Is a world without war, poverty, hunger, disease and ignorance remotely possible?

My good friend Dale Swinburn, who farms up around Tulia, Texas, sent me a book a few weeks back, Infinite Progress, by Byron Reese. It’s subtitled, How the Internet and Technology Will End Ignorance, Disease, Poverty, Hunger and War.

That’s a big order, considering the vast amounts of ignorance, disease, poverty, and hunger in the world, to say nothing of civilization’s propensity to wage war to gain territory, settle scores or to impose a particular philosophy, religion or political belief on a population that believes otherwise.

The argument Reese posits, and it is not without merit, I think, is that the Internet and technology will open new avenues of information to people across the globe, and with this new enlightenment, people will become more educated, more aware of what goes on in the bigger world, and more able to find solutions to life’s infinite array of problems.

He contends that technology will create wealth and that even the poorest will be better off in the future than they are today. He says agricultural technology, including genetically engineered foods (and other products), will produce more than enough to feed the world’s growing population and that hunger will disappear. Food will be free, an inalienable right, he says. Robotics will take over menial, brain-numbing jobs, leaving people free to pursue higher endeavors—art, literature, music. The cost of living will be small.

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Technology will create energy sources that are, if not free, at least cheap. Building materials will be equally inexpensive, and (smart) homes will include materials that maintain ideal inside temperatures and are programmed to adjust to the homeowner’s personal preferences.  (Good luck with that one. My wife and I can’t agree on whether the heat should be on or the overhead fan whirling at full velocity.)

He offers arguments that, if not compelling, are at least plausible—given a grain or two of salt.

AUTOMATED AGRICULTURE

His contention that farmers will be replaced by technology disturbs me a bit. I’m not certain I’m ready to depend on total automation to deliver a tasty sweet potato to my local grocery—which also will be replaced by some elaborate delivery system. I’m not certain I want to spend my Saturday evenings grilling synthetic beef over a simulated grill that remembers the exact temperature my wife and I prefer for a good sirloin. (We differ on that, too.)

It’s an interesting book, and I appreciate Dale sending it to me. We talk a lot about books when we get together, so I look forward to delving into this one next time I see him. I suspect we’ll have some similar reservations.

Several things that Reese suggests give me reason to pause. I don’t think he gives as much credence to humanity’s predisposition to greed and a passion to control others as I do. Until those characteristics are somehow bred out of us, I can’t imagine a world without war, poverty and hunger. Reese argues that by creating a more efficient world—a better housed, well-fed and healthy society—the act of war will not make sense. It will not be good business.

For most of us, it’s not good business now, and is never started by the ones who are sent to fight it.

If a fraction of the benefits Reese expects to see from the Internet and technology are realized, the world will be a better place. I can envision a more efficient, more productive agriculture industry, better capability to manage disease, and more efficient energy.  I don’t expect the Utopia Reese imagines, however.

Perhaps I’m too cynical, and though I would welcome a world without war, a world where no one was hungry, sick or homeless, I despair of the challenge of getting us there. It will indeed require Infinite Progress.

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