What the Next Generation Needs to Thrive in Exponential Times

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How do you raise kids today during these exponential times?

Should they learn a second language… in a world of instant translation?

Should they ever memorize any fact… in a world of ubiquitous Google?

Will college even exist in 10 years’ time?

Which is more important? Learning to code or learning sports?

As a father of twin 4-year-old boys, these questions are on my mind. (My wife may have a different point of view as an artist).

This post is one parent’s opinion.

When I was 10 years old...

When I was 10 years old, the first electronic calculators came out, and my dad didn’t want to buy me one because he felt it would weaken my math skills.

Eventually he did buy me one, and rather than dampen my skills, I learned programming on my Texas Instruments TI-58.

But times do change.

Compared to the basic curriculum 100 years ago, the basics no longer include:

  • Growing our own food
  • Making our own clothing… needlework
  • Greek, Latin or type setting

If predictions come true, namely that robotics and artificial intelligence will displace 50 percent of today’s jobs in 20 years’ time, what should your kid(s) study today?

I often keynote Fortune 500 events and one persistent question from the audience is: “So, Peter, what will you teach your kids given this explosion of exponential technologies?”

Near-Term… Coding or Physics

In the near term (this next decade) the lingua franca is coding and machine learning. Any kid graduating college with these skills today can get a job.

But this too, will be disrupted in the near future by A.I.

Long-Term… It’s Passion, Curiosity, Imagination, Critical Thinking, and Grit

I imagine a future in which robotics and A.I. will allow any of us, from ages 18 to 108, to easily and quickly find answers, create products and accomplish tasks, all simply by expressing our desires.

From “mind to manufactured in moments” — in short, we’ll be able to do and create almost whatever we want.

In such a future, I believe there are five critical attributes our children need to learn to become successful in their adult life:

1. PASSION: You’d be amazed at how many people don’t have a mission in life. A calling, something to jolt them out of bed every morning.

For my kids, I want to support them in finding their passion or purpose. Something uniquely theirs.

For me, it was exploring outer space. I LOVE space. Apollo and Star Trek ignited my flames. As much as my parents wanted me to become a physician, I was truly (and still am) a space cadet.

My goal for my 4-year-olds is to expose them to as many ideas as I can, and then fan the flames on whatever they want to do. (One of my closest friends loved playing video games in high school. Today he’s one of the world’s top video game designers. You can create a career from any passion!)

2. CURIOSITY: The next attribute that is critical during exponential times is curiosity. It is something that is innate in kids and yet something that most people lose over time.

In a world of Google, robots and A.I., raising a kid that is constantly asking questions and running “what if” experiments can be extremely valuable.

This is mostly because running constant experiments is fundamentally necessary on the path to success.

As Jeff Bezos said about success and innovation: “The way I think about it, if you want to invent, if you want to do any innovation, anything new, you’re going to have failures because you need to experiment. I think the amount of useful invention you do is directly proportional to the number of experiments you can run per week per month per year.”

I constantly ask my kids “what if” questions.

And if they ask, “What if…?” encourage them. Help paint the picture… And try to help them create an experiment to test that hypothetical situation.

3. IMAGINATION: Entrepreneurs and visionaries imagine the world (and the future) they want to live in, and then they create it. Kids happen to be some of the most imaginative humans around… it is critical that they know how important and liberating imagination can be.

Imagination goes hand in hand with curiosity and passion.

Richard Branson, CEO of Virgin Group, writes: “Imagination is one of humanity’s greatest qualities – without it, there would be no innovation, advancement or technology, and the world would be a very dull place.”

To my kids, the world is certainly not a dull place.

4. CRITICAL THINKING: In a world flooded with often-conflicting ideas, baseless claims, misleading headlines, negative news and misinformation, you have to think critically to find the signal in the noise.

Critical thinking is probably the hardest lesson to teach kids.

It takes time and experience, and you have to reinforce habits like investigation, curiosity, skepticism, and so on.

If you have ever talked to four-year-olds, you’re probably familiar with the “Why?” game.

It goes something like this:

Parent (enthusiastically): “It’s time to go to school!”

Kid: “Why?”

Parent: “Because you have to learn how to read and do math.”

Kid: “Why?”

Parent: “Because knowing how to read and do math is important.”

Kid: “Why?”

Parent (starts to get agitated): “Because… I said so!”

Kid: “Why?”

You get the idea.

My advice: Try not to BS them! Try to play this game and help them reason through complicated ideas and topics.

This game, though they don’t even know it, is the basis for critical thinking, and it’s up to you as a parent to encourage them and guide them through the questions.

5. GRIT: One of my favorite phrases these days is from Ray Kurzweil: “You’ve just got to live long enough to live forever.” Though I take it quite literally, it’s also a metaphor for persisting through challenges until you succeed.

