- It provides a much-needed does of optimism in the face of constant doom & gloom predictions about climate change, population explosion, terrorism, drought, food shortages, epidemics, nuclear proliferation, etc. It’s presented in a credible and evidence-supported way (exactly half the book is footnotes and references to other sources). And it gives a prescriptive path offering ideas for things we can do to positively affect outcomes.
- The first part of the book addresses the cognitive biases that explain why each successive generation tends to believe that calamity is imminent. Two biases in particular (anchoring and loss aversion) lead folks to blind spots that stem from fear and inability to think beyond the current reality frame. A great example of this was the widespread fear in mid-1800’s that the town was doomed to drown in horse manure. Given the situation it was a rational conclusion but they couldn’t have foreseen the advent of the automobile and the fact they’d soon be concerned over polluted skies rather than polluted streets.
- The mechanism for this unforeseen, quantum leap type progress is what Diamandis calls the “adjacent possibles” or “doors that immediately lead to more doors.” This was one of my favorite paragraphs explaining this concept:
“Twenty years ago, most well-off US citizens owned a camera, a video camera, a CD player, a stereo, a video game console, a cell phone, a watch, an alarm clock, a set of encyclopedias, a world atlas, a Thomas Guide and a whole bunch of other assets that easily add up to more than $10,000. All of which come standard on today’s smart phones, or are available for purchase at the app store for less than a cup of coffee. In this, our exponentially enabled world, that’s how quickly $10,000 worth of expenses can vanish. More importantly, these things can vanish without too much outside intervention. No one set out to zero the costs of two dozen products, inventors set out to make better cell phones, and the path of the adjacent possible did the rest.”
- The author gives his definitions of some fundamentals:
- what is abundance? everyone maximizing talents
- what is prosperity? saved time “true measure of something’s worth is the hours it takes to acquire it”
- what is culture? ability to store, exchange and improve ideas
- He then goes on to discuss the “Eight exponentials” which are the eight fields that they chose as curriculum for Singularity University: biotech, computational systems, networks & sensors, AI, robotics, digital manufacturing, medicine, nanomaterials. He posits these fields uniquely have the capacity to compound the effects of the others and yield impossible leaps.
- He maintains that the “abundance backbone” consists of four disciplines: literacy, basic math, life skills & critical thinking. These four fundamentals provide the essentials necessary for one to then use the internet to attain other knowledge to make advancements. It made me think of the analogy of a computer BiOS for being able to call a bootloader and load the rest of the OS. As long as you have these core skills you can fetch everything else later. So the challenge becomes to deliver these core skills to more people who currently lack them, along with the means to get the rest from the internet.
- He says that “creative ideas are the ultimate resource yet our current educational system does little to nourish this resource” and then quotes Sir Ken Robinson. I strongly recommend his TED talk on the subject of education. I’ve written at length on my ideas for how we could revamp education and agree that we need to fundamentally rethink the system from the ground up prioritizing creativity.
- Apparently the author co-founded Singularity University with Ray Kurzweil. I saw Kurzweil’s “Transcendent Man” film last year and highly recommend it.
- It’s core premise is that Artificial Intelligence + computing power + Moore’s Law means we’re approaching an inevitable shift where AI will soon blow past the human brain in performance capability. The author points out “whether the lightning fast search results of Google or the speech recognition of Siri like it or not we are already AI codependent today.”
- Having Jeff Hawkins’ book “On Intelligence” recently I found it interesting there’s no mention of the Numenta technology. To me that’s the most intriguing advancement for AI (essentially biomimicry of the human neocortex).
- He cites the the “lab on a chip” innovation as an exciting synthesis of sensors, AI, and network which dematerializes the HIV test: “What once required long doctor visits, a vial o flood, and days or weeks of anxious waiting now needs no visit, a single drop of blood, and a fifteen-minute read, all for under $1 using a microfluidic optical chip smaller than a credit card.” When combined with geo-awareness via GPS and machine learning it opens up the possibility to catch and contain epidemics at an earlier stage, which is especially relevant given the current frenzy around the Ebola scare.
- There are four major motivators driving innovation: curiosity, fear, desire for wealth creation, desire for significance. In addition to founding Singularity University the author is also creator of the X Prize which leverages all four of these motivators.
- He makes the case that incentive prizes do a couple useful things, namely: 1) raise visibility of big challenges and 2) pave the way by creating a public mindset that the challenge is in fact solvable. Also 3) in areas where market failures or entrenched incumbents have thwarted progress, prizes like the X Prize can serve to break up otherwise impassable bottlenecks.
- The irony of this is that a fellow company at the last incubator where we were a tenant, Paraslice, had solved the genome sequencing X Prize just before the prize was revoked and the contest canceled.
In all, I found this book hugely encouraging and thought provoking. We are deluged with such negative and substance-less information daily, it was so refreshing to get a glimpse of an optimistic (yet realistic) potential future. For more info see the author’s blog or .