Paperback – August 13, 2002
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“[C]losely reasoned, accessible, and lucid . . . . [A] welcome reality check.” --The Washington Post
“No other new concept . . . so fully condenses all of the challenges we face as a human civilization as does ‘ingenuity gap.’ [Homer-Dixon] is one of an elite group of academics who can write for a mass audience.” --Robert D. Kaplan
“This remarkable work, based on an impressive amount of scholarship, travel, and interviews, is the most persuasive forecast of the twenty-first century I have seen.”--Edward O. Wilson
“[R]emarkable . . . compelling, original . . . . This book’s intellectual scope is truly sweeping.” The Memphis Commercial Appeal
From the Inside Flap
Despite all of society's advances, our problems proliferate. Wars abound, environmental degradation accelerates, economies topple overnight, and pandemics such as AIDS and tuberculosis continue to spread. The Internet and other media help to disseminate knowledge, but they've also created an "info-glut" and left us too little time to process it. What's more, advances in technology have made the world so bewilderingly fast-paced and complex that fewer people are able even to grasp the problems, let alone generate solutions. That space between the problems that arise and our ability to solve them is "the ingenuity gap," and as we careen towards an increasingly harried and hectic future, the gap seems only to widen.
As he explores the possible consequences of this gap, Thomas Homer-Dixon offers an absorbing assessment of the state of the world and our ability to fix it. Culling from an astounding array of fields-from economics to evolution, political science to paleontology, computers to communications -he integrates his vast knowledge into an accessible and engaging argument. This is a book with profound implications for everyone that we can ill afford to ignore.
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This is a five-star book and I expect Upside of Down will be as well.
I was immediately struck by the grace with which the author credits key other minds in the body of the work rather than just as a footnote.
Here are the highlights from my flyleaf notes, and a few other recommended readings:
+ Complexity soaring, need ideas for better institutions and better social arrangements.
+ Delusion of control over complex systems we barely comprehend
+ Citing Paul Rober: ideas co-equivalent to capital and labor
+ Not enough time to reflect (I am reminded of
The Age of Missing Information
Fog Facts: Searching for Truth in the Land of Spin
+ Full credit to H. G. Wells for anticipating the need for a World Brain to manage the complex of complexes
+ Excellent overview of mistakes by the economists. I recommend as well
Bad Samaritans: The Myth of Free Trade and the Secret History of Capitalism
Confessions of an Economic Hit Man
The End of Poverty: Economic Possibilities for Our Time
+Wealth gaps + migrations = poor global management
+ Losing 25% of our biodiversity
+ Delays in policy understanding, decisions, action, and outcomes compound losses over time
+ Mike Whitfield cited on need for holistic view, keystone species, and radical differences in compressed time scales. I am reminded of everything written by Richard Falk, Ervin Laszlo and others in the 1970's and 1980's.
+ Population factor is profound
+ Corruption is the primary obstacle to reform
+ Garbage overtaking coastlines while nitrogen leeches into water and carbon dioxide goes into the atmosphere
+ Citing David Harvey, "hypercapitalism" compresses time and space while over-producing both wasted production and concentrated wealth
+ Our collective ego is blocking our collective intelligence. See the new book, Collective Intelligence: Creating a Prosperous World at Peace
+ Losing our sense of place, not getting enough signals to understand the tipping point circumstances
+ Complexity goes awry (he cited Perrow, whose book Normal Accidents: Living with High-Risk Technologies remains a seminal work (simple systems have single points of failure easy to diagnose and fix; complex systems have multiple points of failure that interact in unpredictable and sometimes undiscoverable ways; we live in a constellation of complex systems well beyond our ken)
+ Complex systems characterized by multiplicity; causal feedback; some tightly coupled; interdependence; openness; synergy; and nonlinear behavior.
+ Chaos theory warns us that nature will magnify the smallest perturbation from humans
+ Four stages of human perception of nature: 1) Balancing; 2) Anarchic; 3) Resilient; 4) Evolving.
+ Citing Wally Broeker: "Climate is an angry beast, and we are poking it with sticks."
+ Social systems are path dependent, delay at any point can be disastrous
+ Lessons of financial crises: governments and the IMF are out of touch with speed and breadth of financial systemic changes; computer-driven changes can accelerate and deepen mistakes
+ Citing Kofi Annan: "imbalance between economic, social, and political realms can never be sustained for long."