Grit is seen as “passion and perseverance in pursuit of long-term goals,” and it has recently been widely acknowledged as one of the most important predictors of and contributors to success.

Teaching your kids that they can’t fail… is critical.

Heck, much of my success comes from not giving up. I joke that both XPRIZE and Zero-G were both “overnight successes after 10 years of hard work.”

You have to make a conscious effort to encourage your kids to keep trying, even if they mess up.

Our kids are growing up in the most exciting time ever. You’re living in it too.


Image Credit: Shutterstock.com

Peter Diamandis

Dr. Peter Diamandis was recently named by Fortune Magazine as one of the World’s 50 Greatest Leaders.

He is the founder and executive chairman of the XPRIZE Foundation which leads the world in designing and operating large-scale incentive competitions.

He is also the co-founder and executive chairman of Singularity University, a graduate-level Silicon Valley institution that counsels the world’s leaders on exponentially growing technologies.

Diamandis is also the co-founder and vice-chairman of Human Longevity Inc. (HLI), a genomics and cell therapy-based company focused on extending the healthy human lifespan.

In the field of commercial space, Diamandis is co-founder and co-chairman of Planetary Resources, a company designing spacecraft to enable the detection and prospecting of asteroids for fuels and precious materials.He is the also co-founder of Space Adventures and Zero Gravity Corporation.

Diamandis is a New York Times bestselling author of two books: Abundance – The Future Is Better Than You Think and BOLD – How to Go Big, Create Wealth and Impact the World.

He earned degrees in Molecular Genetics and Aerospace Engineering from MIT, and holds an M.D. from Harvard Medical School.

His motto is, “The best way to predict the future is to create it yourself.”

Discussion — 7 Responses

  • Cesar Romero July 21, 2015 on 12:13 pm

    I agree Mr. Diamandis. In a world where A.I will play a major role in our daily lives, it is critical to develop leaders who think and act BOLD.

    The world needs more people who are passionate, think critically, curious, and with imagination.

    Technology alone will not change the world. Only we can do that 🙂

  • denisrivin July 21, 2015 on 3:30 pm

    I agree so much that I just read the article out loud to my soon-to-be born child. Exciting times, indeed 🙂 Thank you!

  • Matthew July 22, 2015 on 11:41 am

    I am utterly sick of seeing elder generation’s diagnosis’ on what modern youth needs to survive in this completely artificial, unintuitive, and uninspired world. I worked my ass off all throughout my childhood and young adult life developing artistic skills I thought would get me some place in life. here is some of my work:


    these skills got me into one of the best fine art schools in the US–Maryland Institute College of Art. never heard of it? no surprise there. the arts is the bottom of the list of priorities in the brass tax of the real world. got a bachelor of fine arts in 3d animation hoping to land a job in some nice production or video game company. later that ambition was degraded to ANY job remotely related to the field. did an unpaid internship and applied everywhere under the sun to no avail while being forced to just struggle to survive with the other 99% of my time. to the lucky few who got a job at Disney or whatever making decent money, that’s great for that 1% of artists the rest of us are completely displaced by the mass entertainment media that we all ironically strived to become a productive member of. and now Disney is even writing algorithms that draw in the style of various artists and we could become even further disenfranchised and marginalized:


    but if only I had more passion, curiosity, imagination, critical thinking, and grit. give me a break. I have worked my ass of for nothing but this collection of masterpieces no one ever sees and 30 thousand dollars of debt that I will NEVER pay off. thank God my boyfriend of 11 years has supported me throughout this seemingly impossible time in my life, but I feel completely out of place, stagnate, and depressed that my skills have yet to find a place in the working world.

    I love you peter Diamandis. Your book Abundance has radically changed my life for the better and replaced some deep seeded and corrosive pessimism with well informed, desperately needed optimism about our present and potential future and I have recommended it to practically everyone I know, and practically everything I’ve written in various forums on the internet. and I love most of your articles on here. but this checklist of life goals is a bit naïve, condescending, and comprised of nothing more than prejudiced ageist assumptions about my generation and those younger than me, in my opinion.

    we are the most highly educated, intelligent (the Flynn effect), overqualified, hardest working, and underpaid and disenfranchised generation that ever existed in modern history. I acknowledge that we are far better off today than pre-industrialization, but in real dollars today people in 1969 were making $25 an hour in all those great factory jobs that don’t exist anymore. that would be a nice START so that we could better exemplify our passion, curiosity, imagination, critical thinking, and grit. but even with fair pay what do we have to look forward to? a bunch of service jobs. scrubbing toilets and feeding people. for 1/3rd of what we should be paid. how inspiring.

    if I had kids, my advice would be social skills, optimism for new solutions, and activism.

    -i would teach them that it is within our power to RADICALLY change the world simply (not only) by voting, but also in what we buy, and expressing our well informed (passionate) opinions to our network of loved ones on social media.

