Accelerating Change

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On the approaching Singularity


The Star Tribune’s Karen Youso interviewed me for what I thought would be a short sidebar article on accelerating change, but it wound up taking the full front page of the Variety section in today’s paper. I’m absolutely delighted to see mainstream media discuss the Technological Singularity! … especially since the article contains questions for human capital development and our education systems!

Read the article here.
My favorite part:

“We send kids to school, they move grade by grade, using the 18th-century model, and during that time, the whole world has changed so much. How relevant is that education?” asked Moravec. “We’re training them for jobs that existed 20 years ago, not for those that’ll exist when they finish school.”

Want more? Here are online resources for learning more, gathered by the StarTribune.

Singularity University

Singularity University

This past week

A shockwave passed through the singularity community today with the public launch of Singularity University at the NASA Ames campus in Silicon Valley.  Singularity University aims to assemble a world class community of thought leaders, academics, and entreprenuers across the many fields of exponentially advancing technologies (nanotechnology, genetics, medicine, artificial intelligence, etc.) in order to address humanity’s grand challenges.

With significant backing from Google and NASA, and with the participation of a renowned cast of faculty and advisors, Singularity University is poised to literally overnight become a world class institution for the innovation, collaboration, and leadership that will allow the world to capitalize on the great promise of technology to solve the world’s greatest problems…

Founded by Ray Kurzweil, Peter Diamandis (X Prize Foundation), and Larry Page (Google), the Singularity University focus its curriculum on technologies surrounding:

  • Future Studies & Forecasting
  • Networks & Computing Systems
  • Biotechnology & Bioinformatics
  • Nanotechnology
  • Medicine, Neuroscience & Human Enhancement
  • AI, Robotics, & Cognitive Computing
  • Energy & Ecological Systems
  • Space & Physical Sciences
  • Policy, Law & Ethics
  • Finance & Entrepreneurship

What’s missing, however, is a human capital development focus.  As the world approaches the Technological Singularity, how can we design better human capital futures?  Moreover, what are the social, cultural, and educational elements we need to start studying and working on today to ensure our success? …our survival?

My-oh-my, have times changed

Thanks to Jamie Schumacher for passing along the video link:

“Imagine […] turning on your home computer to read the day’s newspaper.”

…and, 28 years later, newspapers are shutting down because they cannot compete with the home computer.

We're always busy, but doing nothing


Here’s another look at accelerating change. On Friday, the New York Times published an excellent review of Dalton Conley’s book, Elsewhere U.S.A.:

“A new breed of American has arrived on the scene,” Conley, a professor at New York University, declares in “Elsewhere, U.S.A.,” his compact guidebook to our nervous new world. Instead of individuals searching for authenticity, we are “intraviduals” defined by shifting personas and really cool electronics, which help us manage “the myriad data streams, impulses, desires and even consciousnesses that we experience in our heads as we navigate multiple worlds.” The denizens of our “Elsewhere Society,” Conley argues, “are only convinced they’re in the right place, doing the right thing, at the right time, when they’re on their way to the next destination. Constant motion is a balm to a culture in which the very notion of authenticity . . . has been shattered into a thousand e-mails.”

Conley looks at the social transformations that were created by technological change between the mid 20th century through today. Organization and individualism have given way to intravidualism, “an ethic of fragmented selves replacing the modern ethic of individualism.” Work, play, and everything in between are blurring into non-discrete moments of incoherentness. We’re going somewhere, but we do not know where. Then again, no matter where we go, there we are.

This has serious consequences for human capital development. Perhaps to better succeed in what appears to be a directionless society of busybodies, we need to create a New Individualism, and re-orient education for developing strategic leadership at the individual level? …for learning how to cope with increased chaos and ambiguity? …for knowing how to be more selective in how new technologies are used before the technologies use us?

Toward a smarter planet

Last month, IBM took out a two-page advertisement in the Wall Street Journal that touted their vision for a smarter planet. They believe:

The world continues to get “smaller” and “flatter.” But we see now that being connected isn’t enough. Fortunately, something else is happening that holds new potential: the planet is becoming smarter.

That is, intelligence is being infused into the way the world literally works—into the systems, processes and infrastructure that enable physical goods to be developed, manufactured, bought and sold. That allow services to be delivered. That facilitate the movement of everything from money and oil to water and electrons. And that help billions of people work and live.

Furthermore, they write that the smarter planet is powered by three drivers:

  • The world is becoming instrumented. By 2010, there will be a billion transistors per human, each one costing one ten-millionth of a cent.
  • The world is becoming interconnected. With a trillion networked things—cars, roadways, pipelines, appliances, pharmaceuticals and even livestock—the amount of information created by those interactions grows exponentially.
  • All things are becoming intelligent. Algorithms and powerful systems can analyze and turn those mountains of data into actual decisions and actions that make the world work better. Smarter.

What does this mean for the futures of our various institutions?  For our hopes in quality of life?  IBM examines these questions in their blog, Building a Smarter Planet. They don’t provide answers, but they get the conversation going.

With the world becoming increasingly instrumented, interconnected, and intelligent, what new opportunities and challenges are presented to education and human capital development systems?

Adapting to technological and social change in education

In response to yesterday’s post: Change is accelerating: Get ready!

Socially adapting to the pace and direction of technology changes has been a mixed bag. Sometimes, consumer pressures have the effect of driving change; sometimes consumers are indifferent; and at other times they challenge or resist a particular technological innovation. In Kurzweil’s case, some consumers are challenging the potential of technologies he’s projecting for the future.

