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Topic of Book
The authors argue that technological innovation will create abundance for all in the future.
If you would like to learn more about technological innovation and progress, read my book From Poverty to Progress: How Humans Invented Progress, and How We Can Keep It Going.
- Few resources are scarce; they are merely inaccessible with current technology.
- The authors argue for a Pyramid of Abundance with:
- Food, Water and Shelter on the bottom level.
- Energy, Education and Communication/Information in the middle.
- Freedom and Health on the top level.
- Research prizes are a key means of accomplishing Abundance, because they:
- Raise the visibility on the problem.
- Cast a wide net on who can offer solutions.
- Create competition
- Enable individuals and small groups to compete on equal terms with large organizations
Important Quotes from Book
At its core, this book examines the hard facts, the science and engineering, the social trends and economic forces that are rapidly transforming our world.
This is a book about improving global living standards and the standards that need the most help are those found in the developing world.
History’s littered with tales of once-rare resources made plentiful by innovation. The reason is pretty straightforward: scarcity is often contextual. Imagine a giant orange tree packed with fruit. If I pluck all the oranges from the lower branches, I am effectively out of accessible fruit. From my limited perspective, oranges are now scarce. But once someone invents a piece of technology called a ladder, I’ve suddenly got new reach. Problem solved. Technology is a resource-liberating mechanism. It can make the once scarce the now abundant.
The point is this: When seen through the lens of technology, few resources are truly scarce; they’re mainly inaccessible. Yet the threat of scarcity still dominates our worldview.
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. Abundance for all is actually within our grasp.
There are three additional forces at work, each augmented by the power of exponentially growing technologies, each with significant, abundance-producing potential. A Do-It-Yourself (DIY) revolution has been brewing for the past fifty years…
What’s more, these days, small groups of motivated DIY-ers can accomplish what was once the sole province of large corporations and governments… The newfound power of these maverick innovators is the first of our three forces.
The second force is money—a lot of money—being spent in a very particular way. The high-tech revolution created an entirely new breed of wealthy technophilanthropists who are using their fortunes to solve global, abundance-related challenges.
Lastly, there are the very poorest of the poor, the so-called bottom billion, who are finally plugging into the global economy and are poised to become what I call “the rising billion.”
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. What follows is the story of how we can rise to meet it.
Abundance is not about providing everyone on this planet with a life of luxury—rather it’s about providing all with a life of possibility.
My pyramid of abundance, while a little more compressed than Maslow’s, follows a similar scheme for similar reasons. There are three levels, with the bottom belonging to food, water, shelter, and other basic survival concerns; the middle is devoted to catalysts for further growth like abundant energy, ample educational opportunities, and access to ubiquitous communications and information; while the highest tier is reserved for freedom and health, two core prerequisites enabling an individual to contribute to society.
At the base of my pyramid, creating global abundance means taking care of simple physiological needs: providing sufficient water, food, and shelter.
On this small planet, our grand challenges are not isolated concerns. Rather, they are stacked up like rows of dominoes. If we topple one domino, by meeting one challenge, plenty of others will follow suit. The results are a feedback loop of positive gain. Even better, the reverberations of this cascade stretch far beyond borders.
Once our basic survival needs are fulfilled, the next level up the abundance pyramid is energy, education, and information/communication. Why this particular trio of advantages? Because these three pay double dividends. In the short term, they raise standards of living. In the long run, they pave the way for two of the greatest abundance assets in history: specialization and exchange. Energy provides the means to do work; education allows workers to specialize; information/communication abundance not only furthers specialization (through expanding educational opportunities), it allows specialists to exchange specialties, thus creating what economist Friedrich Hayek called catallaxy: the ever-expanding possibility generated by the division of labor.
Out of this trilogy, energy is clearly the biggest game changer.
Another profound change would be education, specifically teaching every child on the planet the basics of literacy, mathematics, life skills, and critical thinking. Here, too, this may seem too thin an offering, but most experts feel this proposed quartet of grade school basics is the foundation for self-improvement, which is obviously abundance’s backbone. Moreover, self-improvement doesn’t mean what it used to. Since the advent of the Internet, these basics are the background needed to understand a significant portion of online materials, thus providing the fundamentals necessary to access what is clearly the greatest self-improvement tool in history.
Abundance is an all-inclusive idea. It means everyone. It means the individual must matter, and matter like never before. In light of this, my abundance pyramid culminates with a pair of concepts that strengthen the individual’s ability to matter: health and freedom.
Abundance is a big vision compressed into a small time frame. The next twenty-five years can remake the world, but this won’t happen on its own. There are plenty of issues to be faced, not all of them technological in nature. Overcoming the psychological blocks— cynicism, pessimism, and all those other crutches of contemporary thinking—that keep many of us from believing in the possibility of abundance is just as important. To accomplish this, we need to understand the way our brain shapes our beliefs and our beliefs shape our reality.
