Fundamental Needs

Fundamental needs are universal constraints. My bet is:

  • If a technology addresses a fundamental need, universal adoption is guaranteed. The only questions are “how fast” and “who will build it”.
  • Any tech that addresses a fundamental need will be a driving force of societal change in the long term.

Amara’s Law: We tend to overestimate the effect of a technology in the short run and underestimate the effect in the long run.

My goal is to focus on spaces where a technological driving force intersects with a fundamental need. scenario planning is a good way to find these intersections.

The List

  • Food
  • Water
  • Shelter
  • Family
  • Safety
  • Health (and Medicine)
  • Learning (and teaching)
  • Creating (vs “work”)
  • Communication
  • Freedom
  • Energy
  • Transportation
  • Resources and waste
  • Money/trading (shifts our incentives toward cooperation)
  • Meaning

Past Examples

The invention of agriculture about 20,000 years ago was an early fundamental technological advance. Pastoralism and sedentary agriculture lead to dramatic increases in population density.

Writing (3200 BC) provided humanity with external memory and allowed us to begin the exponential accrual of ideas that brought us to now.

Dramatic advances happened between 1860—1920 with vaccines, antibiotics, electric grids, widely deployed indoor plumbing, the flush toilet, steam and water turbines, internal combustion engines, the Haber process, synthetic fertilizer, the Ford production system, steel, aluminum, electronics.

More recently, during the late 20th and early 21st century The Green Revolution, The Pill, the Toyota production system, computing, the internet and mobile phones are actively reshaping society.

Emerging fundemental technologies that are likely to have profound impact within our lifetime: solar energy, gene editing, artificial intelligence. Automation is also likely to be a driving factor.

More fun:

Ontological Needs

Manfred Max-Neef developed a list of ontological human needs. His put is that these needs are few and satisfiable (vs economic wants, which have no upper bound).

They are: subsistence, protection, affection, understanding, participation, leisure, creation, identity, freedom.

Max-Neef classifies ways of meeting needs, too. (From Wikipedia):

  • Violators: claim to be satisfying needs, yet in fact make it more difficult to satisfy a need. E.g. drinking a soda advertised to quench your thirst, but the ingredients (such as caffeine or sodium salts) cause you to urinate more, leaving you less hydrated on net.
  • Pseudo Satisfiers: claim to be satisfying a need, yet in fact have little to no effect on really meeting such a need. For example, status symbols may help identify one’s self initially, but there is always the potential to get absorbed in them and forget who you are without them.
  • Inhibiting Satisfiers: those that over-satisfy a given need, which in turn seriously inhibits the possibility of satisfaction of other needs. Mostly originating in deep-rooted customs, habits and rituals. For example, an overprotective family stifles identity, freedom, understanding, and affection.
  • Singular Satisfiers: satisfy one particular need only. These are neutral in regard to the satisfaction of other needs. They are usually institutionalized by voluntary, private sector, or government programs. For example, food/housing volunteer programs aid in satisfying subsistence for less fortunate people.
  • Synergistic Satisfiers: satisfy a given need, while simultaneously contributing to the satisfaction of other needs. These are anti-authoritarian and represent a reversal of predominant values of competition and greed. For example, breast feeding gives a child subsistence, and aids in the development in protection, affection, and identity.
  • Updated
    Oct 16, 2016

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