Tom Friedman speaks about the optimism that comes with technological advancement

‘Our country is too rich, has too much technological prowess to be letting that happen,’ said Friedman on income inequality in America

Tom Friedman, Pulitzer-prize winning journalist, spoke at MIT’s Compton Lecture Oct. 1 about his most recent book, Thank You for Being Late: An Optimist’s Guide to Thriving in the Age of Accelerations.

Friedman argues that an age of accelerations, particularly in technology, began in 2007. Facebook went global in late 2006, AirBnB started in 2007, and Android, Kindle, and iPhone were all released in 2007. Technology has been accelerating ever since, with humans struggling to adapt to its changes, according to Friedman.

Because of such rapid technological advancement, Friedman argues, people should be more optimistic about the future. Some people feel that the “American dream is not within their grasp,” Friedman said in an interview with The Tech. “That’s simply unconscionable. Our country is too rich, has too much technological prowess to be letting that happen.”

“That’s why I think universal healthcare and universal access to lifelong learning should be a human right.  We can’t neglect that without it ruining the whole society. People are learning that lesson right now.”

Friedman talked about Professor Regina Barzilay, who studies machine learning applied to health care, as an example. “Systems she’s building can detect her breast cancer much earlier because [they are] trained on so many more breast cancers than any human doctor can [study].” 

Friedman, who wrote about using artificial intelligence to assist humans in his book (“intelligent assistance,” as he branded it), met with professors involved in AI research the morning before giving his talk. The purpose of AI, according to Friedman, is “to find the needle in the haystack of your data as a norm, rather than the exception.”

Friedman is also optimistic about the future of educational technology. He mentioned a program that partnered with Khan Academy to allow 3 million American kids to receive free PSAT and SAT prep and consequent scholarships.