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The Lesson of Aluminum

Gaius Plinius Cecilius Secundus, known as Pliny the Elder, was born in Italy in the year AD 23. He was a naval and army commander in the early Roman Empire, later an author, naturalist, and natural philosopher, best known for his Naturalis Historia, a thirty-seven-volume encyclopedia describing, well, everything there was to describe. His opus includes a book on cosmology, another on farming, a third on magic. It took him four volumes to cover world geography, nine for flora and fauna, and another nine for medicine. In one of his later volumes, Earth, book XXXV, Pliny tells the story of a goldsmith who brought an unusual dinner plate to the court of Emperor Tiberius.

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 plain clay, using a secret technique, the formula known only to himself and the gods. Tiberius, though, was a little concerned. The emperor was one of Rome’s great generals, a warmonger who conquered most of what is now Europe and amassed a fortune of gold and silver along the way. He was also a financial expert who knew the value of his treasure would seriously decline if people suddenly had access to a shiny new metal rarer than gold. “Therefore,” recounts Pliny, “instead of giving the goldsmith the regard expected, he ordered him to be beheaded.”

This shiny new metal was aluminum, and that beheading marked its loss to the world for nearly two millennia. It next reappeared during the early 1800s but was still rare enough to be considered the most valuable metal in the world. Napoléon III himself threw a banquet for the king of Siam where the honored guests were given aluminum utensils, while the others had to make do with gold.

Aluminum’s rarity comes down to chemistry. Technically, behind oxygen and silicon, it’s the third most abundant element in the Earth’s crust, making up 8.3 percent of the weight of the world. Today it’s cheap, ubiquitous, and used with a throwaway mind-set, but—as Napoléon’s banquet demonstrates—this wasn’t always the case. Because of aluminum’s high affinity for oxygen, it never appears in nature as a pure metal. Instead it’s found tightly bound as oxides and silicates in a claylike material called bauxite.

While bauxite is 52 percent aluminum, separating out the pure metal ore was a complex and difficult task. But between 1825 and 1845, Hans Christian Oersted and Frederick Wohler discovered that heating anhydrous aluminum chloride with potassium amalgam and then distilling away the mercury left a residue of pure aluminum. In 1854 Henri Sainte-Claire Deville created the first commercial process for extraction, driving down the price by 90 percent. Yet the metal was still costly and in short supply.

It was the creation of a new breakthrough technology known as electrolysis, discovered independently and almost simultaneously in 1886 by American chemist Charles Martin Hall and Frenchman Paul Héroult, that changed everything. The Hall-Héroult process, as it is now known, uses electricity to liberate aluminum from bauxite. Suddenly everyone on the planet had access to ridiculous amounts of cheap, light, pliable metal.

Save the beheading, there’s nothing too unusual in this story. 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.

To expand on this a bit, let’s take a look at the planned city of Masdar, now under construction by the Abu Dhabi Future Energy Company. Located on the edge of Abu Dhabi, out past the oil refinery and the airport, Masdar will soon house 50,000 residents, while another 40,000 work there. They will do so without producing any waste or releasing any carbon. No cars will be allowed within the city’s perimeter and no fossil fuels will be consumed inside its walls. Abu Dhabi is the fourth-largest OPEC producer, with 10 percent of known oil reserves. Fortune magazine once called it the wealthiest city in the world. All of which makes it interesting that they’re willing to spend $20 billion of that wealth building the world’s first post-petroleum city.

In February 2009 I traveled to Abu Dhabi to find out just how interesting. Soon after arriving, I left my hotel, hopped in a cab, and took a ride out to the Masdar construction site. It was a journey back in time. I was staying at the Emirates Palace, which is both one of the most expensive hotels ever built and one of the few places I know of where someone (someone, that is, with a budget much different from mine) can rent a gold-plated suite for $11,500 a night. Until the discovery of oil in 1960, Abu Dhabi had been a community of nomadic herders and pearl divers. As my taxi drove past the “Welcome to the future home of Masdar” sign, I saw evidence of this. I was hoping the world’s first post-petroleum city might look something like a Star Trek set. What I found was a few construction trailers parked in a barren plot of desert.

