Kurzweil: Observations on Innovation and the Future

Vivek Wadhwa | MedCity News | November 18, 2012

Kurzweil is the world’s most prominent futurist and author of the recently-released “How to Create A Mind: The Secret of Human Thought Revealed.” With his permission, I [Vivek Wadhwa] am sharing our Oct. 15 email 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

Kurzweil: Everything was slow in the “old” days – the rate of change as well as the ability and tools people had to accommodate change. Both sides of the equation are much faster today. People can (and are) becoming “Internet savvy” very quickly. It doesn’t take long. The Web and mobile technology [are] invading the entire world, including Africa, at a very fast pace. Look how quickly Asia has adapted.

... 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.

... 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.

... 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?