Abundance – The Future is Better Than You Think

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This post is written by Singularity University Co-Founder and Chairman Peter Diamandis.

Peter Diamandis, Co-Founder and Chairman Singularity Univeristy

We are all unknowingly addicts. Addicts of bad news. Twenty-four hours per day, seven days a week, the news media is constantly feeding us negative stories on every digital device in their arsenal – our mobile phones, tablets, computers, radio, television and newsfeeds. Every murder, terrorist plot, economic downturn, no matter how remote, is brought to us live, instantly, over and over again.

The reason for this is simple. Our brains are hardwired to pay far more attention to negative news, than positive stories. Millions of years ago as our brains were evolving, if we missed a piece of good news, that was an inconvenience, but missing a piece of bad news could mean the end of your life and your germ-line. For that reason, we’ve developed portions of our brain that are constantly scanning for bad news and thereafter putting us on high alert. The old newspaper adage, ‘if it bleeds, it leads’ is as true today as it was a century ago.

So it’s no wonder that people think the world is falling apart, and many are in a very dark contemporary mood. But what is curious about this situation is that in nearly every measurable way, the world is much better off than it has ever been.

I’ll start with poverty, which has declined more the in the past 50 years than the previous 500. In fact, during the last 50 years, while the population on Earth has doubled, the average per capita income around th world (adjusted for inflation) has tripled.

We’re not just richer than ever before, we’re healthier as well. During the last century, maternal mortality has decreased by 90 percent and child mortality by 99 percent, while the length of the average human lifespan has more than doubled.

As Steven Pinker has made clear, since the middle ages, violence on Earth has been in constant decline. Homicide rates are a hundred-fold less than they were when they peaked 500 years ago. So we’re not only healthier, we’re safer as well.

If your measure of prosperity is tilted towards the availability of goods and services, consider that even the poorest American’s today (those below the poverty line) have access to phones, toilets, running water, air conditioning and even a car. Go back 150 years and the wealthiest robber barons couldn’t have hoped for such wealth.

Right now, a Maasai Warrior on mobile phone has better mobile communications than President Reagan did 25 years ago; And, if he were on Google, he would have access to more information than President Clinton did just 15 years ago. We are effectively living in a world of communications and information abundance.

Even more impressive are the vast array of tools and services now disguised as free mobile apps that this same Maasai Warrior can access: a GPS locator, video teleconferencing hardware and software, an HD video camera, a camera, stereo system, vast library of books, films, games and music. Go back 20 years and add the cost of these goods and services together—and you’ll get a total well in excess of a million dollars. Today, all these devices come standard with a smart phone.

During the last two decades, we have witnessed a technological acceleration unlike anything the world has ever seen. Exponential progress in artificial intelligence, robotics, infinite computing, ubiquitous broadband networks, digital manufacturing, nano-materials, synthetic biology, to name a few, put us on track to make greater gains in the next two decades than we have had in the previous 200 years. We will soon have the ability to meet and exceed the basic needs of every man, woman, and child on the planet. Abundance for all is within our grasp.

But it won’t happen without your help. While accelerating technology is an awesome force, in itself it is not enough to bring on this golden age. However, there are three additional forces emerging—and this is exactly where you come in.

The second of these forces is the rise of the Do-It-Yourself (DIY) innovator. No longer content with hot-rods and homebrew computers, in the past decade, DIY’ers (working both in small teams or collectively, via crowdsourcing) have made major contributions to fields like healthcare, energy, education, water, freedom—areas that were once the sole province of large corporations and governments. This means that whatever challenges we face in the world—climate change, AIDS in Africa, energy poverty—more than ever before, we are now empowered to individually help solve these problems. And it’s our ability to do so, this newfound power of the maverick DIY’er, that is the second of our four forces.

The same technologies that enabled the rise of the DIY Innovator have also created wealth much faster than ever before. Tech entrepreneurs like Jeff Skoll (eBay), Elon Musk (PayPal), Bill Gates (Microsoft), etc., became billionaires by reinventing industries before the age of 35. Maintaining their appetite for the big and bold, they are now turning their attention and considerable resources towards global betterment, becoming a new breed of philanthropist—technophilanthropists—and, as such, yet another 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 two billion users in 2010 to five billion by 2020. Three billion new minds are about to join the global brain trust. What will they dream? What will they discover? What will they invent? 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.”

We are living in a time of unprecedented opportunity.

