#8. A Summary of ‘Abundance: The Future Is Better Than You Think’ by Peter Diamandis and Steven Kotler

'Abudnance: The Future Is Better Than You Think' by Peter Diamandis

‘Abundance: The Future Is Better Than You Think’ by Peter Diamandis (Free Press; February 21, 2012)

Table of Contents:

i. Introduction/Synopsis

PART I: THE CURRENT STATE OF AFFAIRS AND THE GOAL AHEAD

1. The Tech Revolution & The Rising Standard of Living

2. The Tech Revolution, Its Problems & The Dream for the Future

3.The Abundance Pyramid

  • 3a. The Base of the Pyramid: The Basic Needs of Water, Food & Shelter
  • 3b. The Middle Tier: Energy, Education and ICT
  • 3c. The Top of the Pyramid: Health & Freedom

PART II: REASONS FOR HOPE: THE NATURE OF TECHNOLOGY AND THE 3 FORCES

4. Technological Growth & Exponentials

5. Force #1: DIY Innovation

6. Force #2: The Techphilanthropists

7. Force #3: The Rising Billion

PART III: THE NEW (AND UPCOMING) TECHNOLOGY

8. Water

9. Food

10. Energy

11. Education

12. Health

13. Freedom

14. Conclusion

i. Introduction/Synopsis

It has come to the point of cliché to say that, since the industrial revolution, and particularly in the past one hundred years or so, our level of technological innovation has advanced at an unprecedented rate and reached astronomical heights. It is clear that this innovation has provided us with countless benefits, and an enormous increase in our standard of living—at least for some of us. Indeed, it is equally clear that most of these innovations have benefited the developed world much more so than the developing world. Nevertheless, the gains have been so great, and the promise so overwhelming, that much of this period has been pervaded with a palpable optimism that we would eventually reach a stage where the whole world would benefit from the largesse, and we would perhaps even reach a technological utopia.

More recently, however, this optimism has given way to uncertainty, if not an outright crisis of faith, as it has become ever more clear that our technological innovation has left us with new and increasingly pressing problems, such as dwindling resources, global warming, and a population explosion that threatens to confound (and in some cases already does confound) our advances in agricultural production and medicine. Indeed, the problems that we face are so deep and pervasive that many have come to believe that we may have to pay for our era of decadence after all, and that the future is more likely to witness a collapse than the dawn of a utopian age.

However, in their new book ‘Abundance: The Future Is Better Than You Think’, Peter Diamandis and Steven Kotler argue that we needn’t discard our techno-optimism after all. Indeed, according to Diamandis, the world is on the precipice of another explosion in technology that will soon bring refuge from many of our current problems and abundance to our doorstep. Not content to let the goal or the timeline remain vague, Diamandis is happy to hang a more precise definition on each. When it comes to abundance, Diamandis defines it as “a world of nine billion people with clean water, nutritious food, affordable housing, personalized education, top-tier medical care, and non-polluting, ubiquitous energy” (loc. 317), and, to top it all off, the freedom to pursue their goals and aspirations unhindered by political repression. With regards to the timeline, Diamandis claims that it “should be achievable within twenty-five years, with noticeable change possible within the next decade” (loc. 580).

In an attempt to convince us that this goal is achievable Diamandis take us through the latest technological developments (and those that will soon be coming down the pipe) in numerous fields such as water filtration and sanitation (including advancements in water desalination, nano-filtering, sewage recycling and the smart-water-grid ); food production (including the next generation of genetically modified foods, vertical farming, in-vitro meat and agroecology); education (including personalized education, the OLPC [One Laptop Per Child program], AI education programs and advancements in educational games, video-games and computer programs) ; energy (including solar and wind power, the next generation of nuclear energy and algal biofuel, the smart-energy-grid, and battery-encapsulated energy storage); healthcare (including stem cell therapy and organ creation, robotic medical care-givers and surgeons, genomic medicine [based on your individual genome]  and Lab-On-Chip technology [a diagnostic tool compatible with your cell phone that can instantly analyze samples of saliva, urine and blood]) and many, many more.

