Idealists speak of a future of radical abundance, but the truth is it’s already arrived.
We could currently feed, clothe, educate and provide health care for every human being on the planet, but we’re nowhere near that reality, despite the gains we’ve made in combating deeply entrenched poverty. Politics, incompetence, greed and other impediments gum up the machine.
Would the dawn of an even more radical abundance powered by “exponential technologies” bring about a better planet? Policy would still matter, I’m afraid. We can still screw this thing up.
Singularity University is a bastion of techno-optimists who believe we’re currently transitioning from a world of “haves and have nots” to one of “haves and super-haves.” Maybe, but people who make such comments are usually the ones who see themselves living in the “super-haves” category and may be blinded by irrational exuberance.
An excerpt about a future of plenty from Peter High’s Forbes Q&A with Singularity CEO Rob Nail, and one about the brute reality of our contemporary politics from a Vanity Fair “Hive” interview Abigail Tracy conducted with former HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius.
From Nail’s comments on the present-day politics and tomorrow’s possibilities:
Just to give a quick narrative of where we are right now, we just had an interesting period with our election cycle here. We have seen Brexit. We just saw Italy go the way of Populism and sort of changing. I have a strong thesis that this is naturally expected to happen in a time that is rife with so much change. Most people have no idea about what is happening with technology, they just feel it changing every part of their lives. All we read in the front page of the paper is that Amazon Go is going to displace all cashier jobs. We are constantly bombarded with this horrific, negative news about the future. It keeps us in a constant state of anxiety and fear. When you are living in fear, you look for something to hold on to, something stable – and typically that looks like the past. So, I would suggest that Brexit, and Trump, and the Prime Minister stepping down in Italy; these are just examples of people not having a clear vision of a long-term future. They are just operating out of fear, and they are clinging to something that feels normal from the past because they are operating without anyone trying to articulate a long-term vision that we can agree upon, or even a vision that sounds positive, or any relative path towards it.
I believe that the mission of Singularity University is first and foremost to build an awareness of what is happening and what is available, but also to create a new narrative and a new lens for people to look at these technologies and breakthroughs with a long term, optimistic viewpoint. That view point is that exponential technologies are providing us with these capabilities that we never could have even imagined before, and they are going to allow us to solve problems that we never even remotely could have touched before. That can translate into us creating a world of abundance, as we like to call it.
If you look through Moore’s Law continuing for some time, through the works of Google Loon and Facebook drones and One Web satellite, everybody on the planet is going to be connected within the next five to 10 years. That means they will have access to the greatest education that ever existed. They can get a free degree from MIT today, imagine what five years from now is going to offer. The XPRIZE has this amazing global literacy prize that is a $50 million-dollar prize to build an app that will take someone from complete illiteracy to reading and writing proficiency with 18 months. They are pretty sure somebody will win this within the next two years. With access to IBM Watson, you get the best health care capabilities. Energy is getting cheaper on a 30-year timeline. It will mean that food and water can be cheap. Taken together, on a 30-year timeline, there is a real path towards us having an upper class, Western U.S.-based lifestyle as a baseline for everybody on the planet, all through exponential technologies.
Peter [Diamandis] has a saying that we are going to move from a world of “haves and have nots” to a world of “haves and super-haves.” I think it is fundamentally possible, but it does not feel possible living in the time that we have because we have few visionaries, few people even able to discuss a vision of the future that sounds anything like this.•
From Sebelius’ remarks about the potential repeal of Obamacare:
On the Medicaid side, there is a lot in the Affordable Care Act that lowered the cost for the 52 million, 53 million seniors who are in the Medicare program. So their premiums have been held at a very low rate compared to past increases based on government reductions in payment to insurance companies and payment to providers. They have had additional benefits if they were high drug users because of the government support of getting rid of the gap in coverage for prescription drugs for seniors. And the Medicare trust fund actually has been extended for eleven years based on the government regulation of Medicare prices. All of that would go away, leaving the Medicare program in very dire financial straits and really requiring a lot of seniors to begin to pay more in both their premiums and their copays as costs go up. …
More than the debate that goes on in Congress, I fear that this is going to impact lots and lots of real people. The coal miners in West Virginia who will lose their black lung benefits because that is a part of the Affordable Care Act. The very steelworkers who may not have jobs any longer in Ohio and Pennsylvania, but are buying their health insurance now through a marketplace and qualify for various financial benefits, which they are likely to lose. The people who stop me every day, who talk about their mother who now has treatment for diabetes, or their child with a pre-existing condition, who now can rely on the fact that she will be covered—these are real people who are going to lose benefits, lose financial security, and they live in every city and town across this country.•