Steve Jurvetson, a partner at the Silicon Valley venture capital firm DFJ, calls himself a "raging techno-optimist." But at last weekend's XPrize Visioneering event, a gathering of over 100 like-minded folk tasked with thinking up ideas for the next big XPrize challenge, Jurvetson offered a warning: The world needs to think about what a future of abundance will do to the gap between rich and poor.
An investor in futuristic tech companies like SpaceX and Synthetic Genomics, Jurvetson gave his talk during a series of short sessions from event participants.
"The pace of technological progress is decoupled from the economy," Jurvetson noted. And the gap between the rich and the poor, he warned, may not grow and shrink in cycles as it has been in the past—it could just continue growing larger. Assuming that every industry will essentially become part of the IT industry, and that robots will take all the unwanted jobs in the world, there will be much less work for humans to do. A small slice of the population could control the information technology that makes it possible for the rest of the world's work to be automated, he believes.
The venture capitalist invoked the prospect of a future with 80% unemployment—a terrifying, but not entirely unreasonable, thought. What would the future look like if the majority of humanity didn't need to work because their potential jobs had all been automated? How could that transition happen without leaving humans fearing for their lives?
The idea, he said, would be to create a "peaceful transition to a world of abundance." That seems like a decent goal to shoot for, if nothing else.