Cybersecurity Canon Candidate Book Review: “Abundance: The Future Is Better Than You Think

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We modeled the Cybersecurity Canon after the Baseball or Rock & Roll Hall-of-Fame, except for cybersecurity books. We have more than 25 books on the initial candidate list, but we are soliciting help from the cybersecurity community to increase the number to be much more than that. Please write a review and nominate your favorite. 

The Cybersecurity Canon is a real thing for our community. We have designed it so that you can directly participate in the process. Please do so!

 

Executive Summary

Abundance: The Future Is Better Than You Think is about this radical idea that exponential technologies will flip our common notion about scarcity. We live in a world where entrepreneurs make money by selling scarcity. Some resource or other is hard to get, so the entrepreneur finds a way to get it and sell it to the masses. Exponential technologies are “systems or tools where the power and/or speed, doubles each year, and/or the cost drops by half.” [1]

It turns out that exponential technologies are key to finding solutions to the world’s grand challenges: food, water, shelter, energy, communication, education, healthcare, and freedom. The authors have tracked the exponential technologies that drive these grand challenges through six phases that they call The Six Ds of Exponential Organizations: digitization, deception, disruption, demonetization, dematerialization, and democratization. They say that solutions for most of these grand challenges are tantalizingly just 15 to 20 years away. In less than a generation, instead of managing a set of scarce resources, the world will be flush with resources that are abundant.

That said, I am not recommending Abundance as a must-read for the cybersecurity professional today. The ideas that the authors discuss will not improve your current defensive posture. However, if the authors are correct, exponential technologies will significantly impact how we all deploy security technology in the very near future. If you are intrigued by the abundance concept, this is the book for you.

 

Review

Peter Diamandis and Ray Kurzwell founded Singularity University back in 2008. Their mission is to “educate, inspire, and empower leaders to apply exponential technologies to address humanity’s grand challenges.” [2]

Exponential Technologies Definition: Systems or tools where “the power and/or speed doubles each year, and/or the cost drops by half.” [1] 

At the university’s founding, Diamandis and Kurzwell appointed Salim Ismail to be the school’s executive director and global ambassador. [3] Their joint vision, their Massive Transformative Purpose (MTP), is to “Build an Abundant Future Together.” [1]

Diamandis published Abundance in 2012 in order to explain the abundance concept to the world. [4] Later, in 2014, Ismail published “Exponential Organizations” to explain how modern businesses could take advantage of these exponential technologies, and build leaner and more efficient companies in an abundant world. [5]

So, just what do these visionaries mean when they talk about abundance?

Abundance is this radical idea that exponential technologies, those that meet the definition above, will flip our common notion about scarcity. For example, we all think about oil as a scarce resource because it is hard to get oil out of the ground. Oil companies make money by selling that scarcity because consumers don’t have the means to do it themselves. But, in an abundant future, the cost of solar power and the exponential technologies that drive it might become so cheap that energy becomes essentially free for every person on the planet. Pause for a second and let that idea roll over you. Free energy for everybody on the planet. The mind boggles.

In that future, oil companies would find themselves in an abundant world where their demonstrated expertise to get oil out of the ground is no longer needed. If this happens, this would be a classic case of Diamandis’s The Six Ds: a predictable and observable transformational process that is occurring in many business sectors where exponential technologies are present:

  • Digitization: Once a technology becomes digitized, it is easy to access, share, and distribute. Solar went digital about 25 years ago. [6] [7] [8]
  • Deception: After digitization, growth is deceptively small until the numbers break the whole-number barrier. [9] If the speed of your exponential technology grows from .034 to .068, most will not notice. But, once it grows to 1.088, that is crossing the whole-number barrier. When it grows ten more times, that number becomes exponential: 38,788.92. That is exactly what has been happening to the solar energy sector and the exponential technologies that drive it for the past 25 years. [4]
  • Disruption: After the whole-number barrier is broken, the existing market is disrupted by the new market’s effectiveness and cost. [9] In the energy business, pundits call this the “utility death spiral” as many utility companies have banned together to lobby against the proliferation of solar. [10]
  • Demonetization: The technology increasingly becomes cheaper. [9] In 1998, residential solar power installation cost was $12 per watt. In 2015, homeowners paid under $4 per watt. [11] In 2017, one homeowner went from paying $250 a month for electricity to paying zero. [12]
  • Dematerialization: Physical products are moved. [9] As more people move to solar power, oil company refineries will start to vanish. The reliance of utility companies to distribute power start to disappear, replaced by the individual homeowner’s ability to generate and store their own power. [13]
  • Democratization. Once the other 5 Ds happen, the technology price is so cheap that anybody can have it. [9] Energy flips from being a scarce resource to an abundant one.

