When the remaining 4 billion have access to superfast broadband... what will our world be like?


We are happy subscribers to Peter Diamandes' Abundance Insider - a breathless newsletter full of the most optimistic takes on the full range of radical technologies available and on the horizon (whether AI/automation, gene editing, new sustainable energy sources, financial and health tech).

Diamandes is co-founder of the X Prize (a competition for innovation, originally for space flight but now beyond that) and the Singularity University, which is based on Ray Kurzweil's view that tech chance will be "exponential", wildly building on and amplifying itself, than just a straight line rising up.

As far as we are concerned, communities and localities have to remain aware of these "radical innovators" - particularly as much of the tech they're concerned with has a tendency to become cheaper, more ubiquitous, coming into more and more hands. If they meet already confident, active citizens, rather than passive consumers, they might have a chance of being deployed for the better. 

One item in Diamandes' newsletter illustrates this point startlingly. As he puts it in this Singularity Hub post:

In the next 6 years, 4 billion “new minds” are about to be connected to the world wide web, at gigabit connection speeds, at near zero-cost.

By 2024, we are connecting every person on Earth to the web with bandwidths far beyond what Fortune 500 CEOs and heads of nations had daily access to just a couple of decades back.

This revolution will ignite a renaissance of innovation, and once again transform our planet.

What will these 4.2 billion new minds discover? What will they consume? What new companies will they build? What industries will they disrupt?

We’ve already seen unprecedented acceleration of network growth and connectivity. But as the other half of our planet plugs into the web, this acceleration will only accelerate.

So where are we going and how are we getting there? Networks are currently being deployed in 3 different areas:

  • 5G, ushering in a wireless world
  • Balloons connecting all 8 billion of us from the atmosphere
  • Space-based networks

The rest of the piece goes through the technicalities of this new level of bandwidth provision. But you may already be seeing the limitations in Diamandes' worldview, in that he sees it as mainly an opportunity for "consumption", "company formation", "industry disruption".

As some other posts this week might caution, whether from the climate change or the new democracy perspective, we may need to expand our view of what this planetary envelope of mega-connectivity might most urgently serve. (Maybe a return to Pierre Teilhard De Chardin's spiritual idea of the "noosphere", a "sphere of mind" covering the planet, would be valuable).

Vinay Gupta's presentation at FutureFest this year, on how blockchain might literally save the world, begins to hint at the urgency of the situation - where this mega-connectivity might help us begin to track the material and planetary impact of all our productive endeavours (see also this interview for Nesta).

Which, unfortunately for Diamandes, might well imply some interesting constraints on market activity as an unleashing of them (see Indra Adnan's Editorial this week, on the most recent work of Peter Joseph). Adam Greenfield's critical work on "radical technologies", as well as James Bridle's investigations into tech's political undersides, are also worth keeping to hand. 

Yet it's good to tarry in Diamandes' "abundance"-oriented world for a while each week - his enthusiasm for science and technology is infectious. Take a handful of his links over a few weeks--

-- and the old Arthur C. Clarke phrase, "every sufficiently advanced technology begins to look like magic" comes to mind. 

Although sometimes, Diamandes does stray into the First-World-Problems territory: see Google & Levi’s Connected Jacket Alerts You When Your Uber Arrives. Not much of a concern, we might suggest, for the next Four Billion. 

But he's very much worth the occasional trip into his accelerating zone of "radical innovation".