In today’s world, I don’t think it is an oversimplification to say that everyone is either a Pangloss or a Kassandra. You just do not meet a whole lot of people who think that things are just going to kinda hum along much like the way they have been humming along for some time now. I am fairly sure that that is one of the reasons why things seem so particularly tense these days: it feels like there is a whole lot riding on which of these two ideas is correct.
If taking a critical viewpoint, there seems to be some commonalities these two outlooks share, in that the opponents of either would accuse each other of not having or ignoring the facts. But I think the accusation of being a Pangloss is a little worse, in that it feels like you are ignoring some seemingly catastrophic problems, the evidence of which are increasingly apparent right now. But there are a lot of people who seem to think everything is fine, and I was curious to know what evidence they thought I was ignoring.
Abundance tries to do exactly that. He examines contemporary world problems and tries to show how society, largely working through the tech industry, is not only working to resolve these problems, but is largely on the cusp of solving them. It envisions a future where everyone is fed, educated, and housed sufficiently.
The people at Singularity university are clearly optimists, but the question is whether, or perhaps to what extent, their optimism is Pollyannish. Certainly it seems that way, but the whole point of the book is to address that exact accusation. As a lay person in every field that matters, it is very hard to answer that question in any intelligible way. Some friends who work in certain fields have verified individual claims from this book, but overall it still feels like there is no way of knowing whether the pictures as a whole is accurate. As it is, there are massive problems in our future that this book does not even begin to address. It makes one suspect that the if we are going to think about overall global happiness, they should recognize that the system might be too complex to consider in its entirety.
It was rather hard to say whether this book was effective or not. I think where I fall on the Pangloss-Kassandra spectrum really depends on the mood I am in on the day you ask me, though I lean a little towards the Panglossian side.. Sometimes I find myself feeling pretty optimistic that some of our current problems can be solved, and at other times having a lot of doubts. But there are other virtues to this book, one of them being an understanding of how industry looks at the problems of our world, and how maybe we are looking at some of these problems the wrong way.