Who are we?
Lawrence H. Summers is an American economist. He is the Charles W. Eliot University Professor and President Emeritus at Harvard University, where he became one of the university's youngest tenured faculty at age 28.
The author of over 150 journal articles, Dr. Summers' wide-ranging contributions to economic research were recognized with the John Bates Clark Medal, given every two years to the outstanding American economist under the age of 40. He was also the first social scientist to receive the National Science Foundation’s Alan T. Waterman Award for outstanding scientific achievement.
Beyond his academic career, Dr. Summers has held a number of distinguished appointments in government. He previously served as Director of the National Economic Council for the Obama Administration, Secretary of the Treasury for the Clinton Administration, and Chief Economist of the World Bank.
Lawrence Summers received his S.B. from MIT and his Ph.D. in economics from Harvard. He and his wife Elisa New, a professor of English at Harvard, have six children.
Larry Summers: I think the overwhelming force that shapes the world that we have today is new knowledge, science and its application through technology.
Living standards were essentially the same in ancient Athens and in 1800. People lived to the age of _____. A century ago, essentially no one had a vacation. Life expectancy was 47. Most people never ventured more than a hundred miles from the place where they were born.
It’s completely different now, and it’s completely different because of what technology has brought, and because the expectation of the continuing gains from technology is imbedded in a way that hasn’t been there in the human experience before.
We take it as a cliché that it is a reasonable question for someone running for president to discuss, “Are you better off than you were four years ago?” From the vast majority of the human experience, there would have been no particular reason to think that people would be better off than they were four years ago.
So it seems to me that technology that is brought by science, and the way in which that technology is organizes and applied, is the central force that drives history. And that has both a scientific and a technological dimension. And it also has the social scientific dimension; the domain of economics; the domain of politics; the domain of sociology, of how society organizes itself as all of this changes.
And I emphasize the importance of this in part not to say that human nature doesn’t in a profound way shaping history; not to say that the forces of jealousy and anger and love and greed and the stuff of great tragedy aren’t central in shaping history. But they are relatively constant, it seems to me, the range of human emotion, the response to provocation of human beings, I doubt these things are fundamentally different today than they were in the times of the classics.
And yet the world is hugely different today. And so if one asks what it is that changed, I think one has to ultimately bring that back to science and technology and the modes of social organization that bring them forth; and the condition that are application.
I hope we are moving to a world in which the range of human opportunity will be expanded and will have steadily expanded in the years ahead. And part of that is, what’s created as people become educated; as people are free from pain; as people’s material capacity increases and they get the ability to broaden their world, whether it’s in the different clothes that they can wear, or the access to the world that telephone or TV or Internet connection can provide.
For me it’s about an ever-expanding provision of opportunity to an ever-growing number of people. And I see the kinds of opportunities that I’ve had, contrast them with the opportunities that a previous generation has had. Look ahead to the kinds of opportunities that my children will have. And I don’t think that’s a process that ever stops, but I think there’s a vast amount we can do to promote more opportunity for more people.
Recorded On: July 13, 2007
The daily application of science has transformed our way of life.
A pragmatic approach to fixing an imbalanced system.
- Intentional or not, certain inequalities are inherent in a digital economy that is structured and controlled by a few corporations that don't represent the interests or the demographics of the majority.
- While concern and anger are valid reactions to these inequalities, UCLA professor Ramesh Srinivasan also sees it as an opportunity to take action.
- Srinivasan says that the digital economy can be reshaped to benefit the 99 percent if we protect laborers in the gig economy, get independent journalists involved with the design of algorithmic news systems, support small businesses, and find ways that groups that have been historically discriminated against can be a part of these solutions.
Is there a way for more human-centered algorithms to prevent potentially triggering interactions on social media?
- According to a 2017 study, 71% of people reported feeling better (rediscovery of self and positive emotions) about 11 weeks after a breakup. But social media complicates this healing process.
- Even if you "unfriend", block, or unfollow, social media algorithms can create upsetting encounters with your ex-partner or reminders of the relationship that once was.
- Researchers at University of Colorado Boulder suggest that a "human-centered approach" to creating algorithms can help the system better understand the complex social interactions we have with people online and prevent potentially upsetting encounters.