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This issue of the IAE Newsletter is the second of two newsletters on
the topic of Technological Singularity, and is part of the Education
for Student’s Futures series of newsletters.
Education for Students’ Futures
Part 21: Education for the Coming Technological Singularity
Professor Emeritus, College of Education
University of Oregon
“In times of change, the learner will
inherit the earth while the learned are beautifully equipped for a
world that no longer exists.” (Eric Hoffer; American social writer and
This is the second of two IAE Newsletters
about our rapidly changing technology. The previous newsletter
introduced the idea of a technological singularity
. The term technological singularity refers to some time in the future when computers become much “smarter” than people.
Right now the rate of technological change is both large and rapidly
increasing. We have artificially intelligent computer systems that are
more capable than humans in certain limited areas, and we have
artificially intelligent robots that are taking over many jobs
previously performed by human workers. However, we still seem far from
a time in which computer intelligence and capabilities exceed human
intelligence and capabilities over the broad range of human endeavors.
Remember, the current estimated life expectancy of today’s precollege
students is about 80 years. So, our current K-12 educational system is
preparing students for what they will do during the 60 or more years
after they leave high school. Think back over the changes our world has
seen in the past 60 years. Now try to imagine what would constitute a
good education for a future of 60 years of rapidly accelerating change.
The next two sections provide my current insights and recommendations
about this question.
Educational Implications: Foundational Ideas
This newsletter is motivated by the (possibly coming)
technological singularity, and our current high and accelerating pace
of technological change. Our educational system is currently facing
many other challenges, and they are not going away!
First, consider the current balance between a “past-oriented” and a
“future-oriented” education. When the world was changing only slowly, a
past-oriented education served us well. Adults could easily adjust to
the very small number of Science, Technology, Engineering, and
Mathematics (STEM) changes that occurred during their lifetime.
This slowly evolving educational system served humanity well even as
reading, writing, and arithmetic were developed and very, very slowly
were introduced to the masses. Most of the world’s population remained
illiterate for thousands of years after the development of these three
“basics” of today’s education.
Reading, writing, and arithmetic, along with oral communication skills,
remain essential today. However, the technology-enhanced environment in
which we perform these activities has changed. A modern and
future-looking educational system prepares students to function well in
our current “connected and computerized” world, and also lays a
foundation that will help our future adults adjust to continuing rapid
Second, consider aids to teaching and learning. Books were (and still
are) a tremendous aid, as were audio and video recording and playback
systems. All of these, and much more are available in today’s
state-of-the-art teaching machines. Such teaching machines are
interactive and make effective use of modern technological aids to
learning and doing reading, writing, arithmetic—and thinking, problem solving, and communication
. Technology and Problem Solving: PreK-12 Education for Adult Life, Careers, and Further Education
is a free short book that provides an overview of such teaching machines (Moursund, 2015).
Third, consider the idea of learning to work with computer technology
rather than compete with it. What can human beings do well that
computers cannot do or can only do quite poorly? We need to help all of
our students better understand the intrinsic human characteristics that
make us so different from computers.
We are a very long way from having computers that have the knowledge
and skills of a caring, loving, human with well-developed and routinely
used good “people skills.” An increasing number of future jobs will go
to job seekers who have well-developed “human” strengths and who can
employ these strengths when working with robots and general-purpose
Educational Implications: Specific Recommendations
Here is my current list of specific recommendations to
students, parents, and others who are concerned about today’s students
getting a modern education. I am sure you can add to the list. Please
take advantage of the Comments
feature at the end of this IAE Newsletter
to share your ideas with a large audience.
To begin, think about what distinguishes people
from the machines and tools humans have developed as aids to their
physical and mental capabilities. Perhaps words such as compassion,
empathy, loyalty, tenderness, and spirituality come to mind. Perhaps
you think about sharing feelings such as love, joy, happiness, sadness,
fear, and anger. Some people have love-hate relationships with their
car or computer, but these are not reciprocated from the tools back to
So, here are some specific recommendations:
How Fast Is Technology Changing?
- Develop your “people” and communication skills. Become fluent in
face-to-face, written, and computer communication skills. If you have
the opportunities to do so, become bilingual and bicultural. Become a
“people person” and a “citizen of the world.”
- Focus your education on gaining higher-order, creative thinking,
understanding, and problem-solving knowledge and skills in whatever
areas you decide to study.
- Learn about current and near-term capabilities and limitations of
computers and robots. Plan your education and develop your abilities so
that you do not end up in head-to-head competition with computers and
robots in areas that they are already quite good at and are getting
better (Moursund, 2/11/2015; Boehm, 2/8/2014).
- Make very sure that you learn to make effective and fluent use of
Information and Communication Technology (ICT), both in general and in
the discipline areas you choose to study. Remember, the combination of
a human brain and a computer brain can often outperform either one
working alone (Moursund, 2014).
- If you are “really into” computers, continue to develop your
computer knowledge and skills, but also work toward gaining a high
level of expertise in one or more other career fields. This will help
prepare you for many of the new jobs that are being developed that
require a combination of ICT and “traditional” knowledge and skills.
- Develop learning skills and habits of mind that will serve you
throughout your lifetime. For example, learn about persistence along
with the concepts of intrinsic motivation, reflection, and instant
gratification (Moursund, 1/28/2014).
- Identify your specific physical and mental strengths and
weaknesses as a learner and “doer” in each area that you study. Develop
and exploit your strengths, and work to overcome your weaknesses.
- This final recommendation is specifically for students. Think
about what you want in your future. What informal and formal education
do you need to help ensure that you will achieve a decent quality of life?
Remember the quote, “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.” Make
sure that you gain knowledge and skills that support possible
avocations, hobbies, and other non-vocational aspects of your future.
