Waiting for the age of abundance

Forget the superficial brand-name prosperity of Trump, Mercedes-Benz and Gucci. Imagine, instead, Mr. Diamandis says, “a world of nine billion people with clean water, nutritious food, affordable housing, personalized education, top-tier medical care and non-polluting, ubiquitous energy.” Far beyond the elimination of abject poverty, he says, people should expect imminent abundance for the poorest countries on Earth as well as for the richest.
Abundance, in other words, is a scientific and technological romance. “For the first time in history, our capabilities have begun to catch up with our ambitions,” Mr. Diamandis says. “Humanity is now entering a period of radical transformation in which technology has the potential to significantly raise the basic standards of living for every man, woman and child on the planet. Within a generation, we will be able to provide goods and services, once reserved for the wealthy few, to any and all who need them. Or desire them.”
Universal abundance, in other words, is within humanity’s grasp. A few people will hold out against the 21st century, as the Amish have held out against the 20th century. But the vast majority of people are ready for the ride – “and it’s going to be quite a ride.”
Peter Diamandis is the chairman and CEO of the X Prize Foundation, the co-founder and chairman of Singularity University and the founder, according to his biog, “of more than a dozen space and high-tech companies.” (Singularity University is a Silicon Valley-based institution that instructs scientists, corporate executives and government leaders on the dynamic force “of exponentially advancing technology.”) He’s famous for his entrepreneurial contests – including the current Google Lunar X Prize that offers $30-million to anyone who, without government subsidy, lands a robot on the moon. (Science writer Steven Kotler gets full credit as co-author of Abundance, but the prophet is unmistakably Mr. Diamandis.)
Abundance will be built, Mr. Diamandis says, “on the backbone of exponential change.” He describes the consequences of exponential change: “If I take 30 linear steps from the front door of my Santa Monica home, I end up 30 metres away,” he says. “If I take 30 exponential steps – one, two, four, eight, 16, 32 and so on – I end up a billion metres away, effectively lapping the globe 26 times.”
This is the extraordinary power of doubling. “Because most exponential curves start well below 1, early growth is almost imperceptible,” Mr. Diamandis says. “When you double .0001 to .0002, the plot point looks like zero. In fact, this curve stays below 1 for 13 doublings. To most people, it looks like a horizontal line. But seven doublings later, the same line skyrockets above 100.” This, he says, is where humans are now.
Looking backward, people understand this phenomenon; looking forward, less so. Moore’s Law famously stipulates that the number of transistors on an integrated circuit doubles every 18 months. But Mr. Diamandis cites the work of Ray Kurzweil, the celebrated U.S. high-tech inventor who has calculated the power of doubling in the next century. From this perspective, a $1,000 computer will be capable of performing 100 million billion calculations per second – by 2035. This would equal the collective brain power of the entire human race.
Abundance isn’t the first book to envision an end to poverty – especially with the help of the utopian state. Mr. Diamandis trusts neither government nor corporation. He says maverick “do it yourself” inventors will drive technological innovation. These backyard tinkerers will be financed by “wealthy technophilanthropists,” such as Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg, who together will represent “a force unrivalled in history.”
Abundance is a fun guide to the technological revolution to come – such as annual crops that act like perennials (which would double the world’s supply of food). As noted, it ignores government as an irrelevant bystander. In this sense, Abundance promises power to the people.