During my visit, I had the chance to meet Jay Witherspoon, the technical director for the whole project. Witherspoon explained the challenges they were facing and the reasons for those challenges. Masdar, he said, was being built on a conceptual foundation known as One Planet Living (OPL). To understand OPL, Witherspoon explained, I first had to understand three facts. Fact one: Currently humanity uses 30 percent more of our planet’s natural resources than we can replace. Fact two: If everyone on this planet wanted to live with the lifestyle of the average European, we would need three planets’ worth of resources to pull it off. Fact three: If everyone on this planet wished to live like an average North American, then we’d need five planets to pull it off. OPL, then, is a global initiative meant to combat these shortages.

The OPL initiative, created by BioRegional Development and the World Wildlife Fund, is really a set of ten core principles. They stretch from preserving indigenous cultures to the development of cradle-to-cradle sustainable materials, but really they’re all about learning to share. Masdar is one of the most expensive construction projects in history. The entire city is being built for a post-petroleum future where oil shortages and water war are a significant threat. But this is where the lesson of aluminum becomes relevant.

Even in a world without oil, Masdar is still bathed in sunlight. A lot of sunlight. The amount of solar energy that hits our atmosphere has been well established at 174 petawatts (1.740 × 10^17 watts), plus or minus 3.5 percent. Out of this total solar flux, approximately half reaches the Earth’s surface. Since humanity currently consumes about 16 terawatts annually (going by 2008 numbers), there’s over five thousand times more solar energy falling on the planet’s surface than we use in a year. Once again, it’s not an issue of scarcity, it’s an issue of accessibility.

Moreover, as far as water wars are concerned, Masdar sits on the Persian Gulf—which is a mighty aqueous body. The Earth itself is a water planet, covered 70 percent by oceans. But these oceans, like the Persian Gulf, are far too salty for consumption or crop production. In fact, 97.3 percent of all water on this planet is salt water. What if, though, in the same way that electrolysis easily transformed bauxite into aluminum, a new technology could desalinate just a minute fraction of our oceans? How thirsty is Masdar then?

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.

The Limits to Growth

Scarcity has been an issue since life first emerged on this planet, but its contemporary incarnation—what many call the “scarcity model”—dates to the late eighteenth century, when British scholar Thomas Robert Malthus realized that while food production expands linearly, population grows exponentially. Because of this, Malthus was certain there was going to come a point in time when we would exceed our capacity to feed ourselves. As he put it, “The power of population is indefinitely greater than the power of the Earth to produce subsistence for man.”

In the years since, plenty of thinkers have echoed this concern. By the early 1960s something of a consensus had been reached. In 1966 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. pointed out: “Unlike the plagues of the dark ages or contemporary diseases, which we do not understand, the modern plague of overpopulation is soluble by means we have discovered and with resources we possess.” Two years later, Stanford University biologist Dr. Paul R. Ehrlich sounded an even louder alarm with the publication of The Population Bomb. But it was the downstream result of a small meeting held in 1968 that really alerted the world to the depth of the crisis.

That year, Scottish scientist Alexander King and Italian industrialist Aurelio Peccei gathered together a multidisciplinary group of top international thinkers at a small villa in Rome. The Club of Rome, as this group was soon known, had come together to discuss the problems of short-term thinking in a long-term world.

In 1972 they published the results of that discussion. The Limits to Growth became an instant classic, selling twelve million copies in thirty languages, and scaring almost everyone who read it. Using a model developed by the founder of system dynamics, Jay Forrester, the club compared worldwide population growth rates to global resource consumption rates. The science behind this model is complicated, the message was not. Quite simply: we are running out of resources, and we are running out of time.

