Is it possible that advancing technology will permit us to end poverty, sickness, and other serious problems? According to the book Abundance: The Future Is Better Than You Think, written by my friend Peter H. Diamandis and Steven Kotler, humanity should prepare itself for an abundant future.
Beyond promises of populist politicians or the visions of prolific science-fiction writers, the answer lies in technological advancement in different areas of human knowledge. Thanks to these advances, it is both technologically and economically possible to end poverty within the next two decades.
The authors share the Rational Optimism of Matt Ridley, who believes that absolute poverty will end by 2035. Ridley reminds us that the Chinese today are ten times richer than in 1960 and live 25 years longer. According to the United Nations, poverty has been reduced more in the last fifty years than in the previous five hundred years. For Ridley, the key to progress is specialization in production and diversification in consumption, which can be achieved through commerce. At Grupo Salinas, we have created a solid middle class vision of our own, which is partly why I was drawn to this book. I think it's a great way to live the year with optimism.
According to some experts in evolutionary psychology, we are programmed to be "local optimists and global pessimists." This is to say, we have the tendency to overestimate our capacities, attractiveness and intelligence, while we undervalue humanity's possibilities in general. According to this line of thinking, we are optimists about what we can control but pessimists about everything else. This constitutes a powerful defense mechanism that can be a very serious problem in the fulfillment of our dream of abundance.
These theories are not coming from improvised authors. Peter is the CEO of Singularity University -- an institution in which Grupo Salinas participates. He is also a doctor and an engineer, internationally renowned for his work. He has directed mainstream technology projects related to the conquest of outer space. Steven Kotler is a well-known journalist.
What concept of abundance is referred to in the book? Evidently it is not about giving a Mercedes-Benz to everyone in the world. The book tells us that it is about giving all people opportunities to live lives filled with possibilities.
For this, certain basic necessities must be satisfied, and then some. To begin with, we must universally provide clean water, notably reduce pollution and end malaria, among many other conditions. But, the key phrase here is to open a world of possibilities to every person on the planet.
To be more specific, the authors refer to Maslow's Pyramid, a concept that hierarchizes human needs. According to Maslow, no individual can aspire to levels of superiority if he has not first satisfied his basic needs.
But under the alternative pyramid defined by Diamandis, there are three levels:
- On the lowest level are water, food, and home;
- On the second level are access to energy, education, telecommunications and information;
- On the top level of the pyramid we find freedom.
Through each of several social initiatives, Grupo Salinas has worked on all three levels of this pyramid.
At the base of this pyramid there is a demand from seven billion people for: five liters of potable drinking water daily, 25 liters more for bathing, cooking, and for cleaning; 2,000 calories of balanced food, vitamins and minerals. We also need to provide simple homes with electric light, ventilation and sanitary services.
Now, the question begs, how do the authors seriously consider a future where all of these necessities are covered? The key is taking advantage of what they call exponential technology, which is everything that allows us to attack problems, which benefits millions of people.
Let's consider Moore's Law, which says that every two years the numbers of transistors in an integrated circuit are duplicated. For example, the iPhone is, in terms of computing power per gram and monetary cost, 150,000 times better than the technology available 20 years ago. An Osborne Executive computer weighed 13 kilograms and whose price was US $2,500, whereas an iPhone weighs 112 grams with about one tenth of the costs. However, it has 150 times the processing capacity and 100,000 times the memory of the legendary Osborne.
This notable increase in computing power, speed, memory per net weight and dollar spent, is owed to exponential technology. But there are many more such technologies in biology, medicine, telecommunications and materials science. Ray Kurzweil, an expert in exponential technology, has found dozens of examples in a great number of applications. As a matter of fact, based on Moore's Law, he calculates that a US $1,000 laptop will be able to compute at the speed of a human brain within 15 years.
A future of abundance is especially based on the technological advancement in areas such as artificial intelligence, robotics, biology, medicine, genetics, digital networks, computing and sensors. In the future, our energy will be harvested in oceans, through genetically-modified algae: We will see an Internet of Things, where appliances will be interconnected. Car theft will disappear forever and factories will no longer need to maintain inventories. Through the use of artificial intelligence, public transport will be able to be operated without drivers.
I think that if ending poverty is within our possibilities, the task requires obligation. If we achieve this, our future will be beyond what we can currently imagine. Let the future fill us with abundance.