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Think Tank

Ray Kurzweil's Top 5 Reasons to Be Optimistic for 2013

Will you be better off this year than your were in the past? To the futurist and inventor Ray Kurzweil, the answer is a resounding yes. "We are far more productive and healthy and better off in every way than we were in the past," Kurzweil, the author of the new book How to Create a Mind: The Secret of Human Thought Revealed, told Big Think in a recent interview. Below are Kurzweil's top 5 reasons for optimism in 2013.

1. Greater Life Expectancy

A thousand years ago, you lived to the age of twenty. We have seen a continuous and accelerated progression since then. In 1800, the average life expectancy at birth was 37, Kurzweil notes. In 1900, the average life expectancy increased to 48. If you live in a country like Japan, you can expect to live into your 80s today. 

2. We're wealthier

We have more and better jobs, Kurzweil says, adding that we also have a social safety net that didn't exist until the 1930s. Why are we more secure today? Kurzweil says the problem in the past was not that society wasn't liberal enough. We simply didn't have the money. Today, Kurzweil says, we have vastly more wealth. Sure, we destroy jobs "at the bottom of the skill ladder." And yet, "we create actually a larger number of jobs at the top of the skill ladder that – compared to a century ago -- pay ten times as much in constant dollars."

3. We are better educated than ever before

We spend ten times as much as we did a century ago in constant dollars per capita, per student on K-12. Kurzweil notes that we had 50,000 college students in the United States in 1870. We have 12 to 14 million today.  

4. Technology is a brain-extender

"We are more intelligent today than we used to be," Kurzweil says: "I've managed work groups for 45 years and I can have a group now of three people in two weeks do what used to take 50, 100 people years to do. I felt like a part of my brain went on strike during that one day SOPA strike. We are so dependent on these brain extenders, which didn't exist just a few years ago."

5. Technology is more accessible than ever before

"Gradually, bit-by-bit, technology is getting more pervasive, more intelligent and more available to everyone," Kurzweil says:

I mean, a kid in Africa with a smartphone has access to more intelligence search and knowledge than the President of the United States did 15 years ago.  We just take that for granted. There's a billion smart phones in the world.  Six billion cell phones.  We'll have six billion smart phones within a few years.  It's tremendous power in everybody's hands.  It's democratizing of the tools of creativity.

A kid with a notebook computer started Facebook; a couple of kids with notebook computers and a late-night dorm room challenge started Google.  And we're seeing more and more examples of that – these very powerful tools are available to everyone.

So on many different perimeters human life is getting better and better. If we can make our technology more intelligent, Kurzweil says we're going to be able to accelerate the solutions of all of our major problems.

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