So while I can’t tell you to ignore all the negative news coming your way, I can say that the future, much like the present, is going to be a whole lot better than you think.

Discussion — 41 Responses

  • losthobbit June 28, 2012 on 1:29 pm

    I remember when I was a child and we could play in the streets without having to worry about criminals. Our parents could find a job without having to have a degree (my grandfather was a gardener). We had low walls and simple burglar alarms. People knew that their pensions would keep them alive from the age of 55 when they retired.

    Today property has become almost unaffordable. Our house has a spiked fence, bars on all doors and windows, an electric security gate, a modern alarm system with a radio link connecting us directly to the security company who are constantly on patrol (And we’re still scared). When we get into our car, we instinctively lock all the doors, and when we drive into our driveway we keep a look out for criminals sneaking in behind us.) My wife hasn’t been able to find work for the last four years. It seems that I am going to have to work until I’m sixty-five and I don’t know if my pension is going to be worth anything. I have to keep updating my knowledge, so that I can keep doing my job.

    We are depleting the Earth’s natural resources and warming the planet.

    It seems strange that you have such positive stats. In South Africa, the country I had to leave, it seems like everything’s going backwards… and things don’t seem much better in England.

    • hudi124 losthobbit June 29, 2012 on 10:49 am

      Crime stats have been plumetting for the last 20 years, this is an undeniable statistical fact. The rest of your post is unsubstantiated hyperbole and false nostalgia for a ‘better older’ world which never actually existed. Despite your ridiculous pessimism, people are actually safer than they have ever been at any time in human history. Dr. Steve Pinker shows this by demonstrating that, since the middle ages, instances of violence and crime have consistently dropped. I hate to break it to you, but the future (and the present) is alot better than you think.

      • Khannea Suntzu hudi124 June 29, 2012 on 11:10 am

        I hope your right because if I am the only thing I can do is whine “I told you so” and die not long after.

      • Panpiper hudi124 June 29, 2012 on 11:46 am

        I am not denying anything you said Hudi, you are absolutely right about the reduction in crime and such. I would just like to point out that the tone in which you point this sort of thing out greatly affects whether or not the person you are talking to you will be receptive to them. Generally it is better to adopt a conciliatory tone, find a point of agreement even and work from there.

    • turtles_allthewaydown losthobbit June 29, 2012 on 11:29 am

      You felt safe because crime wasn’t reported like it is today. We didn’t report missing children because they were assumed to have run away from home until proven otherwise (even if the parent knew the kid wouldn’t do that).

      People focus on what they hear and not on the statistics of what is real concern. Mothers leave their kids in a shopping cart while loading groceries into their car, so that if somebody steals their car while it’s unlocked, they won’t drive away with the kid. This risk is incredibly small, it’s much more likely that the now unweighted shopping cart will tip over and the kid will hit his head on the pavement. People are worried about sharks when they go to the ocean, but just about everything else associated with going to the beach(drowning, driving on the roads, walking across the parking lot) is more dangerous. There’s about 10 shark deaths a year – worldwide.

      It’s all about perception.

      You complain about security with your car, your house with its gated driveway, having to work until (gasp) 65! Did your grandfather even have a car? Who could afford gated driveways? Social security was set up to handle people who were physically too old or impaired to continue working, it wasn’t meant to be a nice retirement in your ‘golden years’. (BTW, the retirement age in the U.S. is now 66 and rising, I can’t retire with full benefits until 67).

      You have no blooming concept of your true riches compared to the crap that your ancestors (and past inventors) had to do to get you to this point.

    • Panpiper losthobbit June 29, 2012 on 12:02 pm

      The crime you are worried about is not the problem, most crime has actually gone down by 50% in the last couple of decades. What has changed is that worry about crime has gone up. The reason for this is the growth of CNN and similar ‘news’ services and the way they have been marketed as much as previous ‘entertainment’ programming. (The movie ‘Network’ was awesomely prescient.) Our culture has been inundated with “if it bleeds, it leads” and as a result our subconscious minds believe that crime must be much higher than it used to because we are now more aware of it.

      Property has gone up (relatively speaking) because it has been government policy for decades now to artificially boost demand for property (law of supply and demand, if demand goes up faster than the supply, the price rises, and they aren’t making new land). The increase in educational requirements is not because people would necessarily need degrees to do their jobs, but simply because a ‘lot’ more people now have university degrees, and employers always pick those they think will do better. If they don’t know you or the other guy, the guy with the degree is more likely to get the job. And the reason so many ‘art history’ and the like degrees are out there, is again because of government. It has been policy for the government to offer easy tuition loans to pretty much anyone for pretty much anything (which has also largely eliminated price competition from universities).