It’s been over four decades since that report came out. While many of their more dire predictions have failed to materialize, for the most part, the years haven’t softened the assessment. Today we are still finding proof of its veracity most places we look. One in four mammals now faces extinction, while 90 percent of the large fish are already gone. Our aquifers are starting to dry up, our soil growing too salty for crop production. We’re running out of oil, running low on uranium. Even phosphorus—one of the principal ingredients in fertilizer—is in short supply. In the time it takes to read this sentence, one child will die of hunger. By the time you’ve made it through this paragraph, another will be dead from thirst (or from drinking dirty water to quench that thirst).

And this, the experts say, is just the warm-up round.

There are now more than seven billion people on the planet. If trends don’t reverse, by 2050, we’ll be closer to ten billion. Scientists who study the carrying capacity of the Earth—the measure of how many people can live here sustainably—have fluctuated massively in their estimations. Wild-eyed optimists believe it’s close to two billion. Dour pessimists think it might be three hundred million. But if you agree with even the most uplifting of these predictions—as Dr. Nina Fedoroff, science and technology advisor to the US secretary of state, recently told reporters—only one conclusion can be drawn: “We need to decrease the growth rate of the global population; the planet cannot support many more people.”

Some things, though, are easier said than done.

The most infamous example of top-down population control was the Nazis’ eugenics program, but there have been a few other nightmares as well. India performed tubal ligations and vasectomies on thousands of people during the middle 1970s. Some were paid for their sacrifice; others were simply forced into the procedure. The results drove the ruling party out of power and created a controversy that still rages today. China, meanwhile, has spent thirty years under a one-child-per-family policy (while it’s often discussed as a blanket program, this policy actually extends to only about 36 percent of the population). According to the government, the results have been 300 million fewer people. According to Amnesty International, the results have been an increase in bribery, corruption, suicide rates, abortion rates, forced sterilization procedures, and persistent rumors of infanticide. (A male child is preferable, so rumors hold that newborn girls are being murdered.) Either way, as our species has sadly discovered, top-down population control is barbaric, both in theory and in practice.

This seems to leave only one remaining option. If you can’t shed people, you have to stretch the resources those people use. And stretch them dramatically. How to do this has been a matter of much debate, but these days the principles of OPL have been put forth as the only viable option. This option bothered me, but not because I wasn’t committed to the idea of greater efficiency. Seriously—use less, gain more—who would be opposed to efficiency? Rather, the source of my concern was that efficiency was being forwarded as the only option available. But everything I was doing with my life told me there were additional paths worth pursuing.

The organization I run, the X PRIZE Foundation, is a nonprofit dedicated to bringing about radical breakthroughs for the benefit of humanity through the design and operation of large incentive-prize competitions. One month before traveling to Masdar, I’d chaired our annual “Visioneering” board meeting, where maverick inventors like Dean Kamen and Craig Venter, brilliant technology entrepreneurs such as Larry Page and Elon Musk, and international business giants like Ratan Tata and Anousheh Ansari were debating how to drive radical breakthroughs in energy, life sciences, education, and global development. These are all people who have created world-changing industries where none had existed before. Most of them accomplished this feat by solving problems that had long been considered unsolvable. Taken together, they are a group whose track record showed that one of the better responses to the threat of scarcity is not to try to slice our pie thinner—rather it’s to figure out how to make more pies.

The Possibility of Abundance

Of course, the make-more-pies approach is nothing new, but there are a few key differences this time around. These differences will comprise the bulk of this book, but the short version is that for the first time in history, our capabilities have begun to catch up to our ambitions. 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

In this modern age of cynicism, many of us bridle in the face of such proclamation, but elements of this transformation are already underway. Over the past twenty years, wireless technologies and the Internet have become ubiquitous, affordable, and available to almost everyone. Africa has skipped a technological generation, by-passing the landlines that stripe our Western skies for the wireless way. Mobile phone penetration is growing exponentially, from 2 percent in 2000, to 28 percent in 2009, to an expected 70 percent in 2013. Already folks with no education and little to eat have gained access to cellular connectivity unheard of just thirty years ago. Right now a Masai warrior with a cell phone has better mobile phone capabilities than the president of the United States did twenty-five years ago. And if he’s on a smart phone with access to Google, then he has better access to information than the president did just fifteen years ago. By the end of 2013, the vast majority of humanity will be caught in this same World Wide Web of instantaneous, low-cost communications and information. In other words, we are now living in a world of information and communication abundance.