    -I would not let them watch mainstream media entertainment corporations and define themselves by the increasingly marginalized extremism that exists in a fraction of a fraction of people in the world just because this circus masquerading as journalism can make an easy buck on shock value fear and anger elevated to international discourse 24/7 instead of doing the harder yet more valuable work educating people on positive leadership, proliferating new solutions, and historically proven solutions.

    -I would make my children aware of the ACTUAL problems in the world. instead racist/classist/misogynistic/ageist paranoid delusions about nothing but anger and fear that affect practically no one. with no facts or history or viable solutions.

    -the collapse of the biosphere. in the past 40 years, 52% of wildlife in the world has been destroyed. “39 percent of terrestrial wildlife gone, 39 percent of marine wildlife gone, 76 percent of freshwater wildlife gone — all in the past 40 years.” factored into that 52% average.

    -acidification of the oceans

    -depletion of oxygen freshening in earth’s atmosphere from all that dead phytoplankton and foliage

    -aquifer depletion which further exacerbates desertification from global warming (yet another way in which 7.5 billion people adversely affect our environment)

    -i’d make them aware of the exponentially growing GDP that we ALL work to generate hijacked and controlled by plutocrats. in this new age of deliberate poverty. not a choice of the poor, but of the aristocracy inflicted upon certain groups (like Baltimore, the city I have lived loved and worked in since I went to art school in 2001). “in the age of information, ignorance is a choice.”

    -I would teach them that there is a direct link between the exponential growth in GDP and the spread of liberal democracies throughout the world. but it wouldn’t be some hedonistic Dionysian pre-ordained delusion of grandeur. I would make them acutely aware of how goods (sustainable material resources from our environment) and services (human rights) are cornerstones of economic output and to deny those things is what is un-American and not good for capitalism. that by helping and not harming each other, we all are richer and safer. and that CORRECTING* (not increasing, not pay raise) wages wouldn’t cause severe inflation it would continue the same steady rate it has been all along and that we already have 50 years of broken economy and inflation to correct and that the milk and bread is already too expensive.

    -I wouldn’t fill my kids with idealistic fantasies and lies and sit them in front of Disney kids and cartoons all day degrading their social skills and causing autism for the first 18 years of their lives, then treat them like some delusional asshole and kick them to the curb when they finally got their first taste of the harsh real world–when I felt it was time for them to become financially independent.

    -I would make them aware of the looming fatal threat of our legal guns. how guns in America have killed 360,000 US citizens since 9-11 (as of 2001). about the violence of our police force, how they have caused more US casualties since 2001 than in all of Iraq. we are having a WWII’s worth of death every 20 years (upwards of half a million casualties), because why? a hunting toy? fear of government? hope it’s worth it cuz half a million deaths every 20 years this is quickly becoming our bloodiest war ever, in this unspoken civil war. where every time it happens, the media and everyone pretend like it’s some isolated event they can’t understand. I would make them aware of all the hypocrisy and nuances surrounding this issue. only 3,000 died in 9-11. we have had 120 9-11s since then by our own hand from guns. since 9-11 about 50 US casualties from terror… 3 thousand and 50 vs. a HALF A MILLION??? and that’s in recent decades with homicides at an ALL TIME LOW!!! this Machiavellian/leviathan rule by violence for the greater good has GOT TO STOP. it just causes problems especially now that we have the resources and intelligence to solve them otherwise. and violence as conflict resolution is just a BAD EXAMPLE. safer than ever per capita, yet bloodier than our greatest wars. even the civil war. even counting deaths by attrition. it is not good for our psychology to witness all this bloodshed. and our other (arguably more important) right to life, and every conceivable right therein are extinguished every single time this one incorrectly perceived “right” goes wrong.

    -I would make them think critically about how every 5 minutes there are more US casualties from republicans refusing Medicaid expansion than all those who died in Benghazi. every 5 minutes. and what are the deaths by attrition from unfair pay? and bad healthcare? and lack of education? and lack of jobs? and who is to blame for those deaths?

    -I would teach them that (like many things) government is nothing to fear and that historically the vast majority of it protects human rights, mostly a good thing. especially in recent decades with sharp declines in all kinds of crime. a trend that goes all the way back to industrialization, the renaissance, and agriculture–our first paradigm of automation. I would make them aware of the dangers of the world, a network interconnecting 7.5 billion unique mind sets connected to our nation full of now mass produced legal weapons 1 per every man woman and child all 315 million of them. but also make them aware that all this surveillance is necessary to thwart these new, daily, impending attacks, and if we weren’t surveilled then we’d be blaming the gov’t for a lack of oversight. i’d teach them that the NSA really doesn’t care about your internet URLs or some stupid thing you said once in a chat or your grocery store receipts. these are paranoid delusions and they’re there mostly to protect human rights.

