Issue Number 260 June 30, 2019

This free Information Age Education Newsletter is edited by Dave Moursund and produced by Ken Loge. The newsletter is one component of the Information Age Education (IAE) and Advancement of Globally Appropriate Technology and Education (AGATE) publications.

All back issues of the newsletter and subscription information are available online. In addition, seven free books based on the newsletters are available: Joy of Learning; Validity and Credibility of Information; Education for Students’ Futures; Understanding and Mastering Complexity; Consciousness and Morality: Recent Research Developments; Creating an Appropriate 21st Century Education; and Common Core State Standards for Education in America.

Dave Moursund’s newly revised and updated book, The Fourth R (Second Edition), is now available in both English and Spanish (Moursund, 2018, link). The unifying theme of the book is that the 4th R of Reasoning/Computational Thinking is fundamental to empowering today’s students and their teachers throughout the K-12 curriculum. The first edition was published in December, 2016, the second edition in August, 2018, and the Spanish translation of the second edition in September, 2018. The three books have now had a combined total of more than 42,000 page-views and downloads.

At the upcoming June 2019 annual conference of the International Society for Technology in Education, Dave Moursund will be honored for having been ISTE’s founder in 1979. This newsletter and several that will follow it are a short break in the current sequence of newsletters focusing on roles of computers and math in the history curriculum.

Predicting the Future

David Moursund
Professor Emeritus, College of Education
University of Oregon

“The most dangerous experiment we can conduct with our children is to keep schooling the same at a time when every other aspect of our society is dramatically changing.” (Chris Dede; American computer educator and futurist; from written statement to the PCAST panel, 1997.)

“If you don't know where you are going, you're likely to end up somewhere else.” (Lawrence J. Peter; American educator of “Peter's Principles” fame; 1919-1990.)

“If an elderly but distinguished scientist says that something is possible he is almost certainly right, but if he says that it is impossible he is very probably wrong.” (Arthur C. Clarke; British science fiction author, inventor, and futurist; 1917–2008.)

I don’t claim to be very good at predicting the future of computers in education. But, from time to time in the past I have taken a stab at being a Futurist. It is quite fascinating to go back in time and read many of the predictions made by very well informed persons, and especially to note how many of these predictions proved to be completely wrong.

One of Dave Moursund’s Early Efforts As a Futurist

I recently came across my 1988 April Fool’s editorial that I wrote as a joke to predict what the future would be in 1998: A Report On the All Purpose Relatively Intelligent Learner Computer. I found the editorial while browsing through some of my old issues of The Computing Teacher, a publication of the International Council for Computers in Education (ICCE).

Note to readers: ICCE grew to become the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) and The Computing Teacher eventually morphed into ISTE’s journal, Empowered Learner.

This newsletter reprints the 1988 editorial with [parenthetical remarks] to indicate some of my relatively successful predictions and other terribly poor predictions. It also explores a few predictions made by others in the past that have failed to come true, and ends with some suggested classroom activities.

Now enjoy the editorial that I wrote as a 1988 April Fool’s joke to predict what the future would be in 1998 (Moursund, April,1988, link).

A Report On the All Purpose Relatively Intelligent Learner Computer

It is well known that the major computer hardware systems we can purchase commercially are about five years behind the state-of-the-art of products currently functioning in the research labs of companies such as International Business Machines or Nippon Telegraph and Telephone. What is less well known is that the top secret military research labs in the United States are about five years ahead of the company research labs.

A short while ago I was given a tour of one of these top secret labs. (That is one of the privileges of being Editor-in-Chief of an outstanding computers in education periodical.) Of course, they didn't show me any of the really "top" secret stuff. And I had to sign a form promising that I would not reveal the location of this research lab. But I did receive permission to write about educational implications of what I saw. [Remember, this story is fiction.]

I received a personal tour with a general as a guide. What I saw really blew my mind. The computer system that most impressed me was the size of a tape cassette player and weighed about two pounds including its batteries. [My current tablet computer weighs just a little over a pound.] At first I thought it was a small CD-ROM player, and indeed that is one of its functions. The CD-ROMs it uses are about 3 centimeters (a little over an inch) in diameter and can store one billion bytes of information on each side of the disk. The computer has two of these laser disc drives. One can only read laser discs while the other is a WORM (Write Once Read Many) drive. I think the idea is that they want to create a permanent record of every use of the computer. The computer has a small pocket on the side of its carrying case. It looked to me like it will hold several dozen CD-ROM discs. [Not a very good forecast. While CD-ROM disks still exist, thumb drives can be thought of as somewhat of a replacement. My recent search of the Web found several places where I can purchase 64 Gigabyte drives for under $12. Also, good connectivity and storage in the cloud are alternatives to CD-ROM disks.]

