Abundance Summary

Peter H. Diamandis


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Abundance Summary

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In their popular science book focused on the future of resource scarcity, Abundance (2012), Peter H. Diamandis and Steven Kotler look optimistically at the future of humanity’s breadth and volume of access to resources, framing this availability as a future fact predicated on the inevitable and exponential march of technological innovation. Diamandis and Kotler believe that around the time the earth’s human population reaches nine billion, virtually everyone will have access to adequate food, power, water, education, and healthcare. Abundance has become well known for its ambitious yet well-researched argument, making its way into the popular imagination about the near future of technology.

Using knowledge of human psychology and brain science, Diamandis and Kotler debunk the rational basis behind the climate of fear that news media create. In their view, the seeming prominence of apocalyptic news stories does not actually prove the veracity of these stories. Rather, the stories are symptoms of a positive feedback loop caused by the learned, chemically facilitated human need to consume egregiously simple units of information. They blame the amygdala, a structure in the brain that evolved to respond to signals related to fight-or-flight situations. Humans are, literally, addicted to reductive news stories and, recognizing this, must continually remember to think critically.

Diamandis and Kotler exhort their readers to embark on a mission to filter out irrational fears. Their primary argument is that human well-being in the contemporary moment is far better, in almost every measurable way, than it has ever been in history. They balk at the popular notion that we are spiraling into existential despair, attributing this mindset partly to the “lizard brain” behavior, previously related to the amygdala, and also to the ingestion of mass media disguising skewed stories as convincing, direct, and present existential threats. They blame capitalist media for its economic rationale of optimizing clicks by writing the most triggering content possible. Diamandis and Kotler argue that if readers slow down and examine quantitative data about how the world is doing, they will begin to notice that it is becoming happier, safer, and wealthier.

The next section concerns the nature of technological innovation. Diamandis and Kotler view it not as something that progresses incrementally, but rather something that proceeds out of a network effect in which many huge problems are solved in simultaneous clusters. They argue that we should not look at problems as isolated objects: this mentality always leads to despair. In reality, our biggest problems, including climate change, food and water scarcity, and population growth, are part of the same technological system. Improving one problem, such as the prevalence of malaria in Africa, will not merely make Africans less sick, but will also lead to benefits, such as increased labor power, quality of life, and tourism cash flow. Other problems will improve in roundabout ways. For example, an increased likelihood of any one child’s survival will reduce birth rates as parents (who rely on children for economic and social support) become more confident that they will survive.

Finally, Diamandis and Kotler argue that people must start thinking more pragmatically and with greater attentiveness to data from the world. They reject the notion of “thinking outside the box,” arguing that this overly-aspirational metaphor distracts individuals from closely examining extant problems. In Diamandis and Kotler’s view, the world is rife with untapped information that can be used to end its struggles. They endorse the United States’ “failure culture,” which allows room for creative experimentation but tends to learn from the results of each experiment, slowly isolating the right solution or method. They advocate for economic support for small, team-based science contests, which are less prone than large teams to being bought out by self-interested corporations.

In conclusion, Diamandis and Kotler exhort their readers to feel optimistic about the social, technological, and economic future of the world. Optimism is the mindset that inspires the human inventiveness and audacity that we need to broaden our awareness and improve our lives.