Innovation Hub: Wadhwa’s Dystopian Future

Vivek Wadhwa is a big-picture guy. A guy whose vision of the future includes printing meat, banning humans from the road, and sidelining Wall Street.

Wadhwa currently juggles appointments at Stanford, Duke, and Singularity Universities, and he says that massive technological advances will reroute our lives, a shift that may lead to massive dislocation, perhaps even unrest. He worries that the public simply isn’t ready for the changes ahead, and the pace at which they’ll overtake us.

[This interview has been edited and condensed. For the full conversation, visit innovationhub.org.]

Kara Miller: We’ve just been through more than a decade of huge tech advances. Don’t you think it’s possible we’re entering a time when the pace of change is going to slow a bit?

Vivek Wadhwa: Are you kidding?! This is the time when the pace of change is accelerating. We are now entering an exponential curve, which is moving upwards even more steeply. There is everything from artificial intelligence, robotics, 3D printing, and synthetic biology. I could go on and on and on. The result is going to be change like you’ve never seen before… The trouble is that most people are not ready for this change. We’re going to have to keep transforming ourselves, updating our skills, transforming our thought process.

KM: What do you say to people about how their lives are going to have to evolve in order to keep up and not be left behind?

VW: I’m actually writing a book about this. I’m looking forward ten to fifteen years and explaining what life will look like. For example, right now we drive cars. Within ten to fifteen years, cars will drive themselves. Two or three years ago when we talked about self-driving cars, it seemed like science fiction. But now every major automotive manufacturer is talking about it. And they all agree that within five years, we will have fully autonomous self-driving cars. Within ten years, we will be debating whether we should have human beings on the road anymore. In fifteen years, we will ban humans from our major roads and highways because they are too dangerous.

KM: Are there companies or particular technologies that you’ve got your eye on—that you think are propelling us forward?

VW: I see them happening all over the place. Here in Silicon Valley, there are a number of companies that I’m watching very closely. One of them is 3D-printing food, particularly meat. Others are building drones that can deliver medical supplies to parts of the world without roads. Others are looking at big data and using it to improve the way we forecast everything from climate to traffic patterns. And other companies I’m watching are building AI robotic assistants to help us out.

KM: So, if AI and automation become so important, what will humans be doing? Aren’t there going to be fewer and fewer things for them to do?

VW: You’re bringing out the worried Vivek Wadhwa, because frankly, I can’t see what the majority of jobs are going to be. There will still be some jobs around, but the majority of them will disappear. Manufacturing jobs will disappear because of robotics, and then the robotics jobs will disappear because of 3D printing. We will need fewer doctors. We will not need truck drivers. We will not need taxi drivers. We will not need human beings in pharmacies, in supermarkets. We’ll have robots cleaning up after us, serving us. So the question is: what will we do with ourselves? Frankly, I don’t know. Human beings are used to a social order which they gain from being employed.

Tricia Breton contributed to this write-up.

Kara Miller is the host of “Innovation Hub,” a national radio program that features the thinkers, researchers, and visionaries who are crafting the future. She is based at WGBH Radio in Boston. Follow @IHubRadio

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