Tell me a bit more about the organisation you work for – the Singularity University?

The Singularity University was founded nine years ago by two men who saw that there were so many technologies being developed that would have a big impact on humanity, but people were not paying enough attention to them.

The university aims to use those technologies to solve social problems and improve the lives of a billion people. They include computers, networks, artificial intelligence, software, nanotechnology, robotics and digital biology. The most important part is that they are exponential technologies that follow a trend, becoming more and more powerful while their price cuts in half – hence why mobile phones spread so quickly. Anything with a computer chip, for example robots, our digital DNA and artificial intelligence, will spread rapidly. So we should see self-driving cars spreading just as fast in the next few years as mobile phones did.

The question fretting everyone: will technology soon take away traditional jobs?

There will be different phases of it. For example, retail jobs are falling dramatically because online retail has taken over. Also, manufacturing, logistics, transportation and agriculture will all be roboticised in the next five to 10 years. Jobs, like journalists, legal jobs, stock market traders, any job that’s repetitive, software or a machine can do. It’s a big problem but we have seen that jobs that require social and emotional intelligence are increasing and wages are going up. The non-profit sector and philanthropy is growing. Humans might be doing more in childcare, health and education – humans might be doing more of that and transitioning into that work. Over time our whole economy might operate differently. Some countries have started talking about a basic income, where basically the large technology companies will produce everything and those companies and robots will be taxed and the money distributed among the people as a form of social security. Other ideas are new business models – so I know the founder of a company that builds futuristic villages of about 400 people and you have robots that grows the food and solar panels, and technology that manages and cleans the water. Living in the village, you won’t have to buy the food but you can sell it to pay off your housing loan. Or companies that give out stock to their employees so that if a robot takes their job they still have ownership of the company. So there are still things we can do, but I don’t think anyone has one right answer.

How can technology be harnessed to help social causes?

You can see in areas like online education, which allows anyone with internet to access education, there has been an improvement over time. Initially a university would record a class and put it on the internet. Now people have developed curriculums and content that are personalised so that students can go at their own pace in a way that works for them at their speed. You can also reach people in conflict zones or girls in developing countries who might have traditionally been excluded from an education. The case of education is already clear.

As we bring robotics into farming, we can produce food at a much cheaper cost. We have examples of not just vertical farms but people growing food in vertical reactors and using artificial intelligence to sort food so that it is not wasted or contaminated, so for safety reasons. All areas really of our life have been affected by technology. In Florida the municipalities started using artificial intelligence to manage their water supply and they saved over a million dollars on that pilot program because they predicted when people would need to use more or less water. All sectors can be revolutionised, and the cost of energy is going down.

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