Singularity University, on the grounds of the NASA Research Center at Moffett Field in Silicon Valley, abounds in optimism, and, as Singularity’s Vice President of Innovation and Research, I have understandably caught the bug. I have written about why I believe this will be the most innovative decade in human history, how we are headed for an era of abundant and affordable health care, and how robotics, artificial intelligence and 3D printing will lead to an era of local manufacturing in which the creative class flourishes.
But deep down I also worry about the dark side of advancing technology, specifically, how we could create doomsday viruses, be in ethical gray zones, and the impact advancing technologies will have on employment. Hence my exchanges with Singularity University founders
Ray Kurzweil and Peter Diamandis often turn into lengthy debates. While we agree on the positives, we never quite reach an agreement on the risks and downsides. I usually run out of arguments, and their optimism always wins me over—until it wears off.
Vivek Wadhwa is Vice President of Innovation and Research at Singularity University and Arthur & Toni Rembe Rock Center for Corporate Governance at Stanford University. His other academic appointments include Harvard, Duke and Emory Universities as well as the University of California Berkeley.
(Steven Senne/DAPD) - Ray Kurzweil (2005).
(Ray Kurzweil) - Cover of the book “How to Create A Mind: The Secret of Human Thought Revealed” by Ray Kurzweil.
Kurzweil is the world’s most prominent futurist and the author of the recently-released “How to Create A Mind: The Secret of Human Thought Revealed”. With his permission, I am sharing our Oct. 15 e-mail exchange. We discussed where the jobs of the future will be found and whether humanity will evolve fast enough to take advantage of the opportunities and new tools these future jobs will generate. Kurzweil’s optimism once again left me speechless. This exchange has been edited for clarity.
Me:… I still want to discuss the question of where [the] jobs of the future will be. I’m at Singularity University listening to [British scientist and former Northern Rock non-executive chairman] Matt Ridley’s talk. He is as optimistic as [you, Peter and I] are, but even he can’t answer that question well.
Ray Kurzweil: …People couldn’t answer that question in 1800 or 1900 either. A prescient futurist in 1900 would have said to an audience, “a third of you work in factories, another third [on] farms, but I predict that in a hundred years – by the year 2000 – that will be 3 percent and 3 percent. But don’t worry, a higher percentage of the population will have jobs and the jobs will pay a lot more in constant dollars.” When asked what those jobs might be, he would respond that those jobs have not been invented yet.
Another point is that jobs today already contain a significant component of ongoing learning. That will continue to increase as people continually learn the new skills needed for the new jobs.
We have already expanded our intelligence with brain extenders (which are not yet inside our brains but that is a distinction without a difference). That trend will also accelerate.
Me: I would argue that you can’t compare a time when things were moving at linear rates with the exponential era. In those days, we had decades … or even centuries to react to change and develop the skills, infrastructure, and social structures to adapt to changing technologies. The vast majority of the people in the world aren’t Internet savvy today—15 years after the Internet went exponential. There have been revolutions in commerce, infrastructure, and society because of the Internet, yet we have only created 500,000 or so jobs in the mobile “app economy”—hardly the numbers to employ the populations that will be disrupted by technological change over the next decade.