Saturday, February 16, 2013

The Fight for Abundance

I recently had an invigorating vision of the future. This came as a result of my encounter with Abundance by Peter Diamandis and Steven Cotler. By rights I should be too old at 57 for wide eyed optimism, but the authors have marshaled their arguments so convincingly, from the broad outlines of global infrastructures to the nanoscopic gadgets that will soon rebuild broken body parts, that one is as much compelled to jump on the bandwagon as to look for ways to break the spell. In no time I was showing high school students You Tube clips of people printing wrenches and building their own drones, recommending the book to friends and colleagues, haranguing my wife with all I’d just learned of the singularity that would transform the world in the next twenty years.

I knew I had to be careful: There’s not much value in being easily impressed. Abundance prints an invigorating picture, but some problems lie beyond the scope of its discussion. For example, the work that needs to be done requires engineering skills many humans have no interest in acquiring. What happens when the unemployed billion can’t find anything to do with all the leisure abundance will afford?  What’s to keep us from winding up like Star Trek’s Borg –a real possibility when people have internet access implanted in their brains, an eventuality the authors wholeheartedly embrace? How long before we become the human batteries powering the matrix? And won’t considerations such as these inspire anti-evolutionary fundamentalist conservatives to even greater acts of rage and sabotage?    

Well, there’s a lot to be done. This is a fight where if we win we win big and if we lose we lose it all. Diamandis and Cotler say it’s a fight we can win. Sticking with the amygdale-serving negativity of assault rifles, government gridlock, incarceration nation, zombie Apocalypse, CNN and fiscal austerity is more than a little like paying attention to the wrong kind of news and not having the faintest clue as to what’s needed to solve problems.

I’m going to continue monitoring our progress toward the singularity because the very idea of it excites me. It flies in the face of Biblical warnings about the Tower of Babel, the acceptance of suffering, and the poor will always be with us. For that reason alone I think it’s pretty damned daring. I’ll bring it to the students in my classes and scatter it here and there on the internet. I’ll take care of myself so I can be around to see it through.