Information Age Education Blog

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10 minutes reading time (2081 words)

Education for the Coming Technological Singularity

“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 philosopher; 1902-1983.)

This is Part 2 of a two-part IAE Blog entry about our rapidly changing technology. The previous entry 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 IAE Blog entry 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 technological progress.

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 characteristicsthat 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 computer systems.

Educational Implications: Specific Recommendations

This sections contains my current 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 Blog entry 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 the people.

Here are some specific recommendations:

  • 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 use 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.

How Fast Is Technology Changing?

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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 be built.
  5. 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 multidigit numbers.)

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 communications network.

Final Remarks

Here are two quotes that capture the essence of this IAE Blog entry:

“We must 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 letters; 1863-1952.)

“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 philosopher; 1902-1983.)

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 many people.

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.

References

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. (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.

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.

Suggested Readings from IAE

Moursund, D. (January, 2015). Education for students' futures. Part 17: Folk computing and folk mathing. IAE Newsletter. Retrieved 2/16/2015 from http://i-a-e.org/newsletters/IAE-Newsletter-2015-154.html.

Moursund, D. (11/23/2014). Big data: A new facet of science research. IAE Blog. Retrieved 2/14/2014 from http://i-a-e.org/iae-blog/entry/big-data-a-new-facet-of-science-research.html

Moursund, D. (9/18/2014). Disruptive innovations in education. IAE Blog. Retrieved 2/12/2015 from http://i-a-e.org/iae-blog/entry/disruptive-innovations-in-education.html.

Moursund, D. (9/1/2014). A mind-expanding experience. IAE Blog. Retrieved 11/20/2014 from http://i-a-e.org/iae-blog/entry/a-mind-expanding-experience.html.

Sylwester, R. (October, 2014). Credibility and validity of information. Part 1: Introduction. IAE Newsletter. Retrieved 2/18/2015 from http://i-a-e.org/newsletters/IAE-Newsletter-2014-147.html.

Sylwester, R., & Moursund, D., eds. (March, 2014). Understanding and mastering complexity. Eugene, OR: Information Age Education. Download the PDF file from http://i-a-e.org/downloads/doc_download/256-understanding-and-mastering-complexity.html. Download the Microsoft Word file from http://i-a-e.org/downloads/doc_download/255-understanding-and-mastering-complexity.html.

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Comments

David Moursund (website) on Wednesday, 18 March 2015 21:56
Kurzweil and Watson

Hello David,
I've been a fan for several years and get the IAE newsletter.

Preface my comments with two things:
1. You may have already heard this
2. We have been discussing/debating AI at work.

Reading Feb 25, Info Age Ed Blog, I was a little concerned with the Kurweil reference to Watson response to "A long, tiresome speech delivered by a frothy pie topping." But then I looked up both terms on Google under crossword clues and both "meringue" and "harangue" were the top answers.

I do worry about the future of AI and noted the protesters at SXSW in Austin. It would be nice to know a little more about the level of sophistication of the algorithms used to sort through the data.

Keep up the good work.
Rocky Harris

Hello David, I've been a fan for several years and get the IAE newsletter. Preface my comments with two things: 1. You may have already heard this 2. We have been discussing/debating AI at work. Reading Feb 25, Info Age Ed Blog, I was a little concerned with the Kurweil reference to Watson response to "A long, tiresome speech delivered by a frothy pie topping." But then I looked up both terms on Google under crossword clues and both "meringue" and "harangue" were the top answers. I do worry about the future of AI and noted the protesters at SXSW in Austin. It would be nice to know a little more about the level of sophistication of the algorithms used to sort through the data. Keep up the good work. Rocky Harris
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