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Iowa will need to invest in education to withstand the next 20 years of technological change, innovation expert Alec Ross told The Gazette.
A former senior adviser for innovation with the State Department, Ross will keynote The Gazette's September Iowa Ideas conference in downtown Cedar Rapids.
'The story of the last 20 years in many respects was digitization and the rise of the internet. My obsession is focusing on what's next, what are those next big developments that are going to reshape our lives at home and at work,' Ross said.
'The future is going to be neither Star Trek nor Mad Max...The very simple fact of the matter is as technology and science reshape the economy, (they contribute) to both the promise and peril of our lives.'
- Alec Ross
Author, "The Industries of the Future" and Iowa Ideas 2017 keynote
Big innovations range from an increase in robotics to improved genetic sequencing, cryptocurrencies and the spread of data analytics.
Each will come with trade-offs, Ross argues. While technology can enhance productivity and extend life spans, it also can cause job losses and impose on privacy.
'The future is going to be neither Star Trek nor Mad Max,' Ross said. 'The very simple fact of the matter is as technology and science reshape the economy, (they contribute) to both the promise and peril of our lives.'
Overall, Ross views these innovations as a net positive.
'I do think it makes for a better world. It just doesn't make for a better world for everybody,' he said. 'What that compels is for us to do things like strengthen our safety net.'
To withstand and benefit from these changes, Ross said Iowa's political, business and academic leaders should 'throw nearly everything (they) have into education' at all levels.
'Nothing is more determinate about an individual's well-being and a community's well-being than the quality and content of the education,' he said.
Iowa also will need access to high-risk, early-stage venture capital; a culture that encourages risk taking; and affordable, high-speed internet service.
'If you do not have high-speed, low-cost broadband, it's like trying to compete in agriculture with bad land,' Ross said.
In addition, parents should embrace travel and a global perspective for their children as they 'are going to be playing on a 196-country chess board.' If travel isn't possible, being 'intellectually omnivorous' can be just as beneficial, he said.
'If someone doesn't have the ability to get on a plane with their kids and show them the rest of the world, then they need to make sure what they have is a good old-fashioned library card,' Ross said.
Ross, a Democrat, is running for governor of Maryland.
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The Iowa Ideas Conference
- What: A statewide gathering designed to mix panel discussions, interviews with leaders and thought-provoking experiences to move complex issues that matter to Iowa forward.
- When: Sept. 20-22. Ross will speak 8 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 20, at the Paramount Theatre.
- Where: Various locations throughout downtown Cedar Rapids
- Tickets: Early bird, $200, available through Monday, July 31; two-day pass, $250; one-day pass, $150; keynote only, $50.
- More information and tickets available at www.thegazette.com/iowaideas.