Most human beings have a built-in tendency to focus on the negative, obsessing about all the things that are wrong with the world and how we're all on the fast track to hell in a hand basket. In this book, X PRIZE founder Peter Diamandis tackles that view head on with a compelling argument that humanity is actually in far better shape than the 24/7 news cycle would have you believe.
The core of his argument is that a number of forces have come together to create an opportunity for problem solving unprecedented in human history. Among those forces are the explosive growth of computing technology, the democratizing power of the Internet, and the rise of billionaire technophilanthropists with a genuine desire to save the world.
Diamandis and co-author Steven Kotler spend good portions of this book looking at the most serious problems facing the world today, including water, food, sanitation, health care, energy and repressive governments. In doing so, they offer tangible examples of new technologies that have or soon will have the potential to eliminate those problems.
Among the most interesting sections for me were those on how cheap mobile diagnostic tools and cloud based medical computers can bring health care to remote regions of the planet; how Generation IV nuclear reactors can power the earth for 1,000 years using existing nuclear waste with zero risk of the dangers of current plants; the discovery that kids in an Indian slum who spoke no English and had no computer experience could teach themselves biotechnology if given a computer; and that a guy in Colombia with a Facebook page succeeded in taking down FARC, a rebel organization that had been terrorizing his country with kidnappings and violence for 40 years.
Examples like these were the most valuable part of this book for me, provided in enough abundance to combat my own natural "yeah, but..." tendencies. The author's attempt to provide a structural framework through which to view these examples - a pyramid of possibility inspired by Maslow - was less successful; it was too abstract and less engaging than the inspiring, real world examples.
In addition, I couldn't help noting that just because many technologies do drop dramatically in price as they increase exponentially in power doesn't mean that the exponential growth he anticipates can solve many of our problems will actually occur. Despite that, I found this book to be authentically hopeful; it pushes back hard enough against the doomsayers that I finished it feeling like we have a much better chance at solving our big problems than I did before I started it.