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Futurist Speaks at Convocation Kicking Off VMI’s 184th Academic Year

Peter Leyden

Peter Leyden, futurist and keynote speaker, directs attention to a slide presentation at VMI’s Academic Convocation in Cameron Hall.—VMI Photo by H. Lockwood McLaughlin.

The Academic Convocation ceremony opening the 184th academic year was held at Virginia Military Institute Sept. 6, 2023, in Cameron Hall. Brig. Gen. Robert Moreschi, Ph.D., dean of the faculty and deputy superintendent for academics, welcomed the Corps of Cadets, members of the academic board, other faculty, staff, and guests, and especially the Rat Mass to their first convocation, marking a moment to pause and celebrate a fresh start. He thanked the alumni and other benefactors for their generous support of VMI programs and initiatives. Moreschi also recognized the cadets distinguished in academic merit who were present, as well as the many contributions of the faculty over the past academic year.

Maj. Gen. Cedric T. Wins ’85, superintendent, noted that the Institute has experienced many changes since its founding. “Teaching methods are modernized, our facilities are state-of-the-art, opportunities for cadets are expanding, and our daily schedule has evolved. However, it is also important to review our fundamentals and to stay focused on our true north. We know VMI is a school like no other, and some things will never change. Those, of course, are our foundational principles that make our system of education unique: The Honor Code, our class and our regimental systems, and the physical demands that begin with the Rat Line. Our foundation has not changed from its inception. We are firmly rooted in a strong sense of honor and service in everything that we do. Cadets come here to learn in the classroom, but also to become leaders and commit to a life of honor and integrity. Our method of education is unique, and our expectations are high. These fundamental values have proven themselves to produce cadets who live a life of service rooted in civility,” he said.

Wins added that VMI has a tradition of bringing in diverse groups of speakers from all walks of life before introducing the keynote speaker, Peter Leyden, a futurist, tech expert, and foresight adviser.

Leyden opened his talk by sharing a commonality with the cadets—that he attended a military academy during high school years and credits his military upbringing for the leadership and public speaking skills that enable him to stand up in front of large groups all over the world.

In his talk titled, “The Transformation of Our World to 2050,” Leyden speculated on a new era of human progress—that of an age of artificial intelligence. “All through civilization’s history, we had basically developed with our own muscle power and the power of animals. Then in the Industrial Revolution, we figured out how to create mechanical machines and amplified our physical powers. But up until now, anything to do with intelligence had to do with human brains. Now we have crossed a huge threshold into creating machines that can act intelligently, and we won’t be going back,” he said.

Leyden believes there are many positive things that could come out of the development of AI, but he conceded that there are risks from its use, as well. “Any general-purpose technology can be used for bad things, too. Some of the negative things are going to have to do with defense because there are going to be bad people using this technology for difficult things.”

Addressing the cadets directly, Leyden concluded, “We are looking into potentially another great age of progress similar to what America has been through many times before. I think we’re going to find, by the end of the century, some kind of totally sustainable way that the world will operate.

“You are entering the most fascinating and amazing 25 years that planet Earth has been through for a long time. You are going to live lives that will blow your mind, with the changes that are coming, and the possibilities that are out there. As you start this new year, keep in mind you are living some extraordinary history, and you will live some extraordinary lives,”

Leyden is the founder of Reinvent Futures, where he serves as strategic adviser to senior leaders of organizations. He hosts both virtual and in-person events that bring together top innovators from diverse fields impacting the future. He co-authored two influential books on the future: “The Long Boom: A Vision For The Coming Age of Prosperity” and “What’s Next? Exploring the New Terrain for Business.” He also writes online pieces, including “The Great Progression: 2025 to 2050,” and is regularly interviewed by the media and podcasts.

Leyden was managing editor of WIRED magazine in the 1990s and learned the futures business while working for Global Business Network. He spent a four-year cycle helping transition politics to the Internet and served on former President Barack Obama’s Technology and Media Advisory Committee during the latter’s 2008 presidential campaign.

Leyden started his career as a journalist, including working as a foreign correspondent in Asia for Newsweek magazine, and has traveled to more than 50 countries. He graduated summa cum laude from Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., and has two master’s degrees from Columbia University in New York.