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Alec Ross on Innovation, Technology & The Future

New York Times bestselling author and innovation expert Alec Ross

Interview Conducted by Vikki Hankins|

Alec Ross is a Distinguished Visiting Fellow at Johns Hopkins University and the author of the New York Times bestseller The Industries of the Future, published by Simon & Schuster. The Industries of the Future explores the technological and economic trends and developments that will shape the next ten years, from cyber-security and big data to the commercialization of genomics to the code-ification of money, markets and trust. Since its publication in February of 2016, it has gone into a 7th printing and the rights have been sold for translation into 18 languages.

I had the opportunity to interview Alec Ross on subjects of innovation, technology and change. Here’s what he had to say:

VMH: Should the middle page working-class concern themselves with job displacement due to innovation and technology developments?

Alec Ross: It depends on the nature of their work. If the work they do is cognitive but also fairly repetitive and drawing from a commonly available body of accessible knowledge (like a paralegal), then yes.

VMH: In terms of learning innovative practices in business, parenting or something as simple as shopping what is your strongest advice for removing the fear of unfamiliarity?

Alec Ross: The God’s honest truth is that I don’t have any advice for this. To fear unfamiliarity is to fear the future. Things that are completely familiar or routine are what I fear.

VMH: Digitization has disrupted standard practices in many facets from communication to healthcare; do you feel traditional practices will cease to exist or do you foresee balance where people maintain measures of human interaction?

Alec Ross: I don’t think that all traditional practices will cease to exist. In a world suffused by computer code, good old fashioned human interaction is valued now more than ever.

VMH: Announcements such as Macy’s and other brick-and-mortar retail stores cutting jobs are happening quicker than most would like, why is this?

Alec Ross: I think this really has to do with market forces. The retail industry has become brutally competitive and investors are almost ruthless pushing for cost-cutting and automation.

VMH: What will it take for societies, families and individuals to thrive in let’s say 10 years? And how does one prepare or implement the advice within their lifestyles?

Alec Ross: Not all of the changes foreseen in my book The Industries of the Future will hit with full force in the next 10 years but we’ll see their beginnings. I’d say that for societies, the key is openness. Keeping your markets open and ensuring that people from all walks of humanity can compete and succeed on the most level playing field possible regardless of gender, race, ethnicity, sexuality or religion. For individuals the key is a commitment to life-long learning; and for students entering the workforce in the next 10 years the key is inter-disciplinary learning, combining the study of something technical or scientific with a strong base in the humanities that teach things like communications skills and behavioural psychology.

VMH: Children are teaching parents how to use modern devices; this places the parent and it times the child at a great disadvantage. How does a parent protect and guide the household with limited insight on technology and innovative practices?

Alec Ross: My wife and I struggle with this. I don’t have the perfect answer. I will say that kids cannot have autonomy with technology. Parents should pay attention to the technology their kids use like they pay attention to which people they are spending time with.

VMH: Global cyber attacks and the ease of ‘peeking’ into another’s privacy, is prevalent, how would you advise society on remaining positive in the area of security?

Alec Ross: I would say that all of this transparency is shifting norms, and that norm shifting is probably going to be for the good of all of us over time.

More about Alec Ross:

Alec serves as an advisor to investors, corporations and government leaders to help them understand the implication of factors emerging at the intersection of geopolitics, markets and increasingly disruptive network technologies. He recently served for four year as Senior Advisor for Innovation to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, a role created for him by Secretary Clinton to maximize the potential of technology and innovation in service of America’s diplomatic goals.

In this role, Alec acted as the diplomatic lead on a range of issues including cyber-security, Internet Freedom, disaster response and the use of network technologies in conflict zones. Previously, Alec served as the Convener for the Technology, Media & Telecommunications Policy Committee on Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign and served on the Obama-Biden Presidential Transition Team.

In 2000, he and three colleagues co-founded a technology-focused social enterprise and grew it from modest origins in a basement into a global organization serving millions of low-income people, with programs on four continents.

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