Human beings are designed to be local optimists and global pessimists and this is an even bigger problem for abundance.
For abundance, all this carries a triple penalty. First, it’s 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, scientists have recently discovered an even bigger cost: 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.
Abundance is a global vision built on the backbone of exponential change, but our local and linear brains are blind to the possibility, the opportunities it may present, and the speed at which it will arrive. Instead we fall prey to what’s become known as the “hype cycle.” We have inflated expectations when a novel technology is first introduced, followed by short-term disappointment when it doesn’t live up to the hype. But this is the important part: we also consistently fail to recognize the post-hype, massively transformative nature of exponential technologies—meaning that we literally have a blind spot for the technological possibilities underlying our vision of abundance.
Once we start believing that the apocalypse is coming, the amygdala goes on high alert, filtering out most anything that says otherwise. Whatever information the amygdala doesn’t catch, our confirmation bias—which is now biased toward confirming our eminent destruction—certainly does. Taken in total, the result is a population convinced that the end is near and there’s not a damn thing to do about it.
In many cases, we know where we want to go but not how to get there. In others, we know how to get there but want to get there faster. This chapter focuses on how we can steer innovation and step on the gas. When bottlenecks arise, when breakthroughs are needed, when acceleration is the core commandment, how can we win this race?
There are four major motivators that drive innovation. 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. Curiosity is a powerful jones. 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, best exemplified by the venture capital industry’s backing of ten ideas, expecting nine to fail and hoping for one grandslam winner. 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 harnesses all four of these motivators is called the incentive prize.
The success of these competitions can be boiled down to a few underlying principles. First and foremost, large incentive prizes raise the visibility of a particular challenge while helping to create a mindset that this challenge is solvable.
Besides being a way to raise the profile of key issues and rapidly address logjams, another key attribute of incentive prizes is their ability to cast a wide net. Everyone from novices to professionals, from sole proprietors to massive corporations, gets involved. Experts in one field jump to another, bringing with them an influx of nontraditional ideas. Outliers can become central players.
The benefits of incentive prizes don’t stop here. Because of the competitive framework, people’s appetite for risk increases, which …further drives innovation.
The American anthropologist Margaret Mead once said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” There are, as it turns out, pretty good reasons for this. Large or even medium-sized groups—corporations, movements, whatever—aren’t built to be nimble; nor are they willing to take large risks. Such organizations are designed to make steady progress and have considerably too much to lose to place the big bets that certain breakthroughs require.
Fortunately, this is not the case with small groups. With no bureaucracy, little to lose, and a passion to prove themselves, small teams consistently outperform larger organizations when it comes to innovation. Incentive prizes are perfectly designed to harness this energy.
This is another reason why incentive prizes are such effective change agents: by their very nature, they are nothing more than a focusing mechanism and a list of constraints.
For starters, the prize money defines spending parameters.
Change is being driven by a fundamental property of technology: the fact that it expands into what theoretical biologist Stuart Kauffman calls “the adjacent possible.” Before the invention of the wheel, the cart, the carriage, the automobile, the wheelbarrow, the roller skate, and a million other offshoots of circularity were not imaginable. They existed in a realm that was offlimits until the wheel was discovered, but once discovered, these pathways became clear. This is the adjacent possible. It’s the long list of first-order possibilities that open up whenever a new discovery is made.
“The strange and beautiful truth about the adjacent possible isthat its boundaries grow as you explore them,”
Our path of adjacent possibilities has led us to a unique moment in time.
There is no debate that life has gotten considerably better at the bottom over the last four decades.
Unlike earlier eras, we don’t have to wait for corporations to get interested in solutions, or for governments to get around to our problems. We can take matters into our own hands.
Most importantly, the game itself is no longer zero-sum.
Abundance is both a plan and a perspective. This second bit is key. One of the more important points made throughout this book is that our perspective shapes our reality. The best way to predict the future is to create it yourself. So while the Bible offers a warning, it’s helpful to remember that the inverse is also true: where there is vision, the people flourish. The impossible becomes the possible. And abundance for all becomes imagine what’s next.
- “Factfulness: Why Things are Better Than You Think” by Hans Rosling
- “Ten Global Trends Every Smart Person Should Know” by Bailey and Tupy
- “Enlightenment Now” by Steven Pinker
- “The Rational Optimist: How Prosperity Evolves” by Matt Ridley
- “Progress: Ten Reasons to Look Forward to the Future” by Johan Norberg
- “Stubborn Attachments: A Vision for a Society of Free, Prosperous, and Responsible Individuals” by Tyler Cowen
- “Future Perfect: The Case for Progress In a Networked Age” by Steven Johnson
- “More From Less” by Andrew McAfee
- “The Progress Paradox” by Gregg Easterbrook
If you would like to learn more about progress, read my book From Poverty to Progress: How Humans Invented Progress, and How We Can Keep It Going.