2007 : WHAT ARE YOU OPTIMISTIC ABOUT?

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CEO and Managing Director, Intellectual Ventures; Co-Author (with Bill Gates), The Road Ahead; Author, Modernist Cuisine
CEO, Managing Director, Intellectual Ventures; Former Chief Technology Officer, Microsoft Corporation; Physicist, Paleontologist,Photographer, Chef

The Power of Educated People to Make Important Innovations

It is interesting that pessimism seems to be the conventional wisdom — i.e. that the world is going to hell in a hand basket and things are getting worse. In the short run pessimism is an easy bet. The news media, for example, would be a terrible business if there was only good news — shocking bad news sells more newspapers (or generates more Neilson ratings, or internet clicks). Yet they need not worry about there being a dearth of bad news — its only a matter a time before some more bad news comes in.

However, I think that the focus on pessimism is hugely misleading. The pattern of the last five decades is that by and large the most important factors in human life have improved immensely. By and large there is no better time to be alive than today, and any rational estimate is that we will continue to be in a phase of continued improvement.

Perhaps the biggest reason I am optimistic is that I am a huge believer in the power of educated people to make important innovations. The trends in China and India and elsewhere toward educating literally millions of people with scientific, engineering and technical degrees is tremendously positive. It is trendy in some US-centric circles to bemoan the fact that China and India are graduating more engineers than the US — indeed the developing has the potential to graduate more engineers than the US has people. I view that with tremendous optimism — at least on the whole. There will be negative consequences to be sure, and some naysayer will whine about them. History is clear that the negatives of bringing high levels of education to heretofore under educated people are more than outweighed by the tremendous positives.