May 10, 2012

Abundance by Peter H. Diamandis & Steven Kotler

Abundance by Peter H. Diamandis & Steven Kotler
The future is better than you think.
(narrates unexplored territories that can meet growing population needs)

Gaius Plinius later volumes, Earth, book XXXV, Pliny tells the story of a goldsmith who brought an unusual dinner plate to the court of Emperor Tiberius in AD 23. The plate was a stunner, made from a new metal, very light, shiny, almost as bright as silver. The goldsmith claimed he’d extracted it from clay using a secret technique. Emperor was also a financial expert who knew the value of his treasure would seriously decline, if people suddenly had access to shiny new metal. Therefore, recounts Pliny:, “instead of giving the goldsmith the reward expected, he ordered him to be beheaded”. The shiny new metal was aluminum and that beheading marked its loss to the world for nearly 2 millennia (it reappeared in Ad 1800).

The amygdala is an almond-shaped silver of the temporal lobe responsible for primal emotions like rage, hate and fear. It’s our early warning system, an organ always on high alert, whose job is to find anything in our environment that could threaten survival. These days we are saturated with information and how do media compete to get our mind share? By vying for the amygdala’s attention. The old newspaper saw “if it bleeds, it leads’ works because the first stop that all incoming information encounters is an organ already primed to look for danger. We’re feeding a fiend. If you check your newspaper, you will find that over 90% of the articles are pessimistic. Quite simply, good news does not catch our attention. Bad news sells because the amygdala is always looking for something to fear.

Even under mundane circumstances, attention is a limited resource. Of course, any fear response only amplifies the effect. In short, once amygdala begins hunting bad news, it’s mostly going to find bad news. First, it is hard to be optimistic because the brain’s filtering architecture is pessimistic by design. Second, good news is drowned out because it’s in the media’s best interest to overemphasize the bad. Third, it’s not just that these survival instincts make us believe that ‘the hole we’re in is too deep to climb out of’ but they also limit our desire to climb out of that hole.

Over the past 150,000 years, Homo sapiens evolved in a world that was ‘local & linear’, but today’s environment is ‘global and exponential’. If you make 30 linear steps, you end up 30 feet away, but if you take 30 exponential steps, you will end up a billion meters away.

Robin Dunbar was interested in the number of active interpersonal relationship that the human brain could process at one time. After examining global and historical trends, he found that people tend to self-organize in groups of 150 and this explains why the US military consider 150 as the optimal size for a functional fighting unit. Gossip, in its earlier forms, contained information that was critical to survival because, in clans of 150, what happened to anyone had a direct impact on everyone. In the nuclear family, very few of us actually maintain 150 relationships. But we still have this primitive pattern imprinted on our brain, so we will those open slots with whomever we have the most daily ‘contact’ - even if that contact comes only from watching that person on television. Our brain does not realize there’s difference between TV personal (virtual) we know about and relatives we know.

In the past, we spend most of the time on travel and other things - non-productive purposes. Now with new technology, we can save more time which we can spend for worthwhile cause. So the best definition of prosperity is simply ‘saved time’. As Ridley feels that the true measure of something’s worth is the hours it takes to acquire it”. ‘In a world of material goods and material exchange, trade is a zero-sum game’ says inventor Dean Kamen. “I’ve got a hunk of gold and you have a watch. If we trade, then I have a watch and you have a hunk of gold. But if you have an idea an dI have an idea, and we exchange them, then we both have two ideas. It’s nonzero”.

Ray Kurzweil in his first book, 1988’s ‘the age of intelligent machines’, he used exponential growth charts to make a handful of predictions about the future. His predictions turned out to be uncannily accurate: foretelling the demise of soviet Union, computer winning chess championship, and www. In his follow-up 1999 book ‘ When computers exceed human intelligence, Kurzweil extended this prophetic blueprint to the years 2009, 2019, 2029 and 2099. Out of 108 predictions made for 2009, 89 have come true outright and another 13 were damn close, giving Kurzweil a soothsaying record unmatched in the history of futurism.

