Ribs grown in a petri dish. Miniature solar panels that double as windows. Pristine water filtered from chemical waste.
These seemingly far-fetched technologies give you the impression that Peter Diamandis’ and Steven Kotler’s new book, Abundance: The Future is Better Than You Think, is plucked straight out of the sci-fi section.
But don’t be fooled.
Abundance is not fantasy. It is a tale, say authors Diamandis and Kotler, of “good news;” a spritely and exciting collection of reasons why, despite the ever-constant refrain that Earth is on the verge of disaster, we must stay positive.
If anyone could qualify as harbingers of good news, it would be Kotler and Diamandis. Kotler, a journalist and author, has covered science and technology for dozens of publications, and met Diamandis while covering the X Prize Foundation. Diamandis’ brainchild, the X Prize Foundation is a nonprofit that runs incentive-based competitions to bring about “radical breakthroughs for the benefit of humanity.” Past winners have invented suborbital, reusable spaceships and technologies to clean oil off the surface of the ocean.
The authors argue that these sorts of technological achievements – evidence of exponentially growing technologies – are just one small part of why the next quarter century will bring about a world of abundance. Coupled with the giving of technophilanthropists, a do-it-yourself culture, and what the authors term “the rising billion,” this abundant world will be one where anything is possible, “a world where everyone’s days are spent dreaming and doing, not scrapping and scraping.”
“Imagine a world of nine billion people with clean water, nutritious food, affordable housing, personalized education, top-tier medical care, and nonpolluting, ubiquitous energy. Building this better world is humanity’s grandest challenge,” they write at the book’s inception.
And then they issue a gentle challenge: “What follows is the story of how we can rise to meet it.”
In just 250 pages, Kotler and Diamandis offer a blue print of what it will take to achieve abundance. They call it the Abundance Pyramid. First, ensure food, water and shelter for every person on the planet. Then, guarantee abundant energy, educational opportunities, and communications and information access. Finally, produce a world where freedom and health care is in the province of all.
Technologies like the Lab on a Chip device will be able to return lab results in a matter of minutes. The Slingshot can already turn anything wet into “pure pharmaceutical-grade injectable water.” And the zero gravity, 3-D printer will give astronauts the ability to print out spare spaceship parts in the click of a button.
All of these technologies, and the dozens of others that "Abundance" introduces you to, will fill every rung of the Abundance Pyramid, and fast. Progress in technology is exponential – moving more than fast enough to meet the challenges ahead.
The four billion poorest people of our world, the “rising billion,” will be a huge force in the vision of abundance, note the authors. Not only have companies begun to take advantage of the aggregate purchasing power of those at the bottom of the economic pyramid by selling cheaper products to them (the fifth-largest denim producer in the world, Arvind Mills, now sells wildly popular, $6, ready-to-make jeans kits in India) but the introduction of cheap cell phones has revolutionized the way these bottom billion individuals live: mobile banking, job-hunting, and a free flow of information is now possible.
“The majority of humanity … if they’re hooked up to the Internet … have access to more knowledge than the president did fifteen years ago,” Abundance notes.
A new generation of technophilanthropists will help fund the way forward, not just by creating needed technologies, but by providing funds to end worldwide problems. In 2010, several of these technophilanthropists joined Warren Buffett’s and Bill Gates’ Giving Pledge, which asks billionaires to give away half of their fortune to charitable and philanthropic causes while still alive or once they pass away. Almost 70 signatories had joined by July 2011.
A growing do-it-yourself industry, which gives individuals the confidence and tools with which they can create incredible inventions, cap off the authors’ many reasons why the world will be better off tomorrow than it was yesterday.
And in case you were wondering, tomorrow will be here sooner than you think. "Abundance" boldly proclaims that every item in the Abundance Pyramid is achievable within 25 years.
For all those who balk at the thought of world hunger ending by 2035, Kotler and Diamandis hear you. The pair devotes several early chapters to addressing the skeptic in all of us. From brain chemistry to evolution to media to well-intentioned but nevertheless inaccurate predictions of the future, "Abundance" deftly answers any challenge against abundance.
There is no hype in the pages of "Abundance." Instead, Kotler and Diamandis patiently and carefully answer the skeptical thoughts they know you will have. They keenly dismantle your defenses through their presentation of research and facts. Not only is "Abundance" a riveting page-turner (hasn’t soothsaying always been popular?), but it’s a book that values your intelligence by being honest and shooting straight.
With so much information packed into so few pages, "Abundance" can be an overwhelming read. But perhaps that’s the point. Your mind fills with so much good news, so much progress, so much innovation, that by the book's end, there seems to be no question as to whether we are headed down the path toward abundance. Of course we are.
"Abundance" is more than an interesting account of new-fangled technologies is because it gives us a vision of the future that is not just bright, but attainable. It gives us reason not just to hope, but to act.
"Abundance" gives us a future worth fighting for. And even more than that, it shows us our place in that fight.
Kate Vander Wiede is a freelance writer and an occasional contributor to the Monitor's Books section.