      Much of the other things you mentioned, I addressed the cause of in a longish a post above.

    • Facebook - oliness losthobbit November 17, 2013 on 9:35 am

      Things may seem to have got worse in South Africa. But that is because an unfair system (apartheid) has been replaced. It may have been good for you back then, but it sucked for the majority of the country; the black people who lived in mud huts and could be shot if they tried to go into the rich white areas. The violence there can be traced to the completely unfair system of privilege that existed for generations. Once SA becomes more equal and more black people become wealthy then violence will decline.

      That’s part of what this article is talking about, the rising billions whose lives are improving dramatically. People who think that everything is going backwards were normally born into privilege, and are complaining that the unfair privileges they enjoyed which oppressed millions of others no longer exist. But overall, across the world, things are getting better. I agree that the environment holding out is a concern, but the trend in general has been very positive.

  • Josh Trutt June 28, 2012 on 2:10 pm

    losthobbit, one thing to ask is whether the crime rates have really gone up in line with the paranoia. Of course this depends on where you live, and I\’d say South Africa remains a powderkeg and is unlikely to get better given the vast disparity in lifestyle of communities living right on top of each other…
    Which begs the question, what innovations may change these lifestyle disparities? I just returned from Switzerland (I live in the US) and found a country with decades of extremely low unemployment, universal healthcare, flawless public transportation, and widespread use of alternative energy, all with a top income tax rate (Federal + Canton (\’state\’) of 30%. Clearly the solutions exist… we just have to have the will to implement them. Getting knowledge in the hands of the people is just the first step and the most volatile one. As we decrease pollution and disease, will that help? Or will it just add to overpopulation (until Elon gets us to Mars)? Will advances in food production make good food cheaper and easier to access? Will colonizing new planets allow us to let go of religious fantasies that divide us, or will we just fight about which god is coming to Mars first? There are great opportunities ahead. Let\’s see who capitalizes on them.

    • digitalcole Josh Trutt July 1, 2012 on 5:40 pm

      Safer in the US?

      I’m old enough to remember my grandparents leaving the door to the house unlocked whenever they went somewhere and their car doors unlocked when they went into the stores.

      Now you have to set the house alarm before leaving, many cars have alarms (you can tell because annoyingly they’re always going off.) Some have advocated low-jacking their kids and pets have RFID chips.

      It’s obvious that we now have more “stuff” worth stealing (computers, Xbox, flat screen monitors, MP3 players etc.) in the 70’s the most anyone could get away with was the TV, jewelry and the toaster.

  • Khannea Suntzu June 28, 2012 on 3:06 pm

    I am reading your book and will review it in a few weeks.

    In the meantime :
    * http://www.scoop.it/t/new-mobility-solutions
    * http://www.scoop.it/t/space-versus-oil

    :)

  • Phil G June 28, 2012 on 3:34 pm

    Diamandis’ book is very good, and gives a lot more genuine data on why the future is hopeful than this blog can. It gave me more hope than anything has recently. But I have a few caveats, along the lines of “The future is here, but it is unequally distributed.”

    First, very poor countries seem to be worse-off in a world where rich countries exist than they would be if they were equally poor in an absolute sense, but not poor in a relative sense. I can only speculate about the reasons. One is that anyone in a very poor country who does well, leaves the country, and/or invests their money outside that country. Another is that education has little economic value in a poor country surrounded by rich countries, because most professions requiring education are ones that poor countries have a relative disadvantage at. Another is that poor countries are often flooded with AK-47s manufactured in rich countries. But possibly the most important is simply that the rate of change imposed on them by the surrounding, technologically-advanced countries, is greater than their simple social infrastructure can cope with; and so their social structure is always entropic, always crumbling faster than it can be built up.

    Second, in advanced countries, the most valuable resource is attention. Most of the money sloshing around the United States goes, in one way or another, toward getting somebody’s attention or convincing someone to listen to you or work with you. And the same communication advances that make us richer materially, have also concentrated this wealth of attention more and more in the hands of just a few. 100 years ago, being a professional musician was a reasonable career, because everyplace that needed music, needed live music. Now, more wealth is being made in the music industry, but it is probably concentrated in less than 1% as many individuals. Justin Bieber has 100 million Twitter followers, while local bands have to give their albums away. You can have a twitter account and a blog, but for most of us, the “99%”, no one reads our blogs, follows our twitters, or cares what we have to say. Having online education and news and computational resources and all of that is just a cruel joke when the net result is that 99% of us can be more and more creative, but never have an audience.

    • Phil G Phil G June 29, 2012 on 11:22 am

      Oh, third is that the past 40 years have been a time of abundance, yet most people have not had any share in it. The amount of wealth in America has grown by a factor of something like 20 since 1970 – and yet, median wages per person – in real, inflation-adjusted terms – have dropped since 1970. Workers have been given exactly zero percent of the new wealth generated over the past 40 years. So, while there may be hope of solving our problems, Diamandis’ enthusiasm about abundance comes across as a rich person encouraging us all to work harder so that he can get richer. There’s nothing in it for us; so why should we care?

      • Khannea Suntzu Phil G June 29, 2012 on 11:32 am

        I am inclined to concur with your assessment.

      • Panpiper Phil G June 29, 2012 on 11:37 am

        When you mentioned a growth factor of 20, you have not factored in inflation. The actual ‘real’ growth in total wealth has only gone up by a factor of 2.

        Note that the 40 years you are talking about, since 1970, is the period after which Nixon completely eliminated the last vestige of the gold standard, allowing the central bank to go absolutely ape with new money creation. Since then we have seen much higher inflation, stagnant (even descending) standards of living among the poor and middle class, record high personal and government debt, record low savings, record profits in the investment community, etc.. This is NOT a coincidence. See the article I posted above.

        • Phil G Panpiper June 29, 2012 on 3:47 pm

          “When you mentioned a growth factor of 20, you have not factored in inflation. The actual ‘real’ growth in total wealth has only gone up by a factor of 2.”

          This is incorrect. Where are you getting your figures? I’m getting mine from a variety of sources, but they are all in agreement that the multiplier is near 20. For instance, the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis says that the US GDP, in current dollars (that means inflation-adjusted), was 15 trillion in 2011, and 1 trillion in 1970.

          • Phil G Phil G June 29, 2012 on 3:52 pm

            (GDP severely underestimates the growth of wealth, as most wealth has been generated by the increase in value of stocks, land, and other things not counted in GDP.)

          • Panpiper Phil G June 29, 2012 on 4:13 pm

            I too get my figures from a number of places. This is a good one:

            http://www.measuringworth.com/usgdp/

            You cited a 1970 GDP of 1 trillion and a 2011 GDP of 15 trillion. That is accurate in ‘nominal’ terms, meaning NOT adjusted for inflation. The total GDP difference between those two periods if adjusted for inflation is a change of a factor of roughly 2.6. I stated that wealth went up by a factor of two because I was referring to GDP per capita, and of course because the population has gone up since 1970, the result for the whole GDP growth is closer to 2.6.

            • Phil G Panpiper July 15, 2012 on 6:38 pm

              You appear to be correct – I had assumed that when a column was labelled “current dollars”, it meant current dollars. But now I’m confused. These figures give an annual growth rate, since 1970 (g^41 = 2.6), of 2.35%. That’s a terrible growth rate.

              In any case, the NYSE and the derivatives market are both now also about 15 trillion. I can’t find figures for the total value of either in 1970, but the derivatives market was negligible at the time. The value of land has also increased. Average returns on mutual funds over that time period are closer to 10% than to 2.5%, I think; so we’re still probably looking at a total increase in wealth of a factor of at least 7.

              Either way, the percentage of growth that has gone to the middle and lower classes has been approximately zero, and zero percent of any growth is still zero.

              • Panpiper Phil G July 16, 2012 on 4:28 am

                I am entirely in agreement with you. The stagnant growth of the poor and middle class while at the same time the huge growth in wealth of the investor class is a travesty. And it is 100% the blame of government policy. This is no accident, it has been deliberately manufactured by the central bank’s monetary policy, most especially since the US cast off the last vestiges of the gold standard in 1971.

                The deliberate inflationary policy designed to rob people of price reductions created by improvements in productivity is achieved by the central banks by centrally planned, artificially low interest rates. Those ultra low rates make free money available to the super wealthy with which they can then leverage their speculations in the stock market, etc.. It is literally a transfer income program designed to milk the poor and middle class so as to transfer purchasing power to the super wealthy (and the government).

                This is of course not what the central bankers will tell you. They will tell you all sorts of bullshit designed to convince you that this is all for your own good. Some of them even believe it. But regardless of their reasons, the end effect is the same.

    • Panpiper Phil G June 29, 2012 on 11:40 am

      Don’t be too down on the attention you get. 20 odd years ago, the best I could do to reach people was to talk to a room of about 30 people, and I looked forward to those times. Now, I can post a YouTube video and address 5000 people. The small quantity of people your work reaches is far greater now than it was, even though it may not seem like much if you are used to watching viral videos and reading high profile blogs. It is a lot more than you would otherwise be able to reach.

  • Panpiper June 29, 2012 on 11:26 am

    We are in a race between the progress of entrepreneurs and the actions of government. Entrepreneurs are indeed coming up with radical new ideas that really will change the world. The problem is that our putatively benevolent governments are in many ways actively working against these forces in such a way as to greatly mitigate their positive effects. I shall describe in this comment just one way they do this, that is perhaps the most egregious.

    As technologies improve, the productivity of human beings also improves. We are able to do more, with less. This is a wonderful thing. In theory, this process of doing more with less could allow us literally infinite growth, as long as we are in fact, using less, but at the same time doing more with it.

    If the same number of human beings working with the same quantity of resources are as a result of improvements in technology able to produce more this year than they were last year, then in theory they should be better off. Productivity has in fact been improving at the rate of about 5% per year for a very long time now. The net effect of this gain in productivity, in theory, should be a lowering of prices by 5%. That would result in everyone being better off by 5%, allowing them to buy 5% more than they were able to the year prior.

    This is not happening. Prices are not going down for most things, they are in fact going up. The only things going down in price are those few things ‘so’ affected by Moore’s law that they are improving at a rate vastly higher than 5% a year. The reason for this is government. It is no accident. It is deliberate policy. They are doing it on purpose.

    It is the monetary policy of every central bank on the planet to increase the money supply by an amount sufficient to increase prices by 2-4% per year. This is not a 2-4% increase in the money supply. They increase the money supply sufficient to grow prices by 2-4% AND cover the 5% reduction in the general price level that would result from the increase in productivity. The net effect is to create an inflation rate of ~8% per year that we perceive as a ~3% price inflation. And then we ‘try’ to get a raise or a new job to cover the 3%.

    The mechanism whereby they do this is to artificially lower interest rates (the price people pay for money). With lower rates, people borrow more than was actually saved, and the central banks create the difference literally out of thin air. These lower interest rates advantage the governments hugely, as they allow the governments to borrow money without having to pay high interest on their debts that would otherwise ruin them. They also hugely advantage the super wealthy in the banking industry, who are able to borrow money at a rate lower than the inflation rate with which to leverage their gambling (noting too that if they loose big enough on their betting, they can get bailed out by their politician friends). This is the reason why the rich get richer while the poor get poorer (relatively speaking). The rich get to play with free money (actually they are effectively being paid to take it) and the poor are hard scrabbling to stay in place, when they should in fact all be better off by 5%, were it not for the deliberate actions of government.

    There are apologists, some who might even be reading this, who would defend these policies as being good policies. They would claim that governments are doing this for our own good. They will talk about deflation, sticky wages, the paradox of thrift and all sorts of other utter nonsense that is still taught in most economics classes. It is bogus economics. It is the modern equivalent of thinking that bloodletting is a panacea for disease.

    Governments are not doing this for ‘our’ own good. They are doing it for ‘their’ own political good, and the good of their super wealthy friends who give them huge campaign donations. They are actively and deliberately denying us the fruits of our progress. For our own good of course.

    • Khannea Suntzu Panpiper June 29, 2012 on 2:34 pm

      Odd that the US government is so woefully incompetent. We here in NL have a fairly functional government and they stimulate growth and good investment often better than private enterprise does.

      • digitalcole Khannea Suntzu July 1, 2012 on 5:20 pm

        I wish they were incompetent. I think a willful disregard for the public good is far more apt.

    • digitalcole Panpiper July 1, 2012 on 5:17 pm

      Government is not alone in its malfeasance. Mega-Corporations with their legions of lobbyist buy influence and “help” write the laws that will eventually destroy our society.

      Whenever government is at work make sure to check behind the curtain to see who’s pulling the strings.

    • Arndell Panpiper July 2, 2012 on 3:09 am

      Your ability to see and accept all of the points in your comment is astounding! I agree with you 100% but could never have worded it so clearly and easily to understand *applause*

  • losthobbit June 29, 2012 on 3:20 pm

    Hi

    I see a lot of you responded to my post. Thanks for reading and replying. To Hudi… breathe and relax… I was just asking why my perception of the world differs from the stats mentioned.

    I guess not everyone experiences the wonderful stats mentioned in the stats on this post. For me, however, the experience has been different, and I just want to point out a contrasting view so that people can see that while some things are improving, they are not improving consistently for everyone, and not everyone sees the fact that owning mobile phones has become essential as a good thing. I think it’s always good to look at both sides of a coin. The author of this article is obviously trying to make a point, and therefore has not mentioned anything negative.

    For me, despite enjoying 10MB internet and microwave meals, what matters most is the following:
    – Having a home
    – Not going hungry
    – Safety
    – Having time to relax and enjoy life or do something that matters

    Here are stats and articles about things that affected me, personally:

    – (From http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Crime_in_South_Africa)
    …Around 50 people are murdered in South Africa each day. The murder rate has increased by an order of magnitude in South Africa during the last 40 years…

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/money/2011/jan/09/home-ownership-lowest-level
    …[UK] Home-ownership is down to 68% as more people turn to renting – leading to shortage of rental properties and soaring prices…

    – Number of murders and armed robberies that I heard of within about the ten closest houses to me between 1978 and 1995: zero

    – Number of murders and armed robberies that I heard of within about the ten closest houses to me between 1996 and 2006: three murders & two armed robberies

    http://dailymaverick.co.za/article/2012-04-19-sas-cost-of-living-hike-the-das-solution
    …[SA]…”the cost of living is going through the roof”…

    I just hope that when the singularity does come I’ll finally get a chance to relax, rather than having to compete with robots and those who own them.

    • arpad losthobbit June 30, 2012 on 7:58 pm

      The stats given in the article are valid but they also represent a species-wide scope. That leaves a lot of room for exceptions like South Africa.

      The obvious solution is to leave the place you feel unsafe for some place you feel safer. Sitting around waiting for the singularity doesn’t seem like a very affirmative step in the solution of your personal safety issues.

      • losthobbit arpad July 1, 2012 on 12:28 pm

        … which is why I left :) I am one of the lucky ones that are permitted into Europe. Most don’t have that luxury.

    • arpad losthobbit July 2, 2012 on 10:26 am

      To get to the bulk of your post, you’re not so much asking people to look at the other side of the coin so much as you’re implying that the good news and bad news ought to be viewed equally.

      But that’s a false equivalence and no more relevant to the species-wide experience then the situation in Somalia. The information’s incontestable and that’s that the human condition has never been better and shows every sign of getting better yet.

      One factor Diamandis places emphasis upon is the rapid rise in the percentage of the human race that has access, via the Internet, to the global marketplace of both things and ideas. That’s a change of profound importance and as excited as Diamandis is about that I believe he’s already underestimating the impact of the event.

      A solid case can be made for the “Arab Spring” being a result of the rapid advances in communication technology which place authoritarian governments in the position of being left behind economically if they don’t embrace the technology or empowering the forces of liberty if they do.

      Since authoritarians are the single most effective way to prevent economic and scientific progress creating a toxic atmosphere for them is a very good way to accelerate knowledge and wealth formation. Rapidly advancing computer/communication technology creates that toxic atmosphere and as authoritarians fall I believe those who attempt to follow them will meet with no more success.

      Enjoy your distopianism if that’s your preference but the facts are against you.

      • losthobbit arpad July 2, 2012 on 3:30 pm

        Hi Arpad

        Thank you for your insight. From your last comment, which is obviously sarcastic, I get the feeling that you don’t like me very much.

        I’d prefer it if you saw me as someone trying to understand why my experience of the world is different to Peter’s article. I don’t know if you read my first post, but that was my intention.

        I’m a big supporter of the scientific method and critical thinking, so instead of simply agreeing with everything, I’m always asking things like “why?”, “what if?”, and “can’t we do this more efficiently?”

        You have given me something to think about here, and I appreciate that, however when someone says something like, “The information’s incontestable” a big red flag suddenly jumps up in my head and says, “Hang on… why is it incontestable? Do we have any sources for these stats? Are the sources reliable? Do the stats refer to things that really matter?” And that doesn’t mean I’m disagreeing with you… I just want to know more and get a better understanding of the big picture.

