Entrepreneur and X Prize Foundation creator Peter Diamandis says that popular misconceptions aside, the world has never been in better shape and that it is going to get even better, thanks to an unprecedented wave of technological innovation that will sweep the globe over the next 20 or 30 years. He is “pissed” that people don’t get that, he said Monday night during the opening session of the first annual CIO Journal conference.
“My message is that the world is getting better than you think…By almost every measure, it is getting better,” said Mr. Diamandis, an entrepreneur and Harvard-educated physician who has championed personal flight. In recent generations, life expectancy has doubled and personal income has tripled, he said.
Mr. Diamandis, interviewed on stage by Wall Street Journal Senior Contributing Editor Alan Murray, said that several factors have contributed to an unwarranted wave of pessimism about the future. One is the news media, which he said thrives on the publication of negative news. He said that people also are simply wired to give more priority to bad news. As Mr. Diamandis said, during humanity’s earliest days, “if you missed a piece of negative news, you were out of the gene pool.”
Mr. Diamandis has been fighting that pessimistic streak for years. He founded the X Prize Foundation to create an incentive for people to develop beneficial technologies—such as techniques for cleaning up oil spills more quickly. And last year, he published the book Abundance: The Future Is Better Than You Think.
On Monday, he told an audience of about 60 global CIOs that “we’re literally at the knee-curve of a massive explosion of innovation.”
Not everyone in the audience thought that these new technologies would be so liberating. Economist and former Labor Secretary Robert Reich, who is scheduled to speak at the conference on Tuesday, asked Mr. Diamandis how people would find employment in an era of super-powered robots and 3D printers. And if people can’t find jobs, “who is going to buy that stuff” that companies want to sell, Mr. Reich asked.
And as Mr. Murray noted, some technologists worry that the pace of innovation has slowed dangerously. PayPal co-founder and Facebook investor Peter Thiel, told the Economist that innovation in America is “somewhere between dire straits and dead.”
Mr. Diamandis says innovation can be used for good or ill, but that the net outcome is likely for the better. Responding to Mr. Reich, he said it’s quite possible that people won’t need jobs the way they do now. As the price of technology falls, so will the cost of living, he said—enabling the world to meet the basic needs of all people within 30 years. He said that he is a libertarian and a capitalist at heart, but that the world seems to be headed toward socialism.
The pace of technological innovation almost insures massive social changes. “I think we are going to see some fundamental changes in society in the next 20 or 30 years,” he said. One of them is that privacy will become a thing of the past. Mr. Diamandis said he thought that was a good thing, because people will no longer be able to do ill in secret. He also envisions major changes in the regulatory framework.
Most corporations aren’t prepared for massive technological disruption, either, he said. He urged them to listen to younger people with “crazy” ideas and to find ways to acquire entrepreneurial companies without snuffing out the things that make them innovative.
He emphasized eight areas:
Biotech. Now, even some high school students have displayed an ability to sequence DNA, and life is looking less like a fixed condition, and more like a manufacturing process.
Computational systems. Computers that can model almost anything are now cheaply and widely available to more and more people, who can lease them by the minute via cloud-based services.
Networks and sensors. Wireless devices embedded in objects are gathering huge amounts of data that can be modeled by people who are able to “ask the right questions.”
Artificial Intelligence. AI is creating a new generation of personal digital assistants that are so smart they can tell people where they need to go next, without even being asked or prompted.
Robotics. The robots are coming and they are going to be everywhere, performing all sorts of tasks that people once did. “Jobs are going from China to India to robots,” Mr. Diamandis said.
Digital manufacturing. Lego won’t be a toy manufacturer. It will be an information company that creates blueprints for toys. Consumers will produce the parts at home using 3D printers that spit out Legos—along with all sorts of other objects, Mr. Diamandis.
Medical technology. Modern medicine is information technology, according to Mr. Diamandis, who predicted that small mobile devices will allow people to self-diagnose their own health conditions.
Nano technology. Nano technology won’t stop with warmer and lighter pairs of shoes. Mr. Diamandis envisions high strength, light weight fabrics that enable personal air flight.
Mr. Diamandis said that the gap between the wealthiest and the poorest people may well increase, but that the definition of poverty will keep changing, much as it has over the last 100 years. He noted that 99% of the poorest people in the U.S. have amenities that the wealthiest people of 100 years ago couldn’t imagine. “It’s not about creating a world of luxury, but of creating a world of possibility,” he said.
“I think it’s an amazing world,” Mr. Diamandis said.
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