The two most powerful cooperative tools the world have ever seen are transportation revolution and ICT (information and communication technology). Jeffery Sachs counts eight distinct contributions ICT has made to sustainable development - all of them cooperative in nature.

The first of those gains is connectivity. The second contribution is an increased division of labor, as greater connectivity produces greater specialization, which allows all of us to participate in the global supply chain. Third comes, scale, wherein messages go out over vast networks, reaching millions of people in almost no time at all. The fourth is replication: “ICT permits standard process, for example, online training our production specifications to reach distant outlets instantaneously. Fifth is accountability: today’s new platforms permit increased audits, monitoring and evaluation, a development that has led to everything from better democracy to online banking to telemedicine. The sixth is the internet’s ability to bring together buyers & sellers is the enabling factor behind ‘long-tail’ economics. Seventh is the use of social networking to build communities of interest. The eighth spot is education and training as ICT taken the classroom global while simultaneously updating the curriculum to just about every single bit of information one could ever desire.

The three technologies have world-feeding potential. While aquaculture is here today, the GE industry is dominated by three seeds (cotton, corn, and soybean) and has yet to penetrate deep into the food crop market. Golden rice (rice fortified with vitamin A) is about to clear regulatory hurdles and enters the food chain. Cultured meat is probably 10 to 15 years out, and the same appears true for widespread deployment of vertical farms.

Our current education system was forged in the heat of industrial revolution, a fact that not only influenced what subjects were taught but also how there were taught. Schools were organized like factories: the day broken into evenly marked periods, bells signaling the beginning and the end of each period and even teaching was subject to division of labor - like any assembly line, students progressed from room to room to be taught by different teachers specializing in separate disciplines. What we do know is that the industrialized model of education, with its emphasis on the rote memorization of facts, is no longer  necessary.Facts are what Google does best. But creativity, collaboration, critical thinking and problem solving - that is a different story. These skills have been repeatedly stressed by everyone from corporate executive to education experts as the fundamental required by today’s jobs. They have become the new version of the three Rs (reading, writing and arithmetic); the basics of what recently been dubbed ‘twenty-first-century learning’. Educational pundits stressed the ability to ask right questions. “There is something about understanding what the right questions are; and there is something about asking the nonlinear, counterintuitive questions. These are the ones that take you to the next level”.

Studies have shown that games outperform textbooks in helping students learn facts-based subjects such as geography, history, physics and anatomy while also improving visual coordination, cognitive speed, and manual dexterity. World-building games like SimCity and Rollercoaster Tycoon develop planning skills and strategic thinking.

There are four major motivations that drive innovations. The first, and weakest of the bunch, is curiosity: the desire to find out why, to open the black box, to see around the next bend. It fuels much of science, but it’s nothing compared to fear, our next motivator. Extraordinary fear enables extraordinary risk-taking. The desire to create wealth is the next major motivator. The fourth and final motivator is the desire for significance: the need for one’s life to matter, the need to make a difference in the world. One tool that harness all four of these motivations is called the incentive prize. If you need to accelerate change in specific areas, esp. when the goals are clear and measurable, incentive competitions have a biological advantage. Humans are wired to compete and we are wired to hit in the world, no matter where they live or where they are employed, to work on your particular problem.

Almost every time I give a talk, I like to ask people what they fear most about failure. There are three consistent answers: loss of reputation, loss of money and loss of time.

In our abundant future, the dollar goes further. As does yen, peso, euro, and so forth. This happens because of dematerialization and demonetization; because of exponential price-performance curves; because each step up prosperity's ladder saves time; because those extra hours add up to additional gains; because the close ties between categories in our abundance pyramid produce positive feedback loops, bootstrapping potential and the domino effect and for a thousand other reasons.  

Proverbs 29;:8 tells us: “Where there is no vision, the people will perish”. Abundance is both a plan and a perspective. Where is a vision, the people flourish. The impossible becomes the possible and abundance for all becomes imagine what’s next.

Books referred in this book:
Where Good ideas come from: the natural history of innovation by Steven Johnson.
Out of our minds: Learning to be creative by Sir Ken Robinson

No comments: