Digital Minefield

Why The Machines Are Winning

Prosperity Is Right Around The Corner*

As I was researching for the blog, I stumbled upon this: the Number One Best Seller at Amazon is Abundance: The Future Is Better Than You Think by Peter H. Diamandis and Steven Kotler. The future is also faster than you think: the book’s publication date (February 21, 2012) is tomorrow! One reason it’s already a best seller is it’s being pushed by Ray Kurzweil.

I’ve been aware of this book since I received (the standard) Kurzweil email about it way back on January 29. Here’s what Ray says at Amazon: “This brilliant must-read book provides the key to the coming era of abundance replacing eons of scarcity, a powerful antidote to today’s malaise and pessimism.”

It’s clever to promote optimism when things look so dim for so many. And people like Ray Kurzweil are world-class optimists. And promoters. And technologists of the first-order. But their vision of the future has little connection to reality.

The future is not so simple as the potential of technology appears to be. The fruits of technology do not freely distribute themselves. There are many factors and not all are aligned to achieve the best for humankind.

The mistake made by the authors of the this book, and techo-optimists like Ray Kurzweil, is not a new one. Not so long ago another well-respected futurist named R. Buckminster Fuller (like Ray, also featured on the cover of Time magazine) made the same mistake.

Bucky Fuller believed that the inevitable ephemeralization of technology would solve all the world’s problems: Doing more with less. It didn’t. Nothing on this planet, not even the inexpensive and world-reshaping Internet, gets everywhere it’s needed without stumbling over the dilemma of distribution.

The problem is how to deliver the benefits of technology. Distribution is subject to many forces, each with its own agenda. The one thing distribution cannot escape is the irrational uses of power—driven by not always rational people. If you have any doubts as to the truth of this, look at the inexplicable irrationality of history.

It’s one thing to be optimistic about technology, but quite another to be so unrealistic as to believe that technology is all we need.

* President Herbert Hoover. 1932.


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