    -I would teach them that activism and collaboration can transform the world RADICALLY at light speed. that the time tables people set to estimate cultural politics and technological progress and sustainability can be SHATTERED and nothing is impossible or has to adhere to some ridiculous half a century long goal. all it takes is a little education for consensus building and what’s required economically. in the early 50s all the world’s scientists agreed that it would take 50 years of development to create a nuclear bomb. and they were right. based on the linear projections on existing technology, and funding they had available to them at the time. then WWII and Nazi Germany happened and that 50 years of R&D was compressed into THREE.

    -more importantly, I would make them read your book and books like it–the rational optimist, the singularity is near, beyond AI, super intelligence, etc. so that they could have an awareness about the AWESOME potential of exponentially growing technologies and alternative energies that WILL solve every conceivable problem–for themselves. let them learn to become engaged and care about things for themselves, instead of me just reciting these facts all day and fascistly dictating how they should act on them. more important than even that, I would try to get them to learn because they love it, however they want to. I would let them love however possible without fear of reprisal, I would trust them to make mistakes and learn from them without fascist argument and dictation. I would not judge them by obsolete criterion which no longer exist. and I would try to understand things from their contemporary perspective.

    -MOST importantly, I would teach them to be genuinely HAPPY. which, according to brain studies, involves accomplishing a ‘meaningful’ task which is difficult. happiness requires intelligence (in this complete artifice we have created for ourselves, totally severed from our instinctive hunter/gatherer biology–that is why I think internet and education should be a basic human right like food water shelter and clothing but we can’t even get that right). it requires good heath. it requires stable mind. and it requires a LOT of compassion from every possible source. and even more compassion from within. I would make sure I was there for them if they couldn’t find that.

    so please, enough of the lectures on pulling myself up by my bootstraps. I am well aware of the dangers and potential in this sad, misguided, confused, stagnate world. I have put a LOT of work in for the human race, for FAR less (if any) compensation than anyone else.

    in conclusion, please hire me for a portrait or something. I am literally dying here. periodontal/dental bills/rent/food/$30k student debt/boyfriend/dogs. last piece i did was like 70 hours for $150. so about $2 an hour. my work again:


    desperate times call for desperate measures.

  • Scribblerlarry July 22, 2015 on 9:26 pm

    What we teach our children about how to live in this world is irrelevant; this world will not be the one that our children inherit. All of us are pretending to be trying so hard to determine what our children will need. But we know what they need. We know it because it was what we needed – and didn’t really get – and are paying the price for not having.

    What they’ll really need has nothing to do with our silly guesses at what the world they’ll inherit from us will be like. Firstly because they might not. Inherit, that is. Because we might not die. Can you even imagine what a change that will make for them? So what we really need to do is to leave this a better world. And no, I DON’T mean leave them more money. I DO NOT mean that we need to leave them better off, as individuals, in a messed up world of greed and starvation and overpopulation and pollution, and ……. but you get the idea.

    But y’know what? I think you already know this. I think you’ve known it for a long time. And I think you – like me – are just too damned self interested to ‘get involved’ and help to make this world a better place. We’re also too damned selfish. We want OUR kids to be better off than other kids. So well screw up the world in order to try to do that instead of just making it a better world for ALL kids. One that has fair and equitable capitalism instead of this abomination of greed/oligarchy/fascism or the even worse horror of socialism. One that has universal health care for every one of us. One that offers free education to any level we can manage. One that has only one – necessary – crime for which there is the death penalty; that crime? Corruption in public office or the civil service. That is the one thing that kills more of us in spirit or in body than any other thing. And in a world that will likely include really long lives, that is the one thing we cannot tolerate.

    Think about it…..

  • Hessel Van Oorschot July 25, 2015 on 11:29 pm

    I get what you are saying and to some extend I agree.

    But thinking along your lines of an exponential world the answer simply is: we don’t know, we will do our utmost and hopefully time, place and a bit of luck will work in our kids favor.

    There is no such thing as teaching your kid curiosity. That’s in your dna or not. And in general girls have a head start.

    And reading your article more carefully many kids in Africa are ticking the boxes except for the part that their “expirements” will have direct effect on their lives, real time.

    So being born on the right part of the planet, being loved by a parent and introduced to impulses that make your hart tick faster is a good start.

    I am curious about your wife’s view, will she post too?

  • Roman Levytskyy July 27, 2015 on 12:49 pm

    Agree with advice for the short term.

    For the long term – lets face it, there is NOTHING your children can learn that will give them an edge when singularity comes. AI will be better at creativity, and imagination, and critical thinking, and anything else a human can do.

    What AI won’t be able to do – own resources/capital that AI/robots can work with. That’s what your children should acquire to stay on top when singularity hits.

    There might be some exceptions – occupations where it really matters to the customer that the worker be human, for example, athletes or dominatrices.