I love the optimism. So many visions of the future are bleak and apocalyptic, whether from Al Gore or from Hollywood. Reese prefers to look at the reality of where we have come as a planet over the last few centuries, especially since the advent of the internet. Reese's strongest argument is for the end of ignorance. He envisions "a world where everyone everywhere will be able to go through life making wise decisions based on near-perfect information. . . . The internet will become a repository and a set of applications for storing the sum total of all life experiences of all people on Earth. It will be the collective memory and experience of the planet."
The "digital echo" we leave on this next level of internet interaction will be used to improve public health. With people linked in, our diet, level of exercise, travel, environment, and more will be recorded and analyzed so that medical researchers will be able to access huge amounts of data all at once, targeting and addressing the causes of disease to a greater degree than ever. Similarly, nanotechnology and inexpensive computer monitoring and robotic tools will lead to agriculture that can be more efficient and produce better quality food precisely targeted to market demand.
It will be easy for readers to scoff at Reese for his optimism. Sure, it's hard to imagine that food will be virtually free in the future, and that disease and poverty will be historical artifacts. But Reese has history on his side. He reminds us that as recently as a century or two ago, even kings did not live as well as poor people in the U.S. Air conditioning, fresh food from around the world, the ability to speak to someone thousands of miles away, and on and on. With the acceleration of technology, we cannot even imagine what life will be like in a decade or two, much less 100 or 200 years.
Infinite Progress is chock full of great ideas, both Reese's ideas as well as his compilation of the great ideas which have transformed the way we live. His premise can be summarized as this: Look at what our forebears have done without the internet, and imagine what will happen as the rate of technological advancement increases and the internet continues to become more expansive and inclusive of life. If Norman Bourlag can save billions of lives with his Green Revolution, using only manual planting and trash bags, what can modern agricultural researchers do? If even the poorest in the developed world have plenty to eat now, what might we accomplish with the application of more efficient production and distribution of food made possible by computerization and robotics? If vaccinations for rabies and yellow fever and polio can virtually eliminate those diseases with what now looks like primitive medical practices, what can modern medicine do with new technology and data from everyone's digital echo?
I, for one, can't wait to see the world Reese envisions. It may not happen in my lifetime, but the trends he is talking about seem to be decades away, at most, not in some distant time. Be encouraged, embrace the future.