The answer is not more leisure time, but more time to learn and to be creative.
There will be an economic incentive for the haves to share the abundance and prosperity being created because they will need markets.
Also, there will be a robust open-source economy in fields such as software, music, videos, movies and books and so on. That, by the way, has not killed the industries that provide proprietary forms of these information types. When information can create physical products, there will be open source versions of that also, and access to 3D printing will be even more ubiquitous than computing platforms are today. There will be public 3D printing stations where people can go and print out clothes, modules to refurbish or build their house, and so on. So many — and ultimately all — of people’s basic needs can be met through open source forms of information.
Curtis Carlson, [President and] CEO of [research and development company] SRI, visited Singularity University today, during our fall executive program. He said that SRI had helped build the critical technologies for companies such as [SRI’s ventures] Intuitive Surgical and Nuance Communications and the original versions of Apple’s Siri. Technologies like these created hundreds of thousands of jobs and we are potentially in a golden age for major new innovations. For example, SRI is building the next generation of artificial intelligence technologies that could tremendously improve productivity in the banking industry and the customer experience. But Carlson worries that these may end up reducing the overall number of jobs available. He is optimistic that his scientists will make breakthroughs that improve the lives of billions and do good for the world. But he worries that employment won’t keep pace because we are not pursing policies that will take advantage of all our opportunities and create the jobs that we need.
This is my worry too. I am not optimistic that governments and society can change fast enough to assimilate all these changes and to share prosperity. The robber barons of yesteryear hogged the resources and prosperity for themselves. Today, investment banks, special interest groups, and governments divert key resources. I don’t see human nature evolving as rapidly as technology will.
And then there is the issue of workforce training. Americans generally believe that education ends when they graduate from college. In the new world that you describe—and that I believe will surely become a reality, education must be a lifelong process; creativity will be the new currency. But the debate we are having in Silicon Valley is about whether children should even go to college. I have battled PayPal co-founder and billionaire Peter Thiel in national forums and lost the debates because many people agree with him that education is an overpriced luxury. Are we going to be able to change the mindsets of an entire population in a decade—which is about as much time as we have?
Now, let’s go to China. I expect that you will agree that manufacturing will become a local industry and that 3D printing, [artificial intelligence] and robotics will eliminate the need to ship raw materials all the way to China and then transport finished goods back to other countries. So, China’s manufacturing industry will begin to suffer a significant hollowing out in this decade. Even if America can re-educate its workforce, can China do this? What happens with the resulting unrest and upheaval?
Kurzweil: Automation always eliminates more jobs than it creates if you only look at the circumstances narrowly surrounding the automation. That’s what the Luddites saw in the early nineteenth century in the textile industry in England. The new jobs came from increased prosperity and new industries that were not seen. Your comment on robber barons is overly simplistic. There has been steady economic growth across the world for the past two centuries.
The issue of lifelong education is on a different level from the debate as to whether higher education as it is currently organized is the best way to provide education. That gets at the higher education topic we were discussing earlier.
China is already graduating massive numbers of people at every level up to and including the doctoral level in every field especially scientific and engineering fields.
Ray is the greatest futurist of our time and I love his optimism. All I can say is that I hope he is right.
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