According to Diamandis, Kurzweil, and Ismail, this abundance idea of the future is not a science fiction fantasy either. It is happening right before our eyes. They say that the world will flip from scarcity to abundance in the next 20 years for certain of humanity’s “grand challenges”:

  • Food
  • Water
  • Shelter
  • Energy
  • Communication
  • Education
  • Healthcare
  • Freedom

Kurzweil came up with an interesting metric to track this exponential technology behavior in his book, The Singularity is Near: When Humans Transcend Biology. What are the number of calculations per second that technology can perform for $1,000? [14] In 1900, with Charles Babbage’s mechanical Analytical Engine, the number of calculations was extremely small – only 0.000005821. But, every five to ten years, that numbered doubled. By 1949, the number was 1.837, and we were off to the races. By 1977, the number was 26,870. By 1998, the last year in the study, the number was 133,300,000. [15] [16] That is demonstrated exponential growth.

Even though Diamandis does not include cybersecurity in his list of grand challenges, you can certainly start to see the effects of the Six Ds on the network defender community:

  • Digitization: More and more network defenders are putting their log data in the cloud, where third parties can gain access.
  • Deception: This is the phase we are in now, but not many have noticed yet.
  • Disruption: After the whole-number barrier is broken, the disruption will happen at the point product vendors.
  • Demonetization: Network defenders will realize they don’t need point products to perform a specific task in their networks. They will get those services from the cloud at a much cheaper rate.
  • Dematerialization: Point products start to disappear.
  • Democratization: Cloud security services delivered to very cheap enforcement points will make it possible for anybody to get open source security services essentially for free.

The authors are quick to point out that, just because exponential growth is happening in many interesting technological areas, this doesn’t guarantee that the world’s entrepreneurial and technological leadership will build solutions to take advantage of it. The Singularity University’s founders established the school just for that purpose. But, they also realized that more emphasis is needed. The Abundance authors suggest that another way to encourage investment in exponential technologies is to create incentive competitions. [4]. The prizes establish a competition with a specific goal in mind and offer a high-value prize as an incentive.


A Sample Set of Incentive Prizes

Prize: The Orteig Prize ($25,000) [4]

Problem: First nonstop aircraft flight between New York and Paris

Winner: Charles Lindberg in 1927

 

Prize: The XPRIZE ($10M) [17]

Problem: The first commercial, reusable 3-person spaceship

Winner: Richard Branson in 2004

 

Prize: The Google Lunar XPRIZE ($30M) [18]

Problem: Land on the moon; travel 500 meters; transmit high-definition videos back to earth

Winner: Nobody yet

 

Prize: The Wendy Schmidt Ocean Health XPRIZE ($2M) [19]

Problem: Create PH Sensor technology that will affordably, accurately, and efficiently measure ocean chemistry

Winner: Sunburst Sensors, ANB Sensors, and Team Durafet

 

Prize: The Qualcomm Tricorder XPRIZE($10M) [20]

Problem: Build a device that will accurately diagnose 13 health conditions and capture five real-time health vital signs independent of a healthcare worker or facility and in a way that provides a compelling consumer experience

Winner: Final Frontier Medical Devices and Dynamical Biomarkers Group

 

Conclusion

I admit that the naive and hopeful side of me really wants the ideas expressed in Abundance: The Future Is Better Than You Think to be true. The notion that many of the world’s “grand challenges” that I have been exposed to in my life could literally dematerialize because science found a solution to them does my science-fiction-fanboy side good. The cynic side of me, though, is grappling with the nagging notion that, if it sounds too good to be true, then maybe it is. I am slightly concerned that authors of Abundance might just be a highly exponential form of the huckster. Diamandis, Ismail, and Kurzweil have certainly built a cottage industry around these ideas. That said, the grand challenges they identified are certainly following their “Six Ds of Exponentials,” especially in energy. Most are tantalizingly just 15 to 20 years away.

All of that said, I am not recommending Abundance as a must-read for the Cybersecurity Canon Project today. The ideas that the authors discuss will not improve your current defensive posture. However, if the authors are correct, exponential technologies will significantly impact how we all deploy security technology in the very near future. If you are intrigued by the abundance concept, this is the book for you.