I asked about the speed of this computer and its memory size. The general told me that it uses fiber optics, an optical central processing unit, and makes use of super conductivity. [Although Superconducting is used in today’s experimental Quantum Computers, we are still a very long way from this guess at the future.] While the general didn't give me precise details (perhaps due to a lack of knowing specific details), my guess is that the machine is at least a thousand times as fast as a Macintosh II, or several times as fast as the largest Cray computer currently available. The general was unable to give me detailed information about the primary memory, but suggested it is in excess of 32 megabytes. [Today’s high-end smartphones are faster than the Cray computer. My low guess in the editorial of about 32 megabytes is downright embarrassing. I am keyboarding this document on my iMac computer that has 8 gigabytes of memory, or 250 times my 32 megabytes guess.]

I couldn't see a display screen on the computer, and the whole outside case was so small that it couldn't hold a keyboard. I asked where the keyboard and the display unit plugged in.

The general laughed and handed me a bullet proof helmet with a strange looking pair of goggles. It reminded me of a world war II tank movie I had seen on television a few days earlier. The general indicated that the helmet and goggles connected to the computer via narrow band radio, with a highly secure encrypting and decrypting system used to ensure security. The same system, operating on a different channel, allows voice and/or computer contact with other people having similar communication systems. The setup includes audio output through speakers built into the sides of the helmet and voice input through a microphone built into the chin strap.

The general explained that the computer system uses voice input and voice output. But, I said, what if one needs to look at a table of data or view a map stored in the computer? And, what role do the goggles play?

Again the general laughed, and then helped me to put on the helmet and goggles. Surprise! The goggles are a heads-up computer display. That is, I could see through the goggles and have a clear view of the room around me. But when the computer was switched on, I could also see a full screen display right before my eyes! [I thought that was a far out idea for 1988, but my recent Google search indicates heads-up displays in military fighter planes go back well before that time. Voice input and output are in common use today, and one can now purchase a motorcycle helmet with a heads-up display.]

By that time I think the general was having fun at how overwhelmed I appeared. The general showed me how to call up a map of a military training post. The heads-up display showed me a photograph that looked like it was taken from several miles up. Using spoken commands such as Lower, Higher, Left, Right, Up, and Down, I was able to focus in on any part of the base. One of the buildings I looked at seemed to be designed to store high explosives and there were four guards standing at the only door. The general suggested I say the word Location. When I did so, the coordinates and elevation of the building appeared on the display. I made a guess and said the word Contents. As an inventory of the building contents appeared on the display the general ripped the goggles off my face. My guess is that it was not appropriate for me to see that the building contained more than a dozen twenty megaton nuclear weapons!

Needless to say, that ended the hands-on part of my tour. Near the end of the tour I asked if I could talk to one of the programmers or some other technical person. Fortunately for me, just at that time we encountered a relatively young person in civilian clothes who proved to be a technical expert.

First I asked about what it might cost to mass produce this computer system. I was told that the military expects to produce about three million of these computer systems, with mass production scheduled to begin in 1998. In mass production, the ruggedized military version of this computer system will cost about $1,500 apiece. My guess is that a civilian version, suitable for use in schools, will cost under $400. [Taking inflation into consideration, the $400 was not quite $900 in today’s terms. It is now common for schools to be making use of Internet-connected laptops with color displays that cost under $400.]

Next I asked about some of the technical specifications of the hardware and I asked what programming language was being used to develop the software. I guess that the general standing there rather intimidated the technical person, as the response was quite guarded. But I was told that the hardware is called the All Purpose Relatively Intelligent Learner (APRIL) computer since it makes extensive use of recent advances in artificial intelligence. The language used to write the software is called the First Operational Optical Language (FOOL).

Retrospective Comment Added 4/2/2002

This editorial was first published in the April, 1988, issue of The Computing Teacher as my first attempt to write an April Fool’s editorial. Several of my students read only part of it, and then quoted it in assignments that they turned in to me. I heard stories that others had done the same thing. They completely missed the point that it was a joke, and so quoted it as representing what exists right now. A number of other people noted that the ideas in the article were really not very far into the future. My conclusion was that I should probably give up on writing April Fool’s editorials.

Retrospective Comment Added 5/24/2019

Compared to 1988, today’s computer technology makes the actual technology of 31 years ago seem very primitive. The world now has the capability of providing every student with a tablet computer and/or a smart phone, access to the Internet and Web, and increasingly powerful Highly Individualized, Intelligent, Interactive Computer-Assisted Learning (HIIICAL) materials that cover most school curriculum areas.

It is clear that our hardware and software/courseware capabilities will continue to improve. What is less clear is the extent to which we will learn to make effective use of such capabilities in PreK-12 education.