The following chronological list captures billions of
years of “intellectual” change. I find it helps me to think about the
very slow pace of change for billions of years, and the increasingly
rapid current and likely future pace of change.
- Life on earth started with in the first simple cells and their
genetic coding of information using RNA and later DNA. This began about
3.6. billion years ago. Within a hundred million years, multi-celled
life forms developed. A DNA molecule stores the equivalent of about 1,000 books of data.
- Over the next three billion years, more complex life forms
developed. Life forms developed with a precursor to a brain of
gradually increasing complexity to store and process information. By a
half-billion years ago a basic ganglia structure existed in some
animals, and this is considered to be a start of a brain. It provided
information storage that supplemented the DNA storage, and eventually
evolved into our current mammalian brain.
- The first primate-like animals developed about 65 million years
ago. They were a product of well over three billion years of evolution.
It was a mere 200,000 years ago that anatomically modern humans with
our current brains developed. The storage capacity
of a human brain is probably in the range of two million to two billion
books. Our brains both store and process information. We both learn and forget.
- A mere 5,200 years ago, writing and reading were developed by
humans as aids to storing and retrieving information. We finally had
long-term information storage that could easily be shared among many
people and relatively accurately passed on from generation to
generation. Libraries could grow in size and additional libraries could
- Less than 80 years ago, electronic digital computers were
developed as aids to storing, processing, and retrieving information. A
single “run” of the Large Hadron Collider
produces about 30 petabytes of data—the equivalent of about 30 billion
books. Today’s fasted supercomputers can perform more than 100 million
billion arithmetic computations per second. (Compare that number with
how long it takes you to do a multiplication or division of two
Photography, telephones, television, electronic storage and playback
devices, and computers are all predecessors to today’s Smartphone. The
first commercially available telephone combining the concepts of
intelligence, data processing, and visual display screens into
telephones became available in 1993. Both in 2013 and in 2014, total
worldwide production of Smartphones was about 1 billion per year—that
is, about one for each person on earth in each of these two years.
The “smartness” of Smartphones is quite impressive and increasing year
to year. Some of the smartness features are a Global Positioning
System, a voice input and output system, and access to increasingly
smart Web search engines. Some of the artificially intelligent
smartness is built into a Smartphone, and some comes from access to and
use of the steadily growing accumulation of human knowledge stored on
the Web and in other digital libraries. That is, the Smartphones that
people are buying right now continue to increase in capability and
intelligence through progress in improving the smartness of devices
outside of computers and improving the capabilities of the global
Here are two quotes that capture the essence of this IAE Newsletter:
welcome the future, remembering that soon it will be the past; and we
must respect the past, remembering that it was once all that was
humanly possible.” (George Santayana; Spanish citizen raised and
educated in the United States, generally considered an American man of
“In times of change, the learner will inherit
the earth while the learned are beautifully equipped for a world that
no longer exists.” (Eric Hoffer; American social writer and
What You Can Do
“When you teach, you learn twice.” (Seneca; Roman philosopher and advocate of cooperative learning; 4 BC-65 AD.)
Your knowledge, skill set, and insights make you different from every
other person. As you interact with other people, you are both a teacher
and a learner. As a teacher, you can help shape the future lives of
Select a couple of the bulleted items in the Specific Recommendations
section that seem particularly important to you. Bring these ideas up
in discussions with your colleagues and students. Especially, share
them with your students and engage them in thinking about how the ideas
are being integrated into their current education. Listen carefully
to—and learn from—their insights into what they believe would improve
the education they are receiving.
Boehm, M. (2/8/2014). Job polarisation and the decline of middle-class workers’ wages. VOX Cepr’s Policy Portal. Retrieved 2/12/2015 from http://www.voxeu.org/article/job-polarisation-and-decline-middle-class-workers-wages.
Moursund, D. (2015). Technology and problem solving: PreK-12 Education for adult life, careers, and further education. Eugene, OR: Information Age Education. Download the Microsoft Word file from http://i-a-e.org/downloads/free-ebooks-by-dave-moursund/266-technology-and-problem-solving-in-prek-12-education.html. Download the PDF file from http://i-a-e.org/downloads/free-ebooks-by-dave-moursund/267-technology-and-problem-solving-in-prek-12-education-1.html. Web document: http://iae-pedia.org/Technology_and_Problem_Solving.
Moursund, D. (2/11/2015). Robots are here and lots more are coming. IAE Blog. Retrieved 2/14/2015 from http://i-a-e.org/iae-blog/entry/robots-are-here-and-lots-more-are-coming.html.
Moursund, D. (2014). Two brains are better than one. IAE-pedia. Retrieved 2/11/2015 from http://iae-pedia.org/Two_Brains_Are_Better_Than_One.
Moursund, D. (1/28/2014). Good learners. IAE Blog. Retrieved 3/1/2015 from http://iae.dreamsteep.com/index.php/iae-blog/entry/good-learners.
David Moursund is an
Emeritus Professor of Education at the University of Oregon, and
coeditor of the IAE Newsletter.
His professional career includes founding the International Society for
Technology in Education (ISTE) in 1979, serving as ISTE’s executive
officer for 19 years, and establishing ISTE’s flagship publication, Learning and Leading with Technology.
He was the major professor or co-major professor for 82 doctoral
students. He has presented hundreds of professional talks and
workshops. He has authored or coauthored more than 60 academic books
and hundreds of articles. Many of these books are available free
online. See http://iaepedia.org/David_Moursund_Books. In 2007,
Moursund founded Information Age Education (IAE). IAE provides free
online educational materials via its IAE-pedia,
IAE Newsletter, IAE Blog, and books. See http://iaepedia.org/Main_Page#IAE_in_a_Nutshell.
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