Abundance: The Future Is Better Than You Think is exactly what anyone feeling pessimistic about the world should read. That’s because it’s hard to get down about the future when you read about stunning technological advances on the horizon that will soon change the planet for the better. Here, try it for yourself!
1) 3D Printing: Get ready to geek out because, yes, a rudimentary replicator exists. 3D printers can create everything from lampshades to prosthetic limbs out of steel, titanium, glass, and plastic among other materials. Inventor Behrokh Khoshnevis has even come up with a 3-D printer that uses concrete to build low-income housing for the third world. Granted, this isn’t as powerful or efficient as a Star Trek replicator, but when the technology improves enough to be mass produced and becomes cheap enough for most people to afford, it will be amazing. Picture it now: you’re shopping on Amazon and you see a TV you like. You then walk over to your 3D printer, hit a button, and thirty minutes later, you’re kicking back and watching House reruns. Granted, it won’t make a pork chop or materialize what you want out of thin air like a replicator, but it would represent an amazing leap forward.
2) Algae: Ethanol is the biofuel of choice in the United States and it should be considered an inefficient, over-priced failure that has driven up food costs and is being kept alive mainly because of politics. Algae, on the other hand, is an extraordinary biofuel on the horizon that’s so great that even Barack Obama’s endorsement won’t ruin it. That’s why Exxon, Shell, Boeing, Procter and Gamble, and Chevron are experimenting with algae. It can produce thirty times more energy than conventional biofuel and because it can be grown efficiently we could make enough of it to fuel all of America’s 250 million cars in an area about 17% the size of Nevada. Imagine being able to tell Saudi Arabia, Iran, Venezuela, Russia and the rest of the world’s spoiled oil brats that they can take a permanent hike because we’ve replaced them with pond scum.
3) Nearly cost-free medial diagnostics: One of the biggest societal problems we have in the Western world is the exploding cost of medical care and with our aging populations things seem likely to get worse before they get better. What kind of resources would be freed up if that trend could be dramatically reversed? Imagine being able to get X-rays for a dollar. How about a specially designed bra that does a mammogram? What about a cheap optical chip, smaller than a credit card, that can do a complete blood work-up and detect everything from AIDS to diabetes in 15 minutes? These technologies are all in the works and they would revolutionize medicine, not just by providing tools many people don’t have access to in the Third World, but by dramatically cutting costs and increasing efficiency in the First World. The less money we spend on medicine, the more money we have left for everything else!
4) Vertical farming: On a growing planet, there’s only so much room for crops. Worse yet, in some parts of the world, even if you have the land, there just isn’t enough water to make ’em grow. This is where vertical farming comes in. You have a minimal amount of land to grow food? No problem. You can go up instead of out. Don’t have a lot of water? No problem. You can use a nutrient-rich mist that cuts water usage 70% from traditional agriculture. Better yet, it can also reduce shipping costs by allowing food production to be localized, which is no small matter because in some cases up to 70% of transportation costs come from shipping. But how effective would it be? Well, one 30-story building with a one-block footprint would grow enough produce to feed 50,000 people. That may seem like a surprisingly large amount, but keep in mind that the buildings are impervious to weather so crops can grow year round. Furthermore, vertical farming doesn’t require any great technological leaps to implement. The U.S. military has already done it successfully. The future of farming is here and it’s cheap, tasty, and efficient!
5) Robots: Who wouldn’t want a robot like Rosie from The Jetsons or C-3PO? We’re not talking about a Roomba here; we’re talking about a robot capable of walking the dog, washing dishes, and taking care of you when you’re sick. In just five years we may have robots on the market that can actually do basic work around the house and even respond to facial expressions. In twenty years, we should have robots that are capable of having nuanced, intelligent conversations. This may seem to be beyond belief, but it’s possible because of the dramatic reduction in cost of three dimensional range fingers driven by Xbox Kinect and the vast yearly increases in computing power. How much more could you accomplish if you had a robot helper around the house who could do all of the housework, chores, repairs, cooking, and other mundane daily tasks you don’t want to do?
And check out John Hawkins’ article from last week comparing the optimistic vision of the future with a darker possibility: Abundance: The Future Is Better Than You Think VS X-Events: The Collapse of Everything