In a similar fashion, the advancement of new, transformational technologies—computational systems, networks and sensors, artificial intelligence, robotics, biotechnology, bioinformatics, 3-D printing, nanotechnology, human-machine interfaces, and biomedical engineering—will soon enable the vast majority of humanity to experience what only the affluent have access to today. Even better, these technologies aren’t the only change agents in play.

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, but lately it’s begun to bubble over. In today’s world, the purview of backyard tinkerers has extended far beyond custom cars and homebrew computers, and now reaches into once-esoteric fields like genetics and robotics. 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 aerospace giants felt it was impossible, but Burt Rutan flew into space. Craig Venter tied the mighty US government in the race to sequence the human genome. 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. Bill Gates is crusading against malaria; Mark Zuckerberg is working to reinvent education; while Pierre and Pam Omidyar are focused on bringing electricity to the developing world. And this list goes on and on. Taken together, our second driver is a technophilanthropic force unrivaled in history.

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.” The creation of a global transportation network was the initial step down this path, but it’s the combination of the Internet, microfinance, and wireless communication technology that’s transforming the poorest of the poor into an emerging market force. Acting alone, each of these three forces has enormous potential. But acting together, amplified by exponentially growing technologies, the once-unimaginable becomes the now actually possible.

So what is possible?

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.

© 2012 Peter H. Diamandis --Ce texte fait référence à une édition épuisée ou non disponible de ce titre.

Revue de presse

“At a moment when our world faces multiple crises and is awash in pessimism, Abundance redirects the conversation, spotlighting scientific innovators working to improve people's lives around the world. The result is more than a portrait of brilliant minds - it's a reminder of the infinite possibilities for doing good when we tap into our own empathy and wisdom.”—Arianna Huffington, CEO, Huffington Post

“This brilliant must-read book provides the key to the coming era of abundance replacing eons of scarcity, a powerful antidote to today’s malaise and pessimism.”—Ray Kurzweil, inventor, author and futurist, author of The Singularity is Near

"Now that human beings communicate so easily, I suspect that nothing can stop the inevitable torrent of new technologies, new ideas and new arrangements that will transform the lives of our children. Peter Diamandis and Steven Kotler give us a blinding glimpse of the innovations that are coming our way — and that they are helping to create. This is a vital book."—Matt Ridley, author of The Rational Optimist

“Diamandis and Kotler challenge us all to solve humanity’s grand challenges. Innovative small teams are now empowered to accomplish what only governments and large corporations could once achieve. The result is nothing less than the most transformative and thrilling period in human history.”––Timothy Ferriss, #1 NY Times bestselling author of The 4-Hour Workweek

“Today, philanthropists, innovators and passionate entrepreneurs are more empowered than ever before to solve humanity’s grand challenges. Abundance chronicles many of these stories and the emerging tools driving us towards an age of abundance. This is an audacious and powerful read!”—Jeff Skoll

Abundance provides proof that the proper combination of technology, people and capital can meet any grand challenge.”—Sir Richard Branson, Chairman of the Virgin Group

"Our future depends on optimists like Diamandis...even the most skeptical readers will come away from Abundance feeling less gloomy." --New York Times Book Review

"A manifesto for the future that is grounded in practical solutions addressing the world's most pressing concerns: overpopulation, food, water, energy, education, health care and freedom. " --The Wall Street Journal

"A breezy case for optimism... Abundance: The Future is Better Than You Think...[is] a godsend for those who suffer from Armageddon fatigue." --The Economist

In Abundance: Why the Future is Better Than You Think, Peter Diamandis and Steven Kotler offer a vision of the future that’s truly awesome in both the most traditional and modern understandings of the word; it’s as big as it as awe inspiring.” –The Futurist

"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." --Christian Science Monitor

" Enough with the dystopian fiction and Mayan end-of-the-world predictions! According to tech entrepeneur and philanthropist Peter Diamandis and science writer Steven Kotler, things are getting better, not worse. " --USA Today

"[Abundance is] fascinating and inspirational -- every politician should read it (but sadly that may be too much to hope for!)" --Lord Martin Rees, Astronomer Royal, UK

"Welcome to the feel good future." -Smithsonian

"A nice reminder of how far we’ve come." --The New York Times Book Review

“Curious what the future will look like? This books talks about what lies ahead, providing practical solutions for concerns like overpopulation, food, water, energy, freedom and health care.”-Wall Street Journal --Ce texte fait référence à une édition épuisée ou non disponible de ce titre.

