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Google's Thrun: 'We're really dumbing down our children'

Google fellow and Stanford University computer scientist Sebastian Thrun -- who is ranked #4 on our Global Thinkers list for his work developing and promoting self-driving cars -- spoke during this afternoon's panel on "The New Economic Sources of Power." Thrun was withering in his assessment of the U.S. education system: 

The thing that pains me by far the most is education and the direction where we're going. I think we're going in exactly the opposite direction from where we should be going. We're really dumbing down our children. We're doing an increasingly lousy job with high schools. We have increasingly misguided policies in bills such as No Child Left Behind. If you look at the students at a place like Stanford and the international students we could draw from, I think we are neglecting the most important resource which is human capital.

He was equally critical of American higher education:

Right now, in the United States, if you attend college, your parents pay $4,000 per class if it’s an Ivy League school, if it’s the University of Pheonix, maybe $1,200, and the product you’re getting is about 1,000 years old. Sitting in a class with a professor costs a lot of money and is very inefficient and mediocre.

On transportation, Thrun mocked states for investing in high-speed rail, which he called a "19th-century technology" that will soon be overtaken by more efficient and intelligent car designs.

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Sandoval on energy independence: It's the cars, stupid

Much of this afternoon's panel discussion on strategic resource challenges has focused on the impact of America's natural gas boom on the global energy picture. By Assistant Secretary of Energy for Policy and International Affairs David Sandoval cautioned the audience not to think that fracking and pipeline building would lead to an energy-independent America:

Increasing energy supplies in the United States is extremely important. Reducing our oil important plays all kinds of dividends. Energy independence of the type that's usually conceived of in the public mind requires something else, which is to change our transportation fleet so it's no longer as dependent on oil as it is today.

The single most important statistic in the energy world is that 95 percent of the energy used to move our cars and trucks comes from one resource and that's petroleum. That doesn't seem odd to us because we all grew up in a world where 95 percent of our cars and trucks and fueled by petroleum and so did our parents and our grandparents. But it is in some ways odd and it has profound geopolitical implications, profound economic implications, and profound environmental implication.

Sandoval highlighted the plug-in hybrid Chevy Volt, as well as vehicles fueled by natural gas and biofuels as potential strategic game changers.