Over the past two days, I attended the Synergy Global Forum at The Theater in Madison Square Garden. The event was primarily a business conference, and was billed as a “Master Class in Disruption”. Some of the speakers included Steve Forbes, Malcolm Gladwell, and Sir Richard Branson. It turns out that I really did not know what to expect at the event, and learned quite a bit that can be applied to both business and academia.
I first got interested in the event when I saw that Ray Kurzweil would be speaking. I became interested in Kurzweil when I came across The Age of Spiritual Machines in middle school. The book made a lot of exciting predictions about how technology would change the world. After finishing it, I immediately went back and read The Age of Intelligent Machines, which was written years earlier. I saw that quite a few of the predictions made in this first book in the series had already come true. Later, at the end of my undergraduate college career, I read The Singularity is Near, which included updated (and radical) predictions for the future and kicked off the Singularitarian movement. Kurzweil predicted that there are three ways we might reach a technological singularity, a time when basic humans can no longer understand the technological changes happening in the world around them. Those ways were genetic engineering, nanotechnology, and robotics – including artificial intelligence. It now seems apparent that the latter is going to have the soonest impact on the world.
Kurzweil’s books are one reason I was concerned about job prospects in the near future. It seemed like getting into one of the above industries would be a good idea for long-term employment. With the advent of massively open online courseware like Coursera and edX, and educational programs on YouTube like Siraj Raval, it seemed as though the job of teacher would become consolidated – with star teachers having classrooms of millions and underperforming teachers finding themselves either working as tutors or out of work. It may not happen as soon as I expected, but one of the reasons for pursuing a PhD was that I did not want to be fifty years old and finding myself obsolete. Another reason was that, as much as I love teaching, I can have a larger impact by changing the science and technology of education than teaching small classrooms of students. One of the highlights of the Synergy Global Forum was being reminded of the impact I can make if I put all of my energies into it. I came out with a renewed motivation to work toward big goals. You are going to start seeing a lot more about education here, and perhaps on a different domain.
I am planning to write future blog posts about some of the speakers and the concepts they covered, but am unlikely to make one of those about Kurzweil’s talk. None of the content was new to me, with most of the information coming directly from The Singularity is Near. Other authors have since expanded on Kurzweil’s work and popularizers such as the Singularity Bros discuss these topics more regularly and in relation to current events. I do wish, however, that I was able to get my copy of The Age of Spiritual Machines signed, as it has had a huge impact on my life trajectory. Another day.