Cognitive Surplus and the Coming Human Renaissance

Currently, the vast majority of human beings on the planet are stuck trying to fulfill base survival needs for themselves and their loved ones.  Being stuck in the bottom level of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs renders them unable to contribute to society and the improvement of the human enterprise.  What happens, then, when improvements in technology make food, water, shelter and energy accessible to the billions without it? A human renaissance.


Cognitive Surplus


This is the premise of ‘Cognitive Surplus’ as coined by Clay Shirky in his book ‘Cognitive Surplus: How Technology Makes Consumers into Collaborators’.  While Shirky mainly focused on the increase of collaboration and creative output on the internet, the implications of his idea could be much bigger.

New Tech Breakthroughs Are Making Poverty Obsolete

Though most people still live in relative poverty with 80% living on less than $10 per day, humanity is on a trajectory of abundance. We are truly on the cusp of having the means to end hunger, homelessness, and energy scarcity.

The proliferation of hydroponic and aquaponic technologies are allowing food to be grown abundantly and with unmatched efficiency, even in places that don’t have arable land.  Advancements in vertical gardening and gardening automation are about to allow agriculture companies to grow exponentially more food per square foot. Thankfully, these advancements aren’t reserved for big corporations.  Open source, grass roots projects like Farmbot are poised to decentralize food production, bringing cheap, efficient, automated gardening to your backyard.

In 2016, a major milestone was crossed when solar energy officially became cheaper than oil.  Since then, its efficiency has continued to improve on a steepening exponential curve while prices drop.  Recently scientists discovered how to create artificial photosynthesis. The process will provide a cheap source of renewable energy while removing excess CO2 from the air.

The housing industry is also facing imminent disruption.  Take the New Story charity, for example. They’ve built one of the many 3D printers capable of printing houses in less than 24 hours.  The real kicker here is that these houses only cost $4,000! They are aiming to make housing affordable to those struggling in developing nations where such houses would represent a boon to people’s sense of safety, well-being, and self-esteem.

Brace Yourselves for the “Age of Abundance”

With countless innovations like the ones above sprouting across the globe, it’s clear we are headed towards an “Age of Abundance” where most human beings have the access to resources that allow for a comfortable life, education, and leisure time.  Pulling billions of human beings out of poverty means doubling, tripling or even quadrupling the amount of cognitive resources available to contribute to the advancement of the species and life on earth.


Cognitive Surplus


There is more benefit than just an altruistic good to uplifting the ‘bottom line’ of humanity.  More people having disposable resources will increase market demand for medical treatment, energy and technology. More demand results in more investment into those industries, which results in lower prices and greater variety.  In short, when people in the developing world gain the resources to access life necessities, it makes it easier for you to attain yours. The YouTube channel Kurzgesagt portrayed this beautifully here:

Developing Economies Will Employ Mostly Skilled Digital Workers

The future workforce of developing nations will not look like current workforces.  There are two main factors that will skew it in a different direction.

Labor automation will certainly play a key role in the economic growth of developing nations.  In fact, it may be the primary driving force. The house 3D Printer and the Farmbot are excellent examples of the advanced but accessible technologies that will stimulate growth of developing economies. As developing nations become developed, it will be founded upon the automation of food and energy production, transportation, and manufacturing.   This won’t leave many unskilled jobs to be filled.

Secondly, growing internet accessibility will serve as a great equalizer by opening the door for those in developing nations to participate in the internet economy alongside workers in developed nations.  This trend is already strong but will strengthen as global internet services emerge over the next 5 years.

The result will be that most of these workers will be tech workers, creative workers, scientists and entrepreneurs.  They will have the access to education and the leisure time to be creative, self-actualize, discover and invent, multiplying global innovation. Aside from hastening the much-discussed ‘technological singularity’, we will likely experience a sort of ‘cultural singularity’ that will render the world virtually unrecognizable.




The great human renaissance is at our doorstep.   We will wake up everyday to countless innovations and novel creations.  We will watch the boundaries between people, cultures and countries disintegrate.  We will create and inhabit a myriad of vibrant coexisting worlds overlayed onto the default reality.  We will have to expand our imaginations to fathom something ‘impossible’. What will you create?