Will.i.am is called many things... musician, artist, rapper, producer, and now he'd like to add "geek" to the mix. Why? Because he believes his tech-savvy teen fans have the potential to change the course of the current economic crisis in America, a topic he addressed in depth in his blog for The Huffington Post.
We talked to will.i.am, who admitted to being depressed by television coverage of the worsening economy, as well as not-so-great statistics regarding America's education system. But his frustration quickly turned to optimism when he got involved with the kids and teens that make up the U.S. FIRST Robotics program.
"I saw what they were doing, writing code, excelling in mathematics and engineering and building robots and I was like, ';Why are we complaining? Why am I being scared to death?' Yes, I know it's bad, but that's like someone telling me, ';Will, you have the flu.' I can beat the flu. Yeah, it hurts and you're tired, you're weak, you're throwing up... but you're not always going to have the flu. Right now America has the flu. We don't have cancer. We're just under the weather."
"I'm tired, just as everyone else is," he said. "How do we create jobs? Are we waiting for government to do it? We shouldn't because government only makes government jobs. It's gonna take inventors, creative people, visionaries, companions, communities... that's what creates jobs. This is my part of Yes We Can. I'm inspired, the same way I was inspired in 2008, but the kids are doing it now."
So if the metaphor is that America has the flu, these kids at U.S. FIRST are Vitamin C. "It's computer science, community, competition, it's creativity," he said. "Vitamin C. Boom. Helping America's flu."
He continues, "For too long we've put the spotlight on entertainment only. You put the spotlight on these kids that have dedicated themselves in science, mathematics, engineering, robotics... so my niece and nephew grow up to want to be like them - there's more jobs around [those sectors] for kids to graduate in. Educating our youth, getting them equipped for tomorrow, it's real homeland security."
In order to elevate what he experienced at the 20th annual FIRST championships in St. Louis back in April to the mainstream, he created a back-to-school TV special airing Sunday night on ABC titled "i am FIRST: Science is Rock and Roll." The show, which features special guests including Aerosmith's Steven Tyler, U2's Bono, Britney Spears, Justin Bieber, Miley Cyrus, Jack Black and Willow Smith, encourages students to pursue academic excellence in the sciences by showcasing FIRST competitors as the rock stars of the future.
"I was talking to a 14-year-old who was writing code and making LEGOs go 15 miles per hour," he said. "I'm inspired by these kids, I'm inspired by programs like this and I'm doing all I can, just like I did all I could for ';Yes We Can.' I figured out a way to break through the noise."
Watch the highlight reel of our Live Chat with will.i.am below
"All you have to do is make an inventor a celebrity," he said, referencing America's celebrity-obsessed culture and the need for more positive news. "The journalists have to care about the mind and the imagination more than the drama and the dysfunction. That's what has to change."
Our conversation turned more towards anticipating the technological advances of the future as he divulged that he believes "versions" of flying cars and teleportation are not that far off, as well as a true global community where "the world is connected faster via technology than policies."
"When you think of the future, replace the word future with 'It's coming,' he said. "That's what the future is, they're concepts that aren't here yet and the way you bring them here are science and technology and mathematics. I can't wait for people to start imagining new things for people to execute."
As for his next project, will.i.am is looking to countries outside the U.S. as inspiration. We asked him about one of the groups he's producing, Korean group 2NE1.
"Ooh. K-pop. You want to talk about technology? The Koreans, in South Korea... that's the future," he said. "South Korea, boom. On the next level. Go check it out. K-Pop, that industry is exciting. 2NE1, that's why I signed those girls and am producing them, to blow them up outside of Korea. 2NE1 has to be big in Brazil, America, England, Canada, Australia, everywhere. That's my next project after ';i am FIRST.'
Join will.i.am later today for a live chat on Cambio from the Pacific Design Center in Los Angeles, California. Refresh this page at 4PM EST/1PM PST to see the chat and participate. You can tweet your questions from now until the end of the chat using the hashtag #iamFIRSTchat or leave a comment on the live chat page.
By Stacy Hinojosa