According to Diamandis, the technological innovations mentioned above are being spurred on by 3 forces in particular these days that are likely to bring us to a state of abundance even quicker than we might otherwise expect, and one that extends to all parts of the world. The 3 forces are (in reverse order as to how they are presented), 1) the rise of the bottom billion—which consists in the fact that the world’s poorest have recently begun plugging into the world economy in a very substantial way, both as a consumer and as a producer of goods (largely as a result of the communications revolution, and the fact that cell phones are now spreading even to the world’s poorest populations); 2) the rising phenomenon of the techphilanthropists—a new breed of wealthy individuals who are more philanthropic than ever, and who are applying their efforts to global solutions (and particularly in the developing world); and 3) the rising phenomenon of DIY innovation—which includes the ability of small organizations, and even individuals to make contributions even in the most advanced technological domains (such as computing, biotechnology, and space travel).

With regards to this last force, part of Diamandis’ purpose here is to inspire the layperson to enter the fray with their own contributions towards abundance by way of joining one of the numerous open-source innovation projects available on line, or throwing their hand into one of the many incentivized technological prizes in existence, or in some other manner of their own devising. In this regard, the authors are very successful, as the work is both invigorating and inspiring.

What follows is a full executive summary of Abundance: The Future Is Better than You Think by Peter Diamandis and Steven Kotler.

PART I: THE CURRENT STATE OF AFFAIRS AND THE GOAL AHEAD

1. The Tech Revolution & The Rising Standard of Living

While the industrial revolution may have gotten off to a bumpy start, it is impossible to deny that the wave of innovation beginning at this time, and speeding up in the past hundred years (and particularly in the past fifty) has had an enormously positive impact on our standard of living and quality of life. As Matt Ridley points out in his book ‘The Rational Optimist’, “Some of the billions alive today still live in misery and want even worse than the worse experienced in the Stone Age. Some are worse off than they were a few months or years before. But the vast majority of people are much better fed, much better sheltered, much better entertained, much better protected against disease and much more likely to live to old age than their ancestors have ever been… Even allowing for the hundreds of millions who still live in abject poverty, disease and want, this generation of human beings has access to more calories, watts, lumen-hours, square-feet, gigabytes, megahertz, light-years, nano-meters, bushels per acre, miles per gallon, food miles, air miles, and, of course, dollars than any that went before” (loc. 878). In order to put just a few basic numbers to this soaring assertion, Diamandis adds that the 20th century “saw infant mortality decrease by 90 percent, maternal mortality decrease by 99 percent, and, overall, human lifespan increase by more than 100 percent” (loc. 135).

As hinted at above, the vast majority of the improvements in lifespan and quality of life have been tilted towards the developed world; however, the improvements here have also begun to reach the developing world. As Diamandis claims, “there is no debate that life has gotten considerably better at the bottom over the last four decades. During that stretch, the developing world has seen longer life expectancies, lower infant mortality rates, better access to information, communication, education, potential avenues out of poverty, quality health care, political freedoms, economic freedoms, sexual freedoms, human rights and saved time” (loc. 4366). Again, adding some stats to the claims, this time coming from the World Bank, Ridley reports that “the number of people living on less than $1 a day has more than halved since the 1950’s to below 18 percent of the world’s population. Yes, there are still billions living in back-breaking destitution, but at the current rate of decline… the number of people in the world living in ‘absolute poverty’ will hit zero by 2035” (loc. 887).