+ Author: social system out of synch with natural and technological systems
+ Software code doubling every two years, bugs a real problem, still in pre-industrial era
+ Information glut has a critical bottleneck, lack of a sense-making bridge from data to our cognitive absorption
+ Ingenuity is both technical and social
+ Our biggest problem is the failure of our economic institutions and policies
+ Washington DC bureaucrats, including senior CIA analysts, "largely out of their depth"
+ Pace of change, depth of ignorance, and political resistance all assume scary proportions
+ Self-organizing resilience and adapting systems could be key
+ As ingenuity gap widens "need imagination, metaphor, and empathy more than ever."
+ Afterword: relentless increase in complexity while "world economic system is profoundly dysfunctional."
+ Most interesting to me, as I have committed to publish a book on "Cultural Intelligence" in 2009, is the author's citing of Robert Boyd and Peter Richerson, saying culture is "information--skills, attitudes, beliefs, values--capable of affecting individuals' behavior."
There are other notes but Amazon imposes a word limit. This is a great book, and I honor it by listing other great and relevant works below (to my limit of ten):
The Health of Nations: Society and Law beyond the State
The leadership of civilization building: Administrative and civilization theory, symbolic dialogue, and citizen skills for the 21st century
The Wealth of Networks: How Social Production Transforms Markets and Freedom
I would highly recommend this book to thinkers and public policy students and professionals and to anyone who would appreciate a better understanding of the complexity of the world around them.
Yes our world is full of complexity and unpredictability. And yes, we tend to overrate our ability to compensate for those traits. That shouldn't be a surprising revelation to thoughtful people.
I liked a few things such as the notion of a "fitness landscape".
I quickly got tired of the climate change message. I'm not a doubter or disbeliever. I just think the author spent so much time on environmental issues that I lost focus on the message of the book.
I suggest you skip this one.
Ingenuity comes in two forms - technical and social. One without the other will not provide us with lasting solutions. Technical solutions might even lead us down a garden path without complementary social ingenuity. It is the latter that guarantees results taking economic, ecological and cultural needs into account. To make his point, Homer-Dixon explores a wide range of examples demonstrating tremendous levels of ingenuity at work all over the world - both technical and social. His contention is that they are available to us if we look properly.
H-D, or Tad as he is usually called, takes us on a tour around the planet, using concrete examples to amplify his argument. Obviously, the result is not your usual travelogue and we are not visiting popular vacation spots or tourist attractions. Visiting Vegas, London's Canary Wharf or Patna, India, he believes that a personalized approach facilitates the following of his arguments. While some reviewers have criticized that H-D places himself too much into the story, it nonetheless contributes to the readability of the often exceedingly complicated issues he is addressing. He also conveys his own learning through interviews with some of the foremost scientists in the various fields he covers: from soil scientists to climatologists, from computer science to economy and architecture.
His in depth deductions from the wide range of interviews with scientists represent one of the highlights of the book. For example, while exploring the latest research into the human brain as the central point for ingenuity development, Tad takes his questions to one of the world's leading experts on frontal lobes, Donald Stuss. His conversations with Stuss provide fascinating insights in the importance of frontal lobe abilities to process change and integrate experiences and learning. This part of the brain handles our creative and intellectual capabilities. With aging, the ability of the brain to absorb new information lessens while the ability to digest and process complex interrelationships increases. His conclusions are far reaching - changing the way we assess leadership and identify those who are best qualified to meet the challenges of our corporate and administrative hierarchies. After each of these in-depth conversations, H-D reflects on the substance of the dialogue and returns to his overall theme - how can we minimize the ingenuity gap that is widening all the time.
Tad groups his book into sections, each addressing different aspects and disciplines from which to review the ingenuity requirements of the modern world. He depicts environmental problems and those related to continuing rapid population growth, which to him is a major challenge for the planet's future. He does not have a lot of patience with the 'economic optimists' or the 'techno-hubris'. He expands on incidences which demonstrate that a single-minded and, in some way, naïve belief that technological advance alone is capable of solving the world's problems will fail.
It's impossibleto do justice here to the many strands of global analysis that Homer-Dixon presents the reader with. His many years of research, in particular into environmental scarcity and civil violence allow him to assess ingenuity gaps from many different angles. The criticism that he does not supply adequate answers and does not show a way forward, is oversimplifying what H-D is attempting to achieve. The modern world is at a level of complexity that no one person can comprehend. As a consequence, it will take the ingenuity and political will of many to address the wide range of issues confronting us. In the pursuit of answers, he urges intellectual humility and thinking outside the box. He encourages his readers to take up the challenges, explore them further, and question any simple or easy solutions being offered by political leaders. This is an important reference book to be read more than once.
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"In this book I'll argue that the complexity, unpredictability, and pace of events in our world, and the severity...Read more