|Why We Should Be Optimistic About the Future |
It’s a blizzard of bad news out there: an ongoing economic crisis, a burgeoning education crisis, healthcare turmoil, energy poverty, water scarcity -- to name but a few of our fears. So pervasive is our sense of doom and gloom, that those telling a different story can rarely be heard. And there’s a very different story worth hearing.
Currently, thanks to the incredible, exponential rate of growth of technology, combined with three powerful emerging forces, we are teetering on the edge of a much, much better tomorrow. Imagine a world where everyone has access to clean water, nutritious food, affordable housing, personalized education, top-tier medical care, non-polluting and ubiquitous energy. Imagine a world of abundance.
Sound too good to be true?
Already, elements of this transformation are underway. Over the past 20 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 two decades ago.
Soon, the vast majority of humanity will be enmeshed 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, computational systems, networks and sensors, artificial intelligence, robotics, biotechnology, bioinformatics, 3-D printing, nano-technology, human-machine interfaces and many other tools are now advancing at exponential rates, soon enabling 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 with significant, abundance-producing potential. The first of those is the newfound power of the Do-It-Yourself (DIY) innovator. While DIY’ers have already proven themselves capable of launching a computer revolution, their reach now extends considerably further. In the past decade, DIY’ers (working both in small teams or collectively, via crowdsourcing) can now tackle the kinds of grand challenges that were once the sole province of large corporations and governments.
Consider Craig Venter tying the mighty U.S. government in the race to decode the human genome; or Burt Rutan doing what NASA and every aerospace contractor said was impossible -- flying a man into space.
Certainly, these were both extremely well-funded DIY efforts, but exponential growth trends in technology are now allowing almost anyone to get in on this game. Take DIY Drones, an online group of autonomous aircraft hobbyists. Over the past few years, working for free, in their spare time, this group has built UAVs with 90 percent of the functionality of the military’s $35,000 Raven for under $300 dollars.
Our next 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 techno-philanthropists who are using their fortunes to solve global, abundance-related challenges. Bill Gates is focused on eliminating malaria; Jeff Skoll is crusading against pandemics and nuclear proliferation; Pierre and Pam Omidyar are bringing electricity to the developing world. The list goes on and on and added together, these new breed technophilanthropists are a potent force for abundance.
Perhaps the most significant change of the next decade will be the dramatic increase in worldwide connectivity via the internet. The online community is projected to grow from 2 billion users in 2010 to 5 billion by 2020. Three billion new minds are about to join the global brain. What will they dream? What will they discover? What will they desire? These are minds that the rest of society has never had access to before and their collective economic and creative boost becomes our final force: the power of “the rising billion.”
By themselves, each of these three forces will reshape our globe. But acting together, amplified by exponentially growing technologies, the revolution we have long been waiting for appears poised to arrive.