It we look at adults in today’s world, we find they are learning to make routine use of such technology. Yet our schools still depend heavily on closed book, no-computer testing. My vision of the future is that we eventually will provide an open computer, open connectivity type of education that can better prepare our students for the adult world of today and tomorrow. For more of my thoughts on this topic, see my free book, The Fourth R (Second Edition) (Moursund, 2018, link).

Some Amusing, Incorrect Forecasts

Anyone can make forecasts for the future. We each do this all the time. For example, many of us depend on the weather forecasts. Computers play a major role in weather forecasting, and the science of weather forecasting is getting better over time, but still has considerable room for improvement.

Some forecasts have more credibility than others. Consider the following statement made by Thomas Edison in 1913:

“Books will soon be obsolete in the schools.... Scholars will soon be able to instruct through the eye. It is possible to touch every branch of human knowledge with the motion picture.” (Thomas A. Edison; American inventor and businessman; 1847–1931.)
The development of motion pictures was a truly great achievement. But, what would motion pictures be used for? Certainly for entertainment, and certainly they would have educational value. However, a prediction that they would cause books to become obsolete seems to be a ridiculous one for a person to have made in 1913.

Here are two more of my favorite very poor forecasts:

“I think there’s a world market for about 5 computers.” (Thomas J. Watson, IBM Chairman of the Board, circa 1948.)

“It would appear that we have reached the limits of what it is possible to achieve with computer technology, although one should be careful with such statements, as they tend to sound pretty silly in 5 years.” (John Von Neumann, circa 1949.)

Both of these people played major roles in the development and proliferation of computers. At least John Von Neuman had the good sense to suggest that his prediction might be wrong. Neither foresaw the future importance of the transistor that had only just been invented in 1948, nor that of the integrated circuit invented in 1949, as it took years for these inventions to come into widescale use.

Computers are now ubiquitous, but it was not easy to see that this would occur. In 1968, an engineer at the Advanced Computing Systems Division of IBM asked, “But what is it good for?” when commenting on the microchip. And, here is a 1977 quote from Ken Olson, President of Digital Equipment Corporation (at one time a very large and successful manufacturer of computers), “There is no reason for any individual to have a computer in his home.” This last statement was made at a time when the computer on a chip had already existed for a half-dozen years and the microcomputer computer explosion was just beginning.

Next, think about the concept of a paperless office (or a paperless classroom). It has long been forecast that this would soon occur, but soon still seems to be quite a long way away (Allen, 2002, link).

In 1970 the futurist Alvin Toffler proclaimed that “making paper copies of anything is a primitive use of machines and violates their very spirit.” Five years later the head of Xerox’s Palo Alto Research Center began to see the paperless office on the horizon and ventured that in the future “I don’t know how much hard copy I’ll want in this world.”
To conclude with a more positive finale to this section, here is a quotation from someone who really got it right:
“In their capacity as a tool, computers will be but a ripple on the surface of our culture. In their capacity as intellectual challenge, they are without precedent in the cultural history of mankind.” (Edsger Dijkstra; Dutch computer scientist; 1930-2002.)
Suggested Classroom Activities

Here is an important question to consider: What do we want students in our schools to learn about predicting the future?

For example, we want them to learn that there are consequences for actions that they are considering taking. If I am standing in a lunch line and am considering shoving the person in front of me, I should know that there will be consequences, and some of these may be unpleasant.

These three activities could be adapted for student exploration in a variety of curriculum areas and grade levels. The first two are based on the collection of online quotations at 101 Great Computer Programming Quotes: Predictions that Didn’t Come True (Toady, 1/11/2008, link).

Select one of the failed predictions and then imagine/predict what the world would be like today had it actually come true. Would the world be better or worse today?

Select one of the predictions that has come true, and then imagine/predict what the world would be like today had it had not come true. Would the world be better or worse today?

Challenge students to make their own predictions for “ten years from now . . .” and then describe how the success of their prediction might change the world we live in today.

The activities below are taken from the Special Message for Teachers section of the IAE-pedia article, What the Future Is Bringing Us (Moursund, 2019, link).

Consider establishing a "futures" time period each week, in which you engage your students in an exploration of possible futures they will live in and how the subject(s) you are teaching are helping to prepare them for these possible futures. One way to do this is to select a topic from this year’s list, or other annual lists published on this website. Engage students in a discussion of what they know about the topic. Perhaps point them to some material to read. Engage them in a discussion of how the content you are teaching fits in with preparing them for life in a world in which the forecasts on this website may well come true.

Another approach is to encourage your students to bring in hard copy materials and Web links that contain forecasts of the future. Each week a different small team of students could assume responsibility for leading the weekly "futures" session.

Still another approach is to raise the following question with your students near the beginning of any new unit of study: "What changes are going on around the world that are having a major impact on this unit of study?" The idea is to emphasize change and the understanding that you are helping your students to get an education that prepares them for a changing world.

