Peter Diamandis gives an inspiring, optimistic look at the future of humanity in this TED talk a few years back. According to Peter, with exponential technology and human innovation, solving the grand challenges of living on this planet can only yield an abundant future.
People think that the world is getting worse, but perhaps that’s not the case. Perhaps instead of the distortions brought to us, what’s really going on perhaps is the tremendous progress we made over the last century by a series of forces that are in fact accelerating to a point that we have the potential in the next three decades to create a world of abundance.
Now I’m not saying we don’t have our set of problems – climate crisis, species extinction, water energy shortage – we surely do, and as humans we are far better at seeing the problems way in advance but ultimately we knock them down.
So let’s look at what this last century has been to see where we’re going. Over the last 100 years the average human life span has more than doubled. Average per capita income, adjusted for inflation, around the world has tripled. Childhood mortality has come down a factor of 10. Add to that the costs of food, electricity, transportation, communication have dropped ten to a thousand-fold.
Steve Pinker showed us that we’re in fact living during the most peaceful prime ever in human history. And Charles Kenny, that global literacy has gone from twenty five percent to over eighty percent in the last hundred and thirty years.
We truly are living in an extraordinary time, and many people forget this. And we keep setting our expectations higher and higher. In fact, we redefine what poverty means. Think of this, in America today the majority of people under the poverty line still have electricity, water, toilets, refrigerators, television, mobile phones, air conditioning and cars. The wealthiest robber baron of the last century, the emperors on this planet, could never dream of such luxuries.
Underpinning much of this is technology. And, of late, exponentially growing technology. My good friend Ray Kurzweil showed that any tool that becomes an information technology jumps on this curb on Moore’s Law and experiences price/performance doubling every 12 to 24 months. That’s why the cellphone in your pocket is really a million times cheaper, two thousand times faster that a supercomputer in the seventies….
Four years ago here at TED, Ray Kurzweil and I started new university called Singularity University. And we teach our students all these technologies in particular how they can be used to solve humanity’s grand challenges. And every year we ask them to start a company or product or service that can affect positively lives of a billion people within a decade.
Think about that. The fact that literally a group of students can touch the lives of a billion people today. Thirty years ago that would have sounded ludicrous. Today we can point at dozens of companies that have done just that.
So when I think about creating abundance, it’s not about creating a life of luxury. It’s about creating a life of possibility. It is about taking that which was scarce and making it abundant. You see, scarcity is contextual. And technology is a resource, a liberating force….
We think about energy scarcity. Ladies and gentlemen, we are on a planet that is bathed with 5,000 times more energy then we use in a year. Sixteen terrawatts of energy hit the earth’s surface every 88 minutes. It’s not about being scarce, it’s about accessibility.
And there’s good news here. For the first time this year the cost of solar-generated electricity is 50 percent that of diesel-generated electricity in India: 8.8 rupees versus 17 rupees. The cost of solar dropped 50 percent last year. Last month MIT put out a study showing that at the end of this decade, in the sunny part of the United States, solar electricity will be six cents a kilowatt-hour compared to fifteen cents at the national average.
And if we have abundant energy we also have abundant water… We live ona water planet. We live on a planet 70% covered by water. Yes, 97.5 percent is saltwater, 2 percent is ice, and we fight over half a percent of the water on this planet.
But here too there is hope and there is technology coming online, not 10-20 years from now, right now. There’s nanotechnology coming on, nanomaterials. And the conversation I had with Dean came in this morning, one of the great DIY innovators. I’d liketo share with you he gave me permission to do so.
His technology called Slingshot that many of you may have heard of. It’s the size of a small dorm room refrigerator. It’s able to generate a thousand liters of clean drinking water a day out of any source: salt water, polluted water, latrine, at less than two cents a liter. The chairman of Coca-cola has just agreed to do a major test of hundreds of units of this in the developing world and if that pans out, which I have every confidence it will, Coca-cola will deploy this globally to 206 countries around the planet. This is the kind of innovation, empowered by this technology, that exists today.
We’ve seen this in cell phones. My goodness, we’re gonna hit 70 percent penetration of cell phones in the developing world by the end of 2013. Think about it, that a Masai warrior on a cellphone in the middle of Kenya has better mobile comm than President Reagan did twenty-five years ago. And if they’re on a smartphone on Google they have access to more knowledge and information than President Clinton did fifteen years ago.
They’re living in a world of information and communication abundance that no one could have ever predicted. Better than that, the things that you and I spend tens to the hundreds of thousand dollars for – GPS, HD video and still images, libraries of books and music, medical diagnostic technology – are now literally dematerializing and demonetizing into your cell phone.
But here here is the biggest force for bringing about a world of abundance. I call it the rising billion… We just passed the 7 billion mark on earth. And. by the way. the biggest protection against the population explosion is making the world educated and healthy.
In 2010 we are just short of two billion people online connected. By 2020 that’s going from two billion to 5 billion internet users. 3 billion new minds whom we’ve never heard from before are connecting to the global conversation. What will these people want? What will they consume? What will they desire? And rather than having economic shut down we’re about to have the biggest economic injection ever. These people represent tens of trillions of dollars injected into the global economy. And they will get healthier by using a tricorder, and will become better educated by using the Khan Academy, and, by literally being able to use 3dprinting and infinite computing, more productive than ever before.
What gives me tremendous confidence in the future is the fact that we are now more empowered as individuals to take on the grand challenges of this planet. We have the tools with this exponential technology. We have the passion of the DIY innovator. We have the capital of the techno philanthropist. And we have three billion new minds coming online to work with us, to solve the grand challenges, to do that which we must do. We are living in to extraordinary decades up ahead.