For more good news on the progress that has been made in the developing world (told in a very engaging way) I highly recommend you check out the following TED talk by Hans Rosling titled ‘The Best Stats You’ve Ever Seen’:

2. The Tech Revolution, Its Problems & The Dream for the Future

While the technological revolution may be responsible for some staggering improvements in our lifespan and quality of life, it is equally apparent that this same technological revolution has been responsible for some pervasive and devastating problems such as global warming, dwindling resources, and a population explosion in the developing world that is outstripping our ability to provide for these people. According to Diamandis though, we are on the cusp of being able to eradicate these problems and bring the world to a situation of abundance for all. How? For Diamandis, the problems outlined above do not stem out of the nature of things, but in the way we do things, and this is about to change in ways that are only now becoming clear, and that foretells a future of hope and promise. Of course, this hope and promise is not new, and technological utopians are not a novel phenomenon, but as Diamandis argues in this book, “there are differences this time around. These differences will comprise the bulk of this book, but the short version is that for the first time in history, our capabilities have begun to catch up to our ambitions” (loc. 287). In other words, while previous utopian dreams were just that, dreams, the technology has finally advanced to the point where these dreams are ready to become a reality.

*For prospective buyers: To get a good indication of how this (and other) articles look before purchasing, I’ve made several of my past articles available for free. Each of my articles follows the same form and is similar in length (15-20 pages). The free articles are available here: Free Articles

17 thoughts on “#8. A Summary of ‘Abundance: The Future Is Better Than You Think’ by Peter Diamandis and Steven Kotler

    • Thanks for the kind words ‘Spirited’. I checked out your website and do agree with you: when I first started doing this I was shocked that nobody else was already in on the game. Maybe we’re on to something here! I also agree that it would be nice to have a forum of like-minded people. I’m a little pressed for time right now with my current project to start something like this, but let me know if you find something, or decide to launch it yourself.

      Aaron,
      The Book Reporter

  1. Aaron, I agree with Steve, the video links are a great addendum to the text and I enjoyed the podcast.

    Abundance came with enormous hype (at least as I saw it) and Diamandis is considered to be a real revolutionary; he is one of the best hopes we have to see more rather than less abundance. Overall, I was disappointed with the book and left feeling only moderately more optimistic about the future. I felt Diamandis delivered a whole bunch of executive summaries of these topics while providing very little detail. The chapters on Education and Healthcare are 14 and 15 pages in length, respectively, and this is from the author who is both an educator and a doctor. In some cases the technology is barely out of the science fiction stage (like 3D printing of kidneys) and is impossible to correlate to his abundance timeline of 25 years. Additionally, there are 50 pages of visual references (charts, etc.) that aren’t referenced from within the text and don’t follow the same outline as the book which is confusing.

    There are some great stories in Abundance, however, like that of the aluminum foil on the cover, and introduces the reader to some amazing individuals that make for some interesting google searches.

    • Hey Jeff? Thanks for the compliments, and the thoughtful comments. I agree with you that the book is very general in how it deals with new technology. I think you’re right in pointing out that this has its disadvantages, but I think it has some important advantages as well. For instance, I enjoyed hearing about a lot of potential new technologies in many fields all in one place. Again, I think you’re right in pointing out that some of the technologies mentioned are highly speculative, but I do think that Diamandis was effective in making the point that technology is advancing at an exponential rate in many fields; thus even though some of the technologies that he mentions may end up leading to dead ends, we can expect that many others in the same vein will crop up that will lead to fruitful conclusions. Here’s hoping.

      Cheers,
      Aaron

  2. Thank you for a fairly exhaustive review of this book. I saw it on the reading list of one of my mentors (along with a few other books you have reviewed), and wanted to get some idea of what it was about. Your video links added to the understanding. I also have 4 very bright kids, the 3rd of which is off to college in a year and thinking about genetics and book editing.

    Just a note – could not access the podcast on this in either Podbean or iTunes. If there is a way to get my hands on it, I would love it!

  3. I noticed a couple of errors. In section 4. Technological Growth & Exponentials, doubling 0.0001 seven times does not equal 100. It equals only 0.0128.

    A few lines later, the Osborne Executive Portable could not have weighted 2,800 pounds. Must have been 28 pounds… that’s already hardly portable by today’s standards.

    Otherwise, great work as I really do enjoy your essays.

    • Thank you for catching those errors and bringing them to my attention. They were entirely my own and not the authors’. I have since made the necessary corrections. Good to hear you’re enjoying the articles!

      Cheers,
      Aaron

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