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Ingenuity Gap
Alex Steffen, 22 Mar 04

Another book for the list -- Chris recommends Thomas Homer-Dixon's The Ingenuity Gap. Haven't read it yet, but sounds worth a look. Anyone got a review?

"Can we solve the problems of the future? Thomas Homer-Dixon tackles this question in a groundbreaking study of a world becoming too complex and too fast-paced to manage.

"The challenges we face converge, intertwine, and often remain largely beyond our understanding. Most of us suspect that the "experts" don't really know what's going on and that as a species we've released forces that are neither managed nor manageable. This is the ingenuity gap, the critical gap between our need for ideas to solve complex problems and our actual supply of those ideas."

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Comments

Well, the book looked sufficiently ingtriguing that I ordered a copy from Amazon... :-)

The interesting question is whether, like Malthus, he has some numerical criterion (which it sounds like he might) for the growth in complexity compared to the growth in our capacity to handle that complexity. I assume the latter can be assumed to be growing pretty fast too with our increasing information technology capabilities - after all, this seems an information technology problem, in some ways.

In fact, it seems to me that the fellow may be addressing the wrong end of the issue (though I haven't read the book yet!) - the problem is not so much those problems we can set down on paper, but the problems we don't even realize we have yet, or don't know how to formulate as problems...

One of which, I believe, is somehow related to our increasingly narrow focus as individuals, with far too few people having a "big picture"... though it sounds like this book is an attempt at that; I'll be interested to read it and see.


Posted by: Arthur Smith on 22 Mar 04

Read Ingenuity Gap when it first came out, largely because I was so impressed with Homer-Dixon's "Environment, Scarcity, and Violence" (ISBN 0-691-08979-5; http://pup.princeton.edu/titles/6640.html).

To me, the Ingenuity Gap & E,S&D are companions;, E,S&D points out the causal connections between rampant global environmental damage and resource scarcity with inter- and intra-national violence like no other book I've read. It's lessons were driven home to me by 9/11 (just *after* E,S&Ds publication), and the Iraq war.

An example: T H-D shows that one underlying reason for the seemingly never-ending Israeli/Arab/Palestinian conflict is competition for River Jordan water. In E,S&D, he very clearly documents the connections between growing income disparity due to globalized capital markets; the now universal awareness of these differences due to worldwide media; and increasing tensions between groups & individuals competing for resources. T H-D surveyed a vast array of literature worldwide in the course of writing E,S&D; the bibliography alone is worth the hardcover price.

The Ingenuity Gap elaborates on the themes of E,S&D, but to me it was a bit disappointing. Its theme, that humanity is in a race between our capacity to socially innovate and adapt, versus our reflex to wage war in competition for increasingly scarce resources, is compelling, but the point could have been made in far fewer pages. The message is a little thin, after the dense & thought-provoking lessons of E,S&D; and T H-D offers little in the way of positive action that could head off a new era of wars, putches & "racial cleansings".

In my experience, there's an incredible ferment of people and ideas that *are* moving in the right direction; WorldChanging is one (excellent!) example. And, it's superbly ironic that the Ingenuity Gap item follows immediately after the article on Bogota and Antanas Mockus in WorldChanging website - a prime example of how the 'net is helping fill that Gap, by linking energetic, idealistic individuals and communities worldwide.

Will it be enough? It's up to each one of us....


Ian Theaker


Posted by: Ian Theaker on 23 Mar 04

Wow. Looks like I'll have to get my hands on both of his books. Thanks for feedback.

Anyone else read 'em? Whattya think?


Posted by: Alex Steffen on 23 Mar 04

I read The Ingenuity Gap over last summer, but held onto to the book until I maxed out my renewals from the library.

I'm still pulling concepts and ideas from it nearly eight months later; I've found it extremely useful in forming a number of personal philosophies and ideas about the world and ways in which society can arrange itself in order to fill in the "gap".

For myself, as a fledgling engineer, Homer-Dixon's has been a formative piece of literature, that does an excellent job in connecting the dots between human ingenuity, invention, and the increasingly complex challenges facing humanity.

Yup, I guess I would recommend it! :)


Posted by: Chris Evans on 24 Mar 04



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