Bernanke told a college graduating class Saturday that the long-range practical consequences of innovations such as faster computers and the Internet are hard to predict. But he said inventors have only scratched the surface of the commercial applications that can be obtained in such fields as medicine and clean energy.
Bernanke's remarks came in a commencement address at Bard College at Simon's Rock, a small liberal arts college in Great Barrington, Mass. Bernanke's son Joel graduated from the school in 2006.
The Fed chairman did not make any comments about interest rates in his speech, saying he wanted to use his address to focus not on short-range economic problems but to speak about economic growth measured in decades.
"We live on a planet that is becoming richer and more populous and in which not only the most advanced economies but also large emerging market nations like China and India increasingly see their futures as tied to technological innovation," Bernanke said in a text of his remarks, which were released in Washington.
"The number of trained scientists and engineers is increasing rapidly, as are the resources for research being provided by universities, governments and the private sector," he said. "Both humanity's capacity to innovate and the incentives to innovate are greater today than at any other time in history."
Bernanke cited these factors to bolster the view that the current computer revolution will prove just as beneficial to increasing living standards as past industrial revolutions that gave the world the steam engine and railroads and then later electricity and airplanes.
The Fed chairman told the new graduates that the best way to succeed will be to keep learning.
"During your working lives, you will have to reinvent yourselves many times," he said. "Success and satisfaction will not come from mastering a fixed body of knowledge but from constant adaptation and creativity in a rapidly changing world."