Teachers working with students may also be interested in having the students research and report on one or more "futures predictions" from 5 to 10 years ago, or perhaps when they were in first grade, or the year they were born, and so on. They can find out which predictions have become part of our world today and which ones failed to materialize, and why or why not in each case.
Final Remarks

Accurate forecasting sometimes allows us to change the future. Suppose that early one morning I listen to a local weather forecaster predict heavy rain starting at 10:00 AM and continuing for the rest of the day. Based on this forecast, I wear my raincoat and carry an umbrella when I leave home to go to work. It rains all day. Without this forecast, I would likely have ended up both wet and cold later in the day. Acting on the forecast changed my future. Accurate forecasting sometimes allows us to change the future.

Think about the consequences of my acting on a prediction that proves to be wrong. Perhaps it doesn’t rain at all that day. I will feel embarrassed to be seen carrying an umbrella and wearing a raincoat on a day that turns out to bright, warm, and sunny. The key idea is that predictions have varying levels of correctness, and acting on predictions that may well be incorrect can have poor consequences. This concept is well worth helping students to learn, both in and outside of school.

Science lets us make quite accurate predictions in many different situations. As one example, we can accurately predict what time the sun will rise and set at a particular location on earth for many years in advance. We can predict the time and path of the next eclipse of the sun. What do we want our students to learn about probability, and about forecasts based on statistical analysis?

We can work to improve our own accuracy in making many types of predictions. It also is important to help our students to develop their own skill in making predictions, as well as their skill in analyzing predictions made by others.

References and Resources

Allen, F.E. (November/December, 2002). The myth of the paperless office, and why yours is messier than ever. American Heritage. Retrieved 5/27/2019 from https://www.americanheritage.com/myth-paperless-office.

Moursund, D. (2019). What the future is bringing us. IAE-pedia. Retrieved 5/26/2019 from http://iae-pedia.org/What_the_Future_is_Bringing_Us.

Moursund, D. (2018). The Fourth R (Second Edition). Eugene, OR: Information Age Education. Retrieved 1/3/2019 from http://iae-pedia.org/The_Fourth_R_(Second_Edition). Download the Microsoft Word file from http://i-a-e.org/downloads/free-ebooks-by-dave-moursund/307-the-fourth-r-second-edition.html. Download the PDF file from http://i-a-e.org/downloads/free-ebooks-by-dave-moursund/308-the-fourth-r-second-edition-1.html. Download the Spanish edition from http://iae-pedia.org/La_Cuarta_R_(Segunda_Edici%C3%B3n).

Moursund, D. (2016). Three 1987 math scenarios. IAE-pedia. Retrieved 5/27/2019 from http://iae-pedia.org/Three_1987_Math_Education_Scenarios.

Moursund, D. (April, 1988). A report on the All Purpose Relatively Intelligent Learner computer. The Computing Teacher. Access a PDF of this document at http://i-a-e.org/downloads/doc_download/69-april-1987-88.html.

Moursund, D. (March, 1987). Chesslandia: A parable. IAE-pedia. Retrieved 5/26/2019 from http://iae-pedia.org/Chesslandia.

Moursund, D., & Billings, K. (1988). An elementary school scenario. SIG CUE Outlook. Published by the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) in Fall, 1988. A free online version of this scenario is available at http://iae-pedia.org/An_Elementary_School_Scenario.

Sylwester, R. (2007). 20/20 vision for 2020 challenges. IAE-pedia. Retrieved 5/26/2019 from http://iae-pedia.org/20/20_Vision_for_2020_Challenges.

Toady, T. (1/ 11/ 2008). 101 Great computer programming quotes: Predictions that didn’t come true. DevTopics. Retrieved 5/29/2019 from http://www.devtopics.com/101-great-computer-programming-quotes/.

Author

David Moursund is an Emeritus Professor of Education at the University of Oregon, and editor 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 (now published by ISTE as Empowered Learner).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 IAE books. See http://iaepedia.org/Main_Page#IAE_in_a_Nutshell . Information Age Education is now fully integrated into the 501(c)(3) non-profit corporation, Advancement of Globally Appropriate Technology and Education (AGATE) that was established in 2016. David Moursund is the Chief Executive Officer of AGATE.

Email: moursund@uoregon.edu

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About Information Age Education, Inc.

Information Age Education is a non-profit organization dedicated to improving education for learners of all ages throughout the world. Current IAE activities and free materials include the IAE-pedia at http://iae-pedia.org, a Website containing free books and articles at http://i-a-e.org/, a Blog at http://i-a-e.org/iae-blog.html, and the free newsletter you are now reading. See all back issues of the Blog at http://iae-pedia.org/IAE_Blog and all back issues of the Newsletter at http://i-a-e.org/iae-newsletter.html.