Thursday, 3 May 2012

Abundance: The Future is Better than You Think.

Peter H. Diamandis, co-author of Abundance and co-founder of Singularity University, thinks that our brains are not wired to understand exponential change.   We have evolved to think arithmetically rather than exponentially, and therefore have a hard time wrapping our heads around the implications of Moore's law type performance/cost improvements of digital technologies. 

We should not limit our thinking about exponential performance-to-cost improvements to transistors. Exponential improvements have characterized network bandwidth (Butters' law), and computer storage / per dollar (Kryder's law). A computer of 1982 is 100 times heavier, 500 times larger, 10 times as expensive and 1/100th as powerful as the smart phone in your pocket.

The authors of Abundance ask if exponential technological improvements will translate into a commensurate exponential increase in our standards of living? Can the story of the computer be replicated in medicine, agriculture, and perhaps even education? The answer depends on the extent to which these economic activities take on the characteristics and designs of digital technologies.

It is hard not to finish Abundance with the belief that our children will enjoy abundant energy (as renewable power technology follows the exponential performance/cost curve) and dramatic improvements in health and lifespan (as medical technologies miniaturize and become implanted in our bodies).

You and I may have plenty of arguments with Kotler and Diamandis. The power of digital technologies may be impressive, but digital technologies do not address the fundamental problems of environmental degradation, political repression, or structural inequality.  An iPhone will not solve water shortages, endemic infectious diseases, or the absence of the rule of law.

None of these complaints, however, should stop you from reading and enjoying Abundance.  
Our day-to-day work and personal lives are characterized by resource constraints. We live without the time to do everything we need to do, and the dollars to invest properly for what is next. A book like Abundance gets us out of what is immediately before our eyes, and gives us a framework to think about where we may go in the future.  
If we can figure out how to align our work with those of digital goods, and therefore reap the benefits of exponential cost and performance improvements, we might just figure out how to move our industries (even higher ed) from scarcity to abundance.

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