Rapper, producer and technology entrepreneur will.i.am doesn’t shy away from hard truths when it comes to Silicon Valley.
“The investment that society has put in AI (artificial intelligence) surpasses the investment for HI, which is human intelligence,” said Will.i.am during a panel at the Dell Technologies World 2019 Conference on Wednesday. “It’s so lopsided that subconsciously we know that we haven’t invested in our youth, in our communities. We haven’t invested in humanity to keep up with intelligent machines.”
Will.i.am was joined by Dell Chief Marketing Officer Allison Dew as well as Brynn Putnam, founder and CEO of Mirror, which makes a full-length mirror that doubles as a screen for streaming home workout classes. The discussion, moderated by TIME Deputy Editor Eben Shapiro, touched on a range of issues related to optimism and anxiety about technology in the digital age.
Will.i.am expounded on his assertion that society is not investing enough in its youth, citing the difficulty he’s had acquiring funding for his educational programs, as compared to the hundreds of millions of dollars he’s been able to raise for his technology ventures. “It’s hard to raise money for kids. It’s inhumane that’s even a fact,” he said. “Why is it so hard to raise money for education? That keeps me up at night — I don’t understand it.”
“What I really worry about is not the introduction of some [regulatory] safeguards,” said Dew. “What I worry about is a thousand different regulations and safeguards that make it impossible for businesses to work, and that frankly make it impossible for productivity gains to continue.”
Will.i.am followed, bringing up the example of drug regulation in the United States. “It’s no longer about what’s great for your body and the community … If the same applies for technology, we’re in doom,” said Will.i.am. “It should be about what’s good for people, not business.”
The discussion also touched on the importance of technology in addressing the world’s most pressing issues, and technologists’ responsibility to move innovation in that direction.
“What scares me about technology sometimes is just this idea that innovation requires revolution,” said Putnam. “I think sometimes there’s an overemphasis on what we’re able to do rather than what the world needs.”
“Technology shouldn’t be about delivering your burrito faster,” said Dew. “It should be about, how do we eradicate illness and poverty and real huge social issues?”