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Détails sur le produit

  • MP3 CD
  • Editeur : Tantor Media Inc; Édition : MP3 Una (26 mars 2012)
  • Langue : Anglais
  • ISBN-10: 1452657181
  • ISBN-13: 978-1452657189
  • Dimensions du produit: 13,5 x 1,5 x 18,8 cm
  • Moyenne des commentaires client : 4.3 étoiles sur 5  Voir tous les commentaires (3 commentaires client)
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2 internautes sur 2 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile  Par Guy Weets le 2 avril 2013
Format: Broché Achat vérifié
Très bien documenté, souvent très convainquant. Pas de réflexion philosophique sur l'épuisement de notre planète mais des plans d'action bien construits qui ne font pas l'impasse sur le risque que les percées technologiques ne soient pas disponibles à temps, ou trop chères pour un déploiement massif. A conseiller à tous les apôtres de la décroissance non pour l'abandonner mais pour mieux la documenter
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1 internautes sur 1 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile  Par MG Ray le 23 avril 2013
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Le futur est meilleur que ce que vous pensez. Le sous-titre est plus qu'évocateur et définit extrêmement bien ce livre qui passe en revue les différentes innovations que l'on peut attendre dans un futur plus proche que ce que l'on croit.

Peut-être un petit peu trop optimiste, mais dans en temps de "crise" cela ne peut pas faire de mal.
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Par Robert M. Cumins le 26 octobre 2014
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An intelligent optimistic presentation of what the future may hold for us. A breath of fresh air. Highly recommended for anyone who is discouraged by current news.
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287 internautes sur 308 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
A Brief Summary and Review 25 février 2012
Par A. D. Thibeault - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format: Relié Achat vérifié
*A full summary of this book is available here: An Executive Summary of Peter Diamandis and Steven Kotler's 'Abundance: The Future Is Better Than You Think'

In their new book `Abundance: The Future Is Better Than You Think', Peter Diamandis and Steven Kotler argue that, despite the problems that our technology has recently created (including dwindling resources, global warming, and a population explosion that threatens to confound [and in some cases already does confound] our advances in agricultural production and medicine), we needn't discard our techno-optimism after all. Indeed, according to Diamandis, the world is on the precipice of another explosion in technology that will soon bring refuge from many of our current problems, and abundance to our doorstep. Not content to let the goal or the timeline remain vague, Diamandis is happy to hang a more precise definition on each. When it comes to abundance, Diamandis defines it as "a world of nine billion people with clean water, nutritious food, affordable housing, personalized education, top-tier medical care, and non-polluting, ubiquitous energy" (loc. 317), and, to top it all off, the freedom to pursue their goals and aspirations unhindered by political repression. With regards to the timeline, Diamandis claims that it "should be achievable within twenty-five years, with noticeable change possible within the next decade" (loc. 580).

In an attempt to convince us that this goal is achievable (and convincing he is), Diamandis takes us through the latest technological developments (and those that will soon be coming down the pipe) in numerous fields such as water filtration and sanitation (including advancements in water desalination, nano-filtering, sewage recycling, and the smart-water-grid); food production (including the next generation of genetically modified foods, vertical farming, in-vitro meat, and agroecology); education (including personalized education, the OLPC [One Laptop Per Child program], AI education programs, and advancements in educational games, video-games and computer programs); energy (including solar and wind power, the next generation of nuclear energy and algal biofuel, the smart-energy-grid, and battery-encapsulated energy storage); healthcare (including stem cell therapy and organ creation, robotic medical care-givers and surgeons, genomic medicine [based on your individual genome], and Lab-on-a-Chip technology [a diagnostic tool compatible with your cell phone that can instantly analyze samples of saliva, urine and blood]), and many, many more.