        • arpad losthobbit July 3, 2012 on 8:48 pm

          You shouldn’t try to read too much into a comment. I wasn’t being sarcastic since I’ve noticed that some people do seem to enjoy seeing the future through a dark glass. Perhaps my error was in seeing you as one such if you’re not.

          The evidence, however, is unequivocal; by any measure the human condition’s better then it’s ever been. As I wrote above, that doesn’t preclude local exceptions to the rule based on local conditions and it appears South Africa is one of those exceptions.

          I’m also a big fan of the scientific method but it exacts a price not many people are willing to pay and that’s a necessary degree of humility.

          With some regularity the scientific method produces results which, despite our fondest preconceptions prove us wrong. If you’re averse to having your nose rubbed in your lack of perfection then you might sing hymns to science but you’re really just a poseur.

          As to the proof, I used to have some links pointing to U.N. data that showed the percentage of the world’s population going to bed hungry in the early 1950’s versus some time in the last few years and it was startling. I’m pulling this from memory so the numbers are an approximation but in the early ’50s it was something on the order of 75% of the world’s population went to bed hungry and in recent years it’s something like 15%.

          Now 15% of seven billion people is still a lot but it’s a vast improvement over 75% and the remaining percentage are hungry not because there’s no food but because stupid or brutal government policy prevents food from reaching hungry people. Amartya Sen got the Nobel Prize for Economics in 1998 for demonstrating the political component of hunger.

          As to the value of suspicion in the face of “incontestable facts”, I’m with you and I wish I could drag up the information but Google’s not being helpful so the best I can offer is to suggest you head over to http://www.gapminder.org and select Economy/Incomes and Growth/Food Supply from the “Y” axis. The information only goes back to 1960 but it’s still shocking to see how much the human condition’s improved in that time.

          Lastly, try to find a copy of “The Ultimate Resource” if you’d like to have some reasons for optimism.

          • losthobbit arpad July 10, 2012 on 1:11 pm

            Thanks for the stats. That’s a very useful chart on gapminder. I see that China has come a long way in terms of poverty since 1960. The rest of the world don’t seem to be improving very much. I can see how the massive population China would affect the world hunger stats. However, in my search for stats to see if your 75% was correct I found this (I have no idea if it’s a reliable source or not):

            “In my lectures, I often point out that hunger is being reduced in developing countries. It is. In 1970, 37 per cent were undernourished, in 1991 20 per cent and in 1996 18 per cent. However, according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization’s (FAO) annual hunger report, The State of Food Insecurity in the World 2003, this strong trend was reversed in the last half of the 1990s, a fact that is now being circulated in the media. The revised figures show that the number of hungry in developing countries was reduced by only 20 million people in the last ten years. However, since population has grown by almost 700 million, this means that the proportion of undernourished in developing countries is the lowest ever, about 17 per cent.”

  • losthobbit June 30, 2012 on 7:33 am

    Here\’s a TED video with lots more from the same person:

    http://www.ted.com/talks/peter_diamandis_abundance_is_our_future.html

  • losthobbit July 3, 2012 on 3:58 pm

    Sorry for posting again. I know I probably annoy people by questioning beliefs. Overall I’m optimistic. I think we’ll eventually become civilized, but first we’ll warm up the planet…

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2012/jul/02/peak-oil-we-we-wrong

    …and there’s always a chance that some kid in a basement with internet access will wipe us out with a deadly creation…

    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-2138805/Bird-flu-Science-journal-publishes-details-deadly-virus-cause-global-pandemic.html

    …Future technology will require maturity and responsibility to be used safely; something we cannot guarantee. We might not be able to survive all of our mistakes…

    http://www.radiationsurvivor.com/

    I just wish we would solve our problems sooner, rather than being the frog that gets boiled alive because we don’t realize that the temperature’s rising.

    What really matters, more than GDP and “economic growth” is how happy we are…

    http://www.news24.com/SouthAfrica/News/SA-one-of-10-unhappiest-countries-20120620

    But, as I said earlier, overall, I am optimistic.

  • fireofenergy July 22, 2012 on 8:44 am

    “We have access to more information than Clinton”. What a concept. Now we all must get together and figure out how to use that information, to collaborate on how to make MACHINES that make solar panels and batteries (for really cheap) before there really is a lot of bad news!

    • losthobbit fireofenergy July 22, 2012 on 11:36 am

      Exactly :)