 

 

Sources

[1] “An Exponential Primer: Your guide to our essential concepts,” Singularity University, last visited August 13, 2018,

https://su.org/concepts/

[2] “Commonly Asked Questions: Some of the most common questions about what we do,” by Singularity University, last visited August 13, 2018,

https://su.org/about/faq/

[3] “Salim Ismail,” by Salim Ismail, last visited August 13, 2018,

http://www.salimismail.com/

[4] Abundance: The Future Is Better Than You Think, by Peter H. Diamandis and Steven Kotler, Free Press, February 21, 2012, last visited July 20, 2018,

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/13187824-abundance

[5] Exponential Organizations, by Salim Ismail, Mike Malone, Yuri van Geest, Peter H. Diamandis (Foreword), Diversion Books, 14 October 2014, last visited Aug. 13, 2018,

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/22616127-exponential-organizations?ac=1&from_search=true

[6] “There’s a Digital Revolution Underway in Solar: And it starts with the string inverter,” by Chris Warren, Greentech Media, June 29, 2016, last visited August 14, 2018,

https://www.greentechmedia.com/articles/read/the-digital-revolution-in-solar#gs.kHjLb_E

[7] “Here Comes The Sun: This Digital Technology Will Make Solar Power More Predictable,” by Bruce Watson, GE Reports, September 11, 2017, last visited August 14, 2018,

https://www.ge.com/reports/comes-sun-digital-technology-will-make-solar-power-predictable/

[8] “Making The Case For Solar To Go Digital,” by Contributors, Solar Industry Mag, May 30, 2017, last visited August 14, 2018,

https://solarindustrymag.com/making-case-solar-go-digital/

[9] “The 6 Ds of Tech Disruption: A Guide to the Digital Economy,” by Vanessa Bates Ramirez, Singularity Hub, November 22, 2016, last visited August 14, 2018,

https://singularityhub.com/2016/11/22/the-6-ds-of-tech-disruption-a-guide-to-the-digital-economy/#sm.0004irhsuffef1g10hp1eldfklb29

[10] “Fears of a ‘utility death spiral’ could be slowly killing solar power,” by Leanna Garfield, Business Insider, July 11, 2017, last visited August 18, 2018,

https://www.businessinsider.com/utility-companies-lobbying-campaigns-solar-2017-7.

[11] “The falling costs of US solar power, in 7 charts,” by David Roberts, Vox, August 24, 2016, last visited August 14, 2018,

https://www.vox.com/2016/8/24/12620920/us-solar-power-costs-falling

[12] “Rethinking The Utility Company As Solar Power Heats Up,” by William Brangham, PBS NewsHour, December 6, 2017, last visited August 18, 2018,
https://www.pbs.org/newshour/show/rethinking-the-utility-company-as-solar-power-heats-up.

[13] “Utilities Grapple with Rooftop Solar and the New Energy Landscape,” by Jacques Leslie, Yale Environment 360, August 31, 2017, last visited August 18, 2018,
https://e360.yale.edu/features/utilities-grapple-with-rooftop-solar-and-the-new-energy-landscape

[14] The Singularity is Near: When Humans Transcend Biology, by Ray Kurzweil, Penguin, 2005, last visited August 13, 2018,

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/83518.The_Singularity_is_Near?ac=1&from_search=true

[15] “Exponential Growth in Computing,” by Ray Kurzweil, The Singularity is Near, last visited August 13, 2018,

http://www.singularity.com/charts/page70.html

[16] “Cybersecurity Canon Review: Exponential Organizations,” reviewed by Rick Howard, August 8, 2018, last visited August 13, 2018,

https://researchcenter.paloaltonetworks.com/2018/08/cybersecurity-canon-review-exponential-organizations/

[17] “Solving Your Challenge With Incentive Competitions,” by Peter Diamandis, Forbes Online, 7 July 2014, Last Visited 18 August 2018,

https://www.forbes.com/sites/peterdiamandis/2014/07/07/solving-your-challenge-with-incentive-competitions/#364302b771d5

[18] “Google Lunar XPRIZE: Welcome to the New Space Race,” XPRIZE, last visited August 18, 2018,

https://lunar.xprize.org/

[19] “The Wendy Schmidt Ocean Health XPRIZE,” XPRIZE, last visited August 18, 2018,

https://oceanhealth.xprize.org/

[20] “Qualcomm Tricorder XPRIZE,” XPRIZE, last visited August 18, 2018,

https://tricorder.xprize.org/

 

References

“Abundance book review,” by Rakesh Soni, Medium, December 10, 2017, last visited July 20, 2018,

https://medium.com/@OyeSoni/abundance-the-future-is-better-than-you-think-d9dfb21d921a

“Healthy competition,” by Babbage, The Economist, April 10, 2011, last visited August 18, 2018,

https://www.economist.com/babbage/2011/04/10/healthy-competition

 

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