Most challenges in advance of marketable products and services indicate ignorance more than fear. Most consumers do not read speculative (read science) fiction, and those over a certain age (about 35) usually don’t flock to science fiction movies or television shows. (No, “Lost” is not science fiction!) Hanging on to the past is easier and more defensible in the absence of known alternatives.

Where the rubber hits the road is the effects of adoption lags and challenges that affect education. While Leapfrog Institutes actively promotes the use of hand held, Web-enabled devices to facilitate 24/7 learning, schools sometimes challenge Web schools and -in the US- collect students’ tech hardware at the school door. This is a remarkable example of how ignorance of alternatives produces counter-productive and even anti-intellectual outcomes.

Kurzweil has a great projective track record. His futures are already on the way. The spoils will go to those organizations and societies that act as Beta sites for new technologies, not those who compulsively challenge, shrink away, or actively resist. The bottom line: get involved in testing and assessing new technologies, even when they are projected and not yet “real”.

Change is accelerating: Get ready!

Change is the theme of this week, and we open with a reminder from Ray Kurzweil that change is accelerating. Last week, the New York Times’ John Tierney published an interview with Kurzweil on accelerating change:

Now, [Kurzweil] sees biology, medicine, energy and other fields being revolutionized by information technology. His graphs [of accelerating technological change] already show the beginning of exponential progress in nanotechnology, in the ease of gene sequencing, in the resolution of brain scans. With these new tools, he says, by the 2020s we’ll be adding computers to our brains and building machines as smart as ourselves.

Kurzweil has a track record of being correct with his projections of technological advancement. What does this mean for education? What changes would take place in our schools within the next 12-22 years as technology transforms the human mind and human potential? This week, we will consider these questions, and look at both U.S. presidential candidates’ proposals for changing education for a better future.

Speaking of Kurzweil, he is busy adapting his book, The Singularity is Near, into a movie of the same title. Originally planned for release this spring, it’s now slated to surface sometime later in 2008.

Intellectual property rights in 2025

The European Patent Office engaged in a two-year futuring project on futures for intellectual property rights in 2025, interviewing 50 key players – including critics – from the fields of science, business, politics, ethics, economics and law. Their opinions were sought opinions on how intellectual property and patenting might evolve over the next fifteen to twenty years.

Four primary scenarios were developed from the projects activities:

  • Market Rules (business): The story of consolidation in the face of a system that has been so successful that it is collapsing under its own weight
  • Whose Game? (geopolitics): The story of conflict in the face of changing geopolitical balances and competing ambitions
  • Trees of Knowledge (society): The story of erosion in the face of diminishing societal trust
  • Blue Skies (technology): The story of differentiation in the face of global systemic crises

These scenarios are driven by five driving forces that create the most uncertainty:

  • Power: “globalisation has redefined this power structure, with established sources of authority – such as governments – challenged by the many new powerful actors that are forming alliances and cutting across traditional boundaries”
  • Global Jungle: “economic, social and political competitive flattening of the world between a multiplicity of players that include countries, regions, hotspots and city states, market sectors, global companies, organisational and business models, consumer markets and workforces, business and universities as well as cultures. In this global jungle, there are many who are ill-equipped to adapt.”
  • Rate of Change: “The growing divide between the short and long-term goals leads us to ask: How do humans and their institutions adjust to cope with the rate of change?”
  • Systemic Risks: “There are also major risks created by our dependency on the complex natural and man-made systems that support humanity.”
  • Knowledge Paradox: “The transformation of data into information and then into knowledge – information that can be utilised to build capabilities – is also far from straightforward. This raises the question: As information becomes increasingly abundant, what knowledge has value?”

More is available in the free “Scenarios for the Future” compendium, which is available from the EPO website.

The path to Education 3.0

Here are the slides from the first half of my talk with Dr. Cristóbal Cobo at CUAED (UNAM) yesterday that described the pathway toward Education 3.0:

In addition to the work I mentioned during the talk, I recommend the following resources to participants:

  1. Allee, V. (2003). The future of knowledge: Increasing prosperity through value networks. Amsterdam ; Boston: Butterworth-Heinemann.
  2. Gibbons, M., Lomoges, C., Nowotny, H., Schwartzman, S., Scott, P., & Trow, M. (1994). The new production of knowledge: The dynamics of science and research in contemporary societies. London: Sage.
  3. Hakken, D. (2003). The knowledge landscapes of cyberspace. New York: Routledge.
  4. Kurzweil, R. (2005). The Singularity is near: When humans transcend biology. New York: Viking.
  5. McElroy, M. W. (2003). The new knowledge management: Complexity, learning, and sustainable innovation. Burlington, MA: Butterworth-Heinemann.
  6. Moravec, J. W. (2006). Chaordic knowledge production: A systems-based response to critical education. Theory of Science, XV/XXVIII(3), 149-162.
  7. Pink, D. H. (2005). A whole new mind: Moving from the information age to the conceptual age. New York: Riverhead.

Update 18 April:Dr. Cobo posted more thoughts and resources from the conference at e-rgonomic.

Chinese higher education explodes, impact unknown

From a recent article from Inside Higher Ed:

For all the hyperbole, facts about what’s actually happening on the ground in China can be hard to come by. A new study by economists at universities in Canada, New Zealand and China aims to document what its title calls “the higher educational transformation of China and its global implications,” collecting in