According to Diamandis, the technological innovations mentioned above are being spurred on by 3 forces in particular these days that are likely to bring us to a state of abundance even quicker than we might otherwise expect, and one that extends to all parts of the world. The 3 forces are (in reverse order as to how they are presented), 1) the rise of the bottom billion--which consists in the fact that the world's poorest have recently begun plugging into the world economy in a very substantial way, both as a consumer and as a producer of goods (largely as a result of the communications revolution, and the fact that cell phones are now spreading even to the world's poorest populations); 2) the rising phenomenon of the tech-philanthropists--a new breed of wealthy individuals who are more philanthropic than ever, and who are applying their efforts to global solutions (and particularly in the developing world); and 3) the rising phenomenon of DIY innovation--which includes the ability of small organizations, and even individuals to make contributions even in the most advanced technological domains (such as computing, biotechnology, and even space travel).

With regards to this last force, part of Diamandis' purpose here is to inspire the layperson to enter the fray with their own contributions towards abundance by way of joining one of the numerous open-source innovation projects available on line, or throwing their hand into one of the many incentivized technological prizes in existence, or in some other manner of their own devising. In this regard, the authors are very successful, as the work is both invigorating and inspiring, and I highly recommend it. A full summary of the book is available here: An Executive Summary of Peter Diamandis and Steven Kotler's 'Abundance: The Future Is Better Than You Think'
118 internautes sur 128 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
An Important "Post-Scarcity" Perspective 21 février 2012
Par CS4242 - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format: Relié
"Abundance" is a deeply optimistic book that suggests radical new technologies may soon transform society and lead to an era where the concept of scarcity no longer dominates economic and social thinking. The authors believe that advances now on the horizon could potentially solve many of the world's major problems by the year 2035.

The book includes a wealth of material on specific technologies that the authors feel may revolutionize energy (solar, algae-based biofuels and next generation nuclear), food production (genetic engineering, vertical farming and in-vitro meats), water scarcity (desalination using nanotechnology filters, rather than today's inefficient thermal or reverse osmosis plants) and health care (artificially intelligent "doctors", robotic nurses and cheap diagnostic chips) to mention just a few. The authors also suggest that much of this progress will be driven by independent inventors (who they call "DIY innovators") and wealthy technology philanthropists.

I'd urge everyone to also read The Lights in the Tunnel: Automation, Accelerating Technology and the Economy of the Future, a book that looks at many of the same technologies and trends as "Abundance" but really delves into the impact on the economy, incomes and the job market, and offers a different perspective. Both these books raise issues and discuss technologies that could be of transformative importance over the next 10-20 years. They are books that everyone should read.

I've rated Abundance highly because I think it introduces a very important perspective that should be a part of any discussion about the future. Having said that, I also think it has significant limitations and needs to be supplemented with other reading and research. The book's promise of future abundance relies heavily on technologies that will reduce the need for human labor: for example, artificial intelligence, robotics and 3d printing. If the authors' projections are correct, then those technologies will also eliminate millions of jobs. Many people, especially those without advanced educations, may be left with little in the way of marketable skills and no obvious way to earn an income. The authors do note this issue, but relegate it to about 3 pages in the appendix. It deserves much more than that; even if the future is abundant, the distribution of resources will still be of critical importance to individuals and society.
109 internautes sur 127 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
welcomed breeze of fresh air, but use with caution! 24 avril 2012
Par Namafe - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format: Relié Achat vérifié
First off, I loved this book. It made me consider for a change that mankind could not just be the causing problem, but also the solution to big issues like climate change, overpopulation and dwindling resources that plague us today. It was amazingly refreshing to read about all those new technologies that are in progress of being developed, from water purification to renewable energies, medical bots, diagnostic apps on your smartphone, vertical gardens for local food production and supply, just to name a few. This read sure brings the optimist out in you, and makes you feel good about being part of the human race again.

