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How Technology Will Change Our Entire Concept of Value

July 19, 2013, 4:00 PM

Well so if technology were to get rid of scarcity different things become valuable.  To use an example, my book Abundance is wrapped in aluminum and it’s wrapped in aluminum because I open the story of the book with the story of aluminum and it turned out in the 1840s there was this tale of the king of Siam coming to dinner at Napoleon’s palace and during this state dinner all of the troops that were working the dinner were fed with silver utensils and Napoleon and his court were fed with gold utensils, but the king of Siam, the visiting dignitary was fed with aluminum utensils because aluminum back then was the most rare of metals.  You don’t find pure aluminum occurring in the earth.  It’s all bound by oxygen and silicates and it’s called bauxite and it’s so difficult to extract the aluminum out of bauxite that it took a huge amount of effort and energy and it was extraordinarily rare.

So that’s why back in the 1840s aluminum was worth more than gold or platinum and then a technology electrolysis came along invented by both an American and a Frenchman around the same time that allowed you to use electricity to extract the aluminum and now aluminum is so cheap we literally think of it with throwaway mentality, right, aluminum cans, aluminum foil.  You don’t care about it.  And so technology has a scarcity liberating capability.  It takes that which is scarce and can make it abundant.  There are a multitude of examples.  One example I love using is that energy on earth we use 16 terawatts as a species and people think about energy scarcity.  Well there is plenty of energy.  In fact on the earth’s surface we have 6,000 times more solar energy that hits us in a year than we consume.  It’s just not available for us to be able to utilize it.  The 16 terawatts that the human race uses falls on earth in 88 minutes.

Now if we have more efficient solar and more solar we’ll be able to actually convert that to electricity and really give us energy abundance.  So that’s just one example.  The same holds true with water and metals and minerals and many of these things.  So yes, if we go from an economy that is scarcity based to one that’s abundance based we’re going to have to change our mindset somewhat.  It may be that ideas become more important than material things.  It may become that art becomes more important or the adventure of finding new information.  You know if you think about what Gene Rodenberry created in the Star Trek universe when you had literally the ability to synthesize anything you wanted in the replicator material things had little value at the end and I think we are heading in that direction.

In Their Own Words is recorded in Big Think's studio.

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