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WATCH: Henry Louis Gates, Jr. — Visions of the Future

How will resources and opportunity be distributed in the future? American Scholar Henry Louis Gates, Jr. hopes that the advances of technology will benefit everyone. Created by Big History Project.

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Video transcript

I'm Henry Louis Gates, Jr. and I have the pleasure of being a professor at Harvard University. What does the future hold for the human community? I think it's so exciting. With even the recent technological advances being so dramatic, I can imagine the capacity to wipe out the most common forms of disease, of space travel at speeds that we can't imagine. Maybe we'll be able to teleport each other just like science fiction writers have prophesized for years and years and years. The distances between continents will metaphorically grow much shorter. And that means that the metaphysical differences, the differences of understanding, the philosophical and religious differences between people can quite probably become diminished as well. Then we can remember that we are members of one family, the human community, that all of us are descended from a small group of people that walked out of Africa 60,000 years ago. That no matter how different we look, whether you're black or white or red or yellow or brown, whether you have straight hair or kinky hair, that we are all descended from the same common ancestors who lived in Africa as recently as 60,000 years ago. Economic scarcity, far too often, religious differences have made us forget our common humanity. So the question facing your generation will be, what sort of world will the average person be able to live in? Will they be... will they be able to take advantage of these technological advances to live longer, better, healthier, more humane lives, be better educated, take advantage of all of these great unimaginable developments in knowledge that our thinkers will produce? Or will some of us have disproportionate access to these resources? Will there be huge class differentials both here in the United States and throughout the world? Will there be a third world of poverty and a first world of economic prosperity and economic development? That, I think, is the fundamental question facing your generation. And I have absolutely no doubt that you will make the right decision about the distribution of wealth and knowledge.