We are living in a wonderful time.  Our information is growing at a tremendous pace, driving human capabilities and knowledge.  Each day, the human race develops and improves to a new level that before has never been realized.  There are so many reasons to be optimistic about our future.  And I’ve recently become a fan of a champion who explains these reasons very well.

In his TED Talk, Peter Diamandis explains that despite the human tendency to filter & focus on the bad news around us, the news that paints a very bleak view of the world, that the optimistic view is not just seen through rose colored glasses.  Throughout history, humanity has always been able to address our major problems, and therefore is likely to solve them in the future.

The way I see it, this is Occam’s Razor.  We are faced with two competing hypotheses:

  1. Humanity will perish as we overpopulate the planet and outstrip our resources, or
  2. Humanity will innovate in some way to surpass a threat of overpopulation and dwindling resources.

I embrace the optimistic view simply because it is very simple, and therefore, I think, more likely.  The past is the best predictor of our future.  In other words, we have always innovated in the past as a way to transcend our limits. There is no reason to believe that we’re going stop.  My argument is that the best predictor of future behavior, is past behavior.

The pessimistic view, however, is predicting something that has never happened before and is dependent upon the assumption that our resources are limited, and that our current understanding of those limits is correct.  To understand and predict something that has never happened in the past, many variables need to be addressed, making the explanation extremely complicated.  It’s more likely that we are filtering as we focus on these variables.

The news tends to present bad news.  Why?  Because it attracts attention.  And attention translates into money.  Who’s going to buy advertisements from a network during an hour of news that few people wants to watch?  We all know this is why PBS funds itself the way it does.  People are biased to pay more attention to bad news.  Diamandis explains that the Amygdala is our danger detector, and that this is why we are wired to behave this way.  Personally, I don’t think this particular fact is compelling or necessary.

Simply observe human behavior.

In his presentation, Diamandis weaves a brilliant story of how we are creating our bright future.  In response to:

  • Death & disease, we have doubled the average human life span during the past 100 years, and decreased childhood mortality by 1/10th.
  • Poverty, we tripled the average income per capita, and changed the quality of life so that 99% of poor people have electricity, water, toilet, & a refrigerator.
  • Hunger, decreased the cost of food to 1/10th of what it was.
  • Energy needs, we decreased the cost of electricity to 1/20th of what it was.
  • Need to travel distance, cost of transportation has decreased by 1/100th.
  • Need to communicate, costs have dropped by 1/1000th.
  • War, we have created peace – We are living in the most peaceful time in human history (Steve Pinker’s TED Talk).
  • Ignorance, global literacy has gone from 25% to over 80% in last 130 years (Charles Kenny).

We pay attention to bad news; And we innovate.  We are problem solvers.  This is our nature.  Human’s create new things and new ways of doing things; And then we make it work.  We have done it in the past.  We are doing it right now.  We will continue to do it in the future.

Diamandis summarizes a phenomenon that Ray Kurzweill and others have observed (see Kurzweill’s TED Talk).  We advance our technology exponentially.  Among technologies riding Moores Law:

  • Infinite computing
  • Sensor & networks
  • Robotics
  • 3d printing
  • Synthetic biology
  • Digital medicine
  • Nanomaterials
  • Artificial intelligence (e.g. Watson winning Jeapordy)

In my opinion, instead of Zero Sum, we should look at the world from the view of Abundance.  If you have 10k employees and are growing, DON’T decrease your costs by eliminating them and replacing them with lower cost people in other countries.  Instead, pay them more to innovate.  Tap into more markets and market share, and let the company grow.  It will Transform your company into something you could not have foreseen.

Be ready to embrace the “Rising Billion.”

  • There are 7 billion people on earth now.
  • 6% of world’s population were internet users in 2000.
  • 23% of world pop were internet users in 2010.
  • 66% (3 billion new minds) will be internet users in 2020.

We have no idea what these people will bring to the table when they connect to the network.  Their contributions will be phenomenal.  More ideas will lead to more innovation.  The quality of the average human life on Earth will go up.

This is great news for business.  With so much market being created every day, the opportunities are well beyond what we might imagine them to be if we’re paying attention to seemingly bad news (i.e. if we are filtering).

Always an optimist, now I have another hero whose given me even more reasons for knowing that things are getting better and better for humanity.

Additional References

  • TEDxRainier – Joe Justice – WikiSpeed  – Joe Justice applies current software development principles to manufacture, achieving extraordinary results in designing a high efficiency and high performance automobile. (added here, May 23, 2012)