I would love to give it 5 stars, but I settle for only 3 (3 1/2 if I had the option), because there is great danger here that you are left with a false sense of security about the future. Even though there is much cause for optimism, there are a few things that I wish the authors would have brought to the readers awareness with more emphasis (they actually do point them out, but not clearly enough in my opinion). They missed the opportunity to clearly communicate that everyone of us has responsibilities we have to meet if we want to see this future happen.

1) Time for business as usual is running out.

After finishing the last pages of the book and still riding high on this most welcome endorphin flush it promotes, one could feel confident to simply put all the chips on one bet and bank on the vision that help in form of brilliant new technologies is on the way, the future is secure, and no further personal action is needed to make this future happen, other than not hindering private entrepreneurship and free markets in their activities in form of government intervention, bureaucracy, or rules and regulations. I don't think that is what the authors are trying to say, but it might be perceived this way.

Until those tech solutions become available AND INTEGRATED, the best course of action for every consumer still is to be frugal with energy and resources, and show more respect and empathy to all the other species we share this planet with. That means we still should try conserve water and energy, buy a fuel efficient car, drive less, consume less plastic to keep it from clogging up the oceans and landfills, etc, you get the idea. No, this won't solve the problems, but it sends important signals to people around us, and more importantly the markets, and if done on a large scale it might buy valuable time!

2) All these innovations and new technologies don't just have to be developed and made available on a massive scale, they also have to be accepted by mainstream.

Just because new technologies are available and affordable, we can't simply assume that they will be widely accepted. New ideas and inventions also mean a lot of change in a very short time, and many people don't deal all that well with change, now matter how benign it might be. As an example I would like to take the nurse robots that could take care of our elderlies to bring down end of life and health care costs. Many people might resist this approach as 'inhuman'. And as amazing as this 'no plumbing, turn poop into power' toilet sounds, it might not get embraced by the home depot shopper right away simply because he knows from experience that the water toilet works, but who knows if the new one doesn't turn out downright disgusting?

Old habits die hard. As an example take an alternative technology that is already available today, the electric car, which I think deserves a lot more credit than it currently gets. Yes, it is not without flaws, from battery production and recycling all the way to range anxiety. Yes, it uses your local power plant and thus still contributes to the carbon footprint. But the bottom line is that an electric car is still many times more energy efficient than a conventional car, just because it so much more effective turning that energy into speed, not 90% heat that disappears into the atmosphere. Most people don't realize that their internal combustion car is mainly a HUGE RADIATOR that they haul around. Nor do they realize how convenient it is not to have to get gas at a filthy gas station any more. Instead the car can be topped off in the driveway every night when power is cheap, and the power grid is underloaded anyway. There is hardly any costly maintenance, because there are a lot less moving parts to take care off. All that torque the electric motor provides makes it zippy, and the silent, magic carpet experience makes it really fun to drive. I think the electric car deserves a lot more consideration at least as a secondary vehicle, yet Nissan and GM are sitting on their Leafs and Volts, because people by nature are resisting too much change in a too short amount of time.

So as consumers again I think we have the responsibility to give new technologies a chance and support their creators by purchasing them even if they feel a little strange to us. Iphones and ipads, and the world wide web had it easy because their wasn't really a similar established product in use that they had to compete with. Many new products and technologies will have to compete with well established products and will have a lot harder time making it mainstream.

3) Private enterprise can bring the solution, but also can be an obstacle to the changes we so badly need.

Not only will the consumer resist change, even more resistance to change is to be expected from the firms, cooperations, and manufacturers that are currently making money with conventional technology. Yes Exxon and other oil companies have a budget for renewable energiy research, but it is pretty much insignificant compared to what they spend on conventional drill site development. Why? Because drilling is the time proven way to make money for their share holders. That's where I think government should step in by creating incentives and support for start up companies and garage DIYers to make sure all those new ideas and creations we so badly need get a fair chance at survival. Free Markets are less effective in this regard because, again, change isn't easy, old habits die hard, and the old boy cooperations and power movers will resist change as long as there is money to be made the conventional way.

New technologies that come online will have flaws, and some of them might have the potential to produce a whole new host of collateral damage that will have to be taken care of later on. So another role for government should be to make sure we don't accidentally open another Pandora's box, by providing appropiate safety standards and test routines before a new product gets unleashed.

For us as consumers this means that we should take the time to do some research, keep in touch with what comes down the pipeline, consider the pros and cons of the products we buy on a broader scale than just cost and convenience, send the right buying signals to the markets, and make well informed decisions about who we vote into office. Just leaning back and looking forward to a golden tech future won't get us there.
42 internautes sur 48 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
sloppy logic 4 février 2013
Par Roedy Green - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format: Relié
It is a loose collection of good news you might have overlooked. They cite Pinker and Kurzweil.

However, some of their logic made my hair stand on end. For example, they argue that the fuss over acid rain was a chicken little needless panic. because none of the terrible predicted things happened. They fail to notice that governments and industries made massive changes to improve the situation.

They argue that because people tend to pay more attention to bad news than good, all the global problems we worry about must be phantoms. That is a non-sequitur.

They waxed poetic about how wonderful life will be when we can produce McFood 100 times more efficiently.

The cited Japanese robotic factories as what we should aspire to in our personal lives.

Their Utopian vision is a Koch brothers wet dream, billions of docile humanoids, packed like sardines, consuming artificial everything, not a living thing left, whose prime directive is corporate profit. This book is collection of corporate excuses for raping the environment.

If you want a thoughtful and optimistic view, read the original Pinker and Kurzweil.
85 internautes sur 103 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
Naïve and Dangerous Techno-Optimism 15 décembre 2013
Par Dr. Lionel - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format: Relié
The rampant naïve technological optimism expressed in this book, i.e., that technological innovation will be the solution to all our problems is highly problematic. Technological innovation during the last 200 years has been the main cause of the most serious problems we face today - climate change, global chemical pollution, bizarre human overpopulation, world hunger, brutal violence by military technologies, etc. Throughout the past century, brilliant technological innovators believed they would "save mankind". Alfred Nobel naively thought that his invention of dynamite would stop all wars because no one would dare to use it because of its destructive power. It was widely used in World War I. The promoters of nuclear energy in the 1950s said it would help mankind by generating electricity that is "too cheap to meter", only to subsequently poison the environment with radioactivity (i.e., Chernobyl and Fukushima). The promoters of genetic engineering (the authors are strongly pro-GMO) say they are saving billions from starvation, only to devastate ecosystems and push hundreds of thousands of East Indian famers to suicide. The inventors and promoters of the internet thought they would usher in a new era of global democracy - but now we learn that electronic communication technologies are used to spy on citizens worldwide, in a manner more repressive than ever envisioned by the Nazis or the East German secret police. So, how can we be sure that all these great technological innovations that the authors envision will be any better? Wishful thinking and enthusiastic optimism, as expressed by the authors, is neither sufficient nor convincing.

I have the feeling that the authors do not really understand how technological innovation works and what its limitations are. As Jacque Ellul pointed out almost 50 years ago in The Technological Society, all technologies have both positive and negative effects, and it is impossible to separate them. It is a human tendency, including the authors', to think one can have only the positive without the negative.

Furthermore, all technologies have unintended social, economic, cultural, and environmental consequences. Even worse, our current scientific method, which is based on mechanistic reductionism, can NEVER predict these unintended, negative consequences. So, despite all the enthusiasm of technological innovators that THIS time their technology (or their wild-eyed ideas) will really solve certain environmental and social problems, it is extremely difficult if not impossible to predict negative consequences (For a good discussion of the limitations of technology, see Techno-Fix: Why Technology Won't Save Us Or the Environment). The authors should have thought more seriously about the potential negative consequences of their proposed innovations. More GMOs? More nuclear energy? "Vertical" farming? More robots to take care of elderly? Is this kind of technotopia desirable? Why?
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