The Man in the Arena
A critical view on the powerful trends driving change in the world today.
A Pale Blue Dot
In the past 100 years, we have achieved previously unimaginable milestones as a species. As Peter Diamandis observed, the cost of food, communication, electricity, transport has decreased 10 to 1000 times. The average human lifespan more than doubled, the average income per capita, adjusted for inflation, tripled. Contrary to what news networks want you to believe, we are now living in the most peaceful times in our history.
Progress today is not linear. Moore’s Law, named after Gordon Moore, is the most popular example of exponential growth. Moore observed, in 1965, that the number of transistors on a circuit board, or the speed as counted in operations per second, doubles every 12 to 18 months for the same dollar amount. From a cost perspective, a $100 processor in a year should be twice as powerful as a $100 processor today.
Ray Kurzweil takes this trend a step further. He argues that Moore’s Law can be generalized. Not only is the performance of computer processors described by exponential growth, but any information technology. His examples include DNA Sequencing, Internet Speed and Adoption Rates, or the Size of Computers and Integrated Circuits. In one of his books, he describes the Singularity: a point in time where human life as we know it would be impossible without the use of computers, where our species is fully dependent on intelligent computers to exist and function. He predicted, based on these growth trends, that this point will be reached within our lifetimes, in 2045.
Peter Thiel is one of the most influential critics of this tech-optimistic view. He argues Moore’s Law will come to a stop around 2020 due to manufacturing costs: shrinking the size of transistors will soon cease to be economically feasible. In his book, Zero to One, he argues that we are too focused on our phone screens to realize that besides advancements in IT, not much has changed since the 1960s. We travel at the same speed, powered by internal combustion, and live in homes with appliances not much different from those of the last century. In his words: We wanted flying cars, instead we got 140 characters. Future IT advancements are undeniable, yet they will not replace the human element, but enhance it.
Leverage Your Moonshot
Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has. A quote attributed to Margaret Mead, is now more relevant than ever. The debate between the tech-optimists and tech-pessimists is quite entertaining, but an undeniable point both parties will agree on is that this is the best time in our history to shape the world. Let me explain.
In 2016, 46% of the world population has access to Internet. By 2020 we expect more than a billion people to join this global conversation — for many, the only source of education, medical information, and job opportunities. This is huge. We are one click away from billions of people. This was unthinkable only decades ago. No matter who you are or where you live, I believe you can truly change the world because of this.
Leveraging exponential technologies empowers people of all backgrounds to impact their community and world. From a college kid in a dorm room to a farmer in some remote region of the world, we should all have access to the same information and resources to learn and create. A century ago, it was the case that you had to be a king or a head of state to even dream of reaching so many people. Today, the world is different. Students in dorm rooms can build great things, and so can you.
Be the Man in the Arena
The title of this article is inspired by Theodore Roosevelt in his speech at the Sorbonne in 1910. I left it for you to enjoy or critique at the end of this piece. Remember, it takes little courage to watch from the side, and a great deal to enter the arena and fight for something. It seems to me that the risk of not trying is greater than the risk of failing.
There are a great amount of people, including the undersigned, who seek to push this message that you should not stop at reading about technology, but aim to leverage it. Ideally, for a big goal. Don’t listen to us. It is up to you to decide if the best place for you is in the arena. I just want you to know that no matter what your goal is, right now, you have the best odds– in history I may add– to turn it true.
Excerpt from the speech “Citizenship In A Republic” delivered at the Sorbonne, in Paris, France on 23 April, 1910:
It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.