Of late, I have been reflecting on the meaning of life and trying to come to grips with the loss of my soulmate, Tavinder. Over Christmas, I went on a four-day silence and meditation retreat in Southern India and then visited the ancient holy city of Varanasi. Silence and meditation are amazing — and cleansing — and I recommend that you try it sometime. There are retreats all over the world, offered by modern-day gurus who have repackaged ancient wisdom, and the messages and techniques are more or less the same.
I couldn’t, however, find the answers to my deepest questions, even after spending hours in the company of the Dalai Lama, visiting the holiest of religious sites, and reading several sacred texts. All I could conclude was that there is more to life than we understand and that the best way to live it is by helping others and giving back to the world. Life is unpredictable, and everything changes before you know it. Money may be necessary for survival, but too much of it becomes a burden and leads to greed and unhappiness. What you will be remembered for is not what you accumulated while you were alive, but what you gave to others.
This is why I made the decision to donate to India the most valuable intellectual asset I have, something I spent a decade creating: the curriculum that I teach to students at Carnegie Mellon University and the workshops that I charge leading companies six-figure sums for. It is the most advanced course on exponential technologies, industry disruptions, innovation methods, and technology ethics in the world. At CMU’s engineering school, which is the best in the U.S., the class is amongst the highest ranked. And what I am proudest of is that my son Tarun, who teaches with me, is rated higher than most of the entire university’s tenured faculty — and me! We have long waiting lists of students wanting to be admitted and get frequent emails from former students thanking us for changing their lives by teaching them to think bigger and focus on the opportunities to better humankind.
When I met Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi last October and presented him with a grand plan for curing cancer and building a $200-billion medical industry, he was very supportive and asked his Principal Scientific Adviser, K. Vijay Raghavan, to make it happen. What he wanted from me were more ideas on boosting the Indian economy to meet his target of an annual GDP of $5 trillion. I shared some possibilities with him, but began to realize that it will take more than technology. The key is for India to improve its education system and unleash the ability of its entrepreneurs to solve the grand challenges of humanity. This is exactly what I teach, how to build trillion-dollar industries; and it’s what I am offering India — because of Modi’s request.
While I was in Varanasi, I was delighted to receive a message over Twitter from India’s greatest mover and shaker, Amitabh Kant, CEO of the powerful think tank and government planning commission NITI Aayog. He asked me to meet him and address a who’s who of Indian policy, which I did. I was amazed at how open-minded and grounded Amitabh and his team were. I have advised several heads of state and government innovation initiatives, including in the U.S., Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Russia, Hong Kong, and Mexico, and none is even close to matching this group’s vision and impact.
I offered Amitabh the curriculum, and he was very excited about accepting it. But I felt like the dog chasing the bus: I had caught it, but now what did I do with it? How do you convert a graduate engineering class and executive education program into something that can be taught to hundreds of thousands of students every year in a country in which the basic education system is weak?
This is going to be my next challenge. I am not going to be teaching at CMU beyond this semester. I plan to work instead with a who’s who of Indian education, including the chairman of its engineering education regulatory body, Anil Sahasrabudhe, to create a curriculum that helps India leap ahead of the rest of the world. Instead of Indian students’ having to travel abroad for advanced education, my goal is to create something that students from all over the world, including the U.S. and Europe, flock to India for. India’s engineering education may be stuck in the past, but it is not that much behind the West: all universities have dated curricula and ancient teaching methods. And none are communicating adequately on the convergences of technologies and their disruptive capabilities.
Is my goal possible? Frankly, I don’t know, because everything is hard in India, and there are always unnecessary obstacles. But I will give it my best.
I wrote my first article after many months, at the prodding of Malini Goyal of The Economic Times. She kept asking me to comment about the risks of A.I. and superintelligence. I told her that it was complete nonsense, to think more deeply and look at her own spiritual values. The premise that you can upload or recreate human consciousness assumes that there is no such thing as a soul. Yes, A.I. may seem intelligent, but it is in no way “intelligent” as humans are and will never have human values or emotion…. And yes, my views are evolving as I think more deeply about life, the sprit, and humanity.
This was published with permission from the author.