The Ingenuity Gap
Can We Solve the Problems of the Future?
“Human beings have been smart enough to turn nature to their ends, generate vast wealth for themselves, and double their average life span. But are they smart enough to solve the problems of the 21st century?” -- Thomas Homer-Dixon
Can we create ideas fast enough to solve the very problems -- environmental, social, and technological -- we’ve created? Homer-Dixon pinpoints the “ingenuity gap” as the critical problem we face today, and tackles it in a riveting, groundbreaking examination of a world that is rapidly exceeding our intellectual grasp.
In The Ingenuity Gap, Thomas Homer-Dixon, "global guru" (the Toronto Star), "genuine academic celebrity" (Saturday Night) and "one of Canada's most talked about and controversial scholars" (Maclean's) asks: is our world becoming too complex, too fast-paced to manage? The challenges facing us -- ranging from international financial crises and global climate change to pandemics of tuberculosis and AIDS- converge, intertwine, and remain largely beyond our ken. Most of suspect the "experts don't really know what's going on; that as a species we've released forces that are neither managed nor manageable. We are fast approaching a time when we may no longer be able to control a world that increasingly exceeds our grasp. This is "the ingenuity gap" -- the term coined by Thomas Homer-Dixon, political scientist and advisor to the White House -- the critical gap between our need for practical, innovative ideas to solve complex problems and our actual supply of those ideas.
Through gripping narrative stories and incidents that exemplify his arguments, he takes us on a world tour that begins with a heartstopping description of the tragic crash of United Airlines Flight 232 from Denver to Chicago and includes Las Vegas in its desert, a wilderness beach in British Columbia, and his solitary search for a little girl in Patna, India. He shows how, in our complex world, while poor countries are particularly vulnerable to ingenuity gaps, our own rich countries are not immune, and we are caught dangerously between a soaring requirement for ingenuity and an increasingly uncertain supply. When the gap widens, political disintegration and violent upheaval can result, reaching into our own economies and daily lives in subtle ways. In compelling, lucid, prose, he makes real the problems we face and suggests how we might overcome them -- in our own lives, our thing, our business and our societies.
READ AN EXCERPT
At 3:16 p.m. on 19 July, 1989, the jet's tail engine blew apart. Twelve thousand meters above the U.S. Midwest, shards of the engine's fan rotor cut through the rear of the aircraft, shredding its hydraulic systems. As fluid bled from hydraulic tubing, the pilots in the front of the...
1. How do you understand Thomas Homer-Dixon’s concept of the ingenuity gap? Do you think it is a useful lens through which to look at global problems? Why, or why not?
2. The Ingenuity Gap was published in 2000. How have the intervening years treated its ideas? Do you feel that Western...
"The greatest strength of The Ingenuity Gap us in Homer-Dixon’s ability to illustrate the thin line between order and chaos, prosperity and starvation, or compassion and carelessness in today’s world. The book is a wake-up call to all citizens to take notice of our collective deterioration and therefore…it has the potential to be one of the most important and revolutionary books of recent years."
"Displaying impressive breadth of learning, Homer-Dixon explores such complex problems as international financial crises, AIDS, overburdened air control systems, yawning gulfs of wealth and poverty, runaway population increases, a crush of information, the fragmentation of ungovernable cities and a host of ecological problems…. Closely reasoned, accessible and lucid."
—The Washington Post
"Thomas Homer-Dixon is one of the few people on the planet who could have tackled what he defines as the world’s overriding issue: the yawning ‘ingenuity’ gap between the need for practical solutions to complex problems, from global warming to Third World poverty, and the actual supply of workable ideas."
"Homer-Dixon switches adroitly between reviewing what the academics say and his own impressions of a range of locations seen at first hand that epitomise features of the global society he is examining…. Throughout, Homer-Dixon manages to dramatise the scale of the problems while maintaining a degree of optimism about our ability to tackle them…. wish Homer-Dixon many readers: his book could actually make a difference."
—The Times Higher Education Supplement
"If this sounds like pretty sophisticated stuff, it is. But Homer-Dixon doesn’t lose the reader, nor does he assume we are academics. His prose is spirited and accessible."
—The Globe and Mail
"This is a well-crafted book by a fine writer and a good teacher, who gives complex issues a discernible face…Thomas Homer-Dixon begins with a human story as compelling as Jon Krakauer’s Into Thin Air or Sebastian Junger’s The Perfect Storm. The stories all delve into Western society’s belief that we have an ability to determine and control the physical world by our ingenuity, our will and our technical mastery…Our technologically driven world, he believes, inexorably turns us inward…we have lost the sense of community and have become smaller in our progress. "
—Winnipeg Free Press
"An idea is only an idea if it causes unease, debate and reflection. By that standard, Thomas Homer-Dixon's concept of an 'ingenuity gap' is truly a new idea. I can think of no other new concept that so fully condenses all of the challenges we face as a human civilization than the 'ingenuity gap'. Homer-Dixon has found a way to unite all of our concerns about economics, war, population growth, complexity, etc. under a single heading. He is one of an elite group of academics who can write for a mass audience."
—Robert D. Kaplan
"Tad Homer-Dixon is a rare kind of public intellectual, who combines real expertise with a commitment to communicate to the widest possible readership. In The Ingenuity Gap he wants us all to wake-up to the fearful possibility that our blithe trust in science and technology may be misplaced. Human ingenuity may not be capable of coping with two emerging crises of this century and the next: population growth and environmental despoliation. Read Homer Dixon's wake-up call and you will see the future very differently."
"In the past year [Homer-Dixon] has twice been invited to meet and dine with U.S. Vice President Al Gore, who regards him as a visionary. President Bill Clinton cited his work in a speech to the National Academy of Sciences in Washington last fall. He’s been interviewed dozens of times, spoken often on television and radio. … Articles about his work have appeared in popular magazines and newspapers across North America. … He has become that rare creature: a genuine academic celebrity."
"The global guru -- when U of T political scientist Thomas Homer-Dixon isn’t lecturing to students at University College, he’s commuting to Washington. World leaders are listening to a Canadian’s thesis that Third World scarcities plus more and more people equals impending violence and chaos. … He may not be a household name yet, but his analyses of the environmental causes of violent conflict have become much sought after in the big White House … not to mention the twin towers over in Langley, home of the CIA."
—The Toronto Star
"The University of Toronto professor, an emerging celebrity in development circles, is at the forefront of a growing school of political thought that believes the environment and human conflict are often linked in a vicious and violent circle."
—John Stackhouse, The Globe and Mail
"This remarkable work, based on an impressive amount of scholarship, travel, and interviews, is the most persuasive forecast of the twenty-first century I have seen. Homer-Dixon looks beyond the miracle of technological and economic growth to the vast complexities of the real world that will increasingly put even the most advanced societies at risk."
—Edward O. Wilson, University Research Professor and Honorary Curator in Entomology, Harvard University