After months of trying to finish off my Christmas Reading List – success eventually arriving in late February – I finally read “Abundance: The Future Is Better Than You Think” by Steven Kotler and Peter Diamandis. For those that haven’t yet read it, ‘Abundance’ extols – to a manifestoesque degree – a new hybrid of ‘Philanthrocapitalism’ and ‘Technophilantropy’, promoting – and in many cases, providing convincing proof – that using technology a rising tide really can lift all boats.
Health Care (23andMe), Energy (Elon Musk’s SolarCity, et al), Food (Vertical Farms and hydroponics), Freedom of Speech and Association (Twitter, Facebook, etc – Palringo being a noted absence), and Micro-finance (Kiva.org) being just a few of the wide range of topics covered; ‘Abundance’ makes the claim that with a new way of thinking, with a focus on global rather than local solutions, and providing technology that stands to save us all, we may have the ability to not just provide food, water, and shelter to 9 billion people – but to provide these at a standard that would befit the average European today. This can be accomplished, ‘Abundance’ claims, by utilising the rate of growth associated with exponential technologies.
‘Abundance’ proposes a new model, based heavily on Maslow’s ‘Hierarchy of Needs‘ named – cunningly – the ‘Abundance Pyramid’. Each part of the book relates to each of the levels in the Pyramid and how existing companies are working towards providing each of the requirements. I won’t replicate the Pyramid in full here, however ‘Part 3: Building the Base of the Pyramid’ is focused on how to provide: Communication (via smartphones, and unfiltered universally accessible internet access); clean, reliable, and accessible water; and a sustainable food supply, with a heavy focus on GMOs.
While ‘Abundance’ does pay lip service to the potential problems that may arise with smarter technology, it is written – like any manifesto – from an optimistic view point, and largely downplays any of the potential problems. This is in stark contrast to ‘The Net Delusion: How Not to Liberate the World‘, by Evgeny Morozov that extols the view that smarter technology, whilst providing many positives, also gives corrupt regimes access to very highly targeted data and that it is only a matter of time before these regimes utilise technology similar to that which runs Google’s AdSense platform for less-than-good purposes.
As the book progresses, Peter Diamandis’ influence becomes more prevalent, with many mentions of both his ‘Singularity University‘ and the ‘X-Prize‘ culminating in his belief that incentive prizes, like the X-Prize, are the only way to accelerate the progress that we are currently making. He very may well be correct, however the proof provided – there have, so far, only been 3 completed X-Prizes – seemed to be lacking for a statement of that calibre. However, given Dr Diamandis’ track record, I don’t expect him to be far off the mark.
Overall, the book is a very interesting read, highlighting some key areas, and has definitely challenged – and indeed changed – some of my previously held perceptions, and for that reason alone, I’d highly recommend it.