In previous blogs, I’ve spoken about the future of technology and how it will eliminate disease, hunger, and even war. I was just listening to a lecture by Ray Kurzweil, one of the leading minds in the world on technology and its future manifestations, and he addressed the issue of poverty as technology advances. Interestingly, the rabbis of the Talmud, in their various discussions about life in the time of the Messiah, conclude that poverty will still exist even in this mystical, divine period of history.
Dr. Kurzweil’s argument was that technology lowers the cost of everything it touches at a greater and greater pace. Smart phones are the classic example, and while iPhones are still going for a minimum of $700, there are new types of smart phones, specifically geared towards the developing world, that will cost tens of dollars. It is expected that in a few years from now, the price will drop even more and the functionality will only increase. With independent projects by Facebook and Google to bring wireless Internet to the entire world [and most likely for free], a child in Kenya will be able to attend the same virtual class as a child in New York. And there will unquestionably be more and more remote, virtual students attending top-tier universities. How will the Kenyan individual afford $70,000 a year to attend Harvard? I suspect that there will be special programs that make it financially possible for those from the developing world to have full access to the top schools.
I am allowing myself to take issue with something that Dr. Kurzweil noted in his talk. My challenge to Dr. Kurzweil is that the key issue is time. I wholly agree that at some point in the future [probably 100+ years from now], poverty will have been for all intents and purposes eliminated. But until everyone on this planet has equal access to every technology, there will be periods of time when the wealthy can gain further advantages over those in need.
I think an example of this would be biotechnology. At the same conference that Dr. Kurzweil was presenting, there was another presenter speaking about, effectively, eugenics. This individual spoke very nonchalantly about generating human eggs in large numbers [beyond a woman’s natural store], mating these eggs with selected sperm, and then selecting out embryos that have clear genetic advantages. The presenter described further processes that would eventually yield an embryo that would be by all definitions, superhuman. Over time, the availability and cost of such biotechnology will reach everyone in the world. But if there is a 30 to 40 year span of time between such technology being available to the westernized world versus the developing world, you could literally have a large population of superhumans feeling not so generous with the technologies that made them who they are.
To a certain extent, it’s basic business competition. If you have been fortunate enough to have found a glitch in the market that you can exploit to make a great deal of money, ideally, you would not share that glitch with anyone else. If enough time passes between the first superhuman recognizing his or her own potential, but more so, the possibility of becoming “average”, if the same biotech is shared with everyone, then the superhumans might try very hard to isolate billions of people from these technologies.
I appreciate that this sounds like the basis for a script for some type of post apocalyptic movie. I’m simply pointing out that on the whole, all of mankind will benefit from technology. But there very well may be gaps, even large gaps of time, until everyone is playing on the same field.
How do I respond to the statement of the rabbis of old, that poverty would always exist? First of all, this was by no means an absolute statement, but rather it was one opinion amongst many about how the future would look. It is easy enough to explain this away as a belief of the rabbis that there would always be people with more and people with less. The people with less would not necessarily be poor, in the sense of lacking food or access to healthcare and the like, but even in 100 years from now, it may very well be that some people still have much more than others. I don’t believe that technology will eliminate differences between peoples and countries and geographic regions. I do believe that technology will make it possible for everyone to eat. But there will be those who regularly eat in fancy restaurants and others who are eating full meals that come out of a home based 3-D printer.
I don’t know the origin of the expression that says “the future is coming whether you like it or not”. I for one believe that in the end, the advantages and benefits of future life, will outweigh the negatives. At least, that’s what Ray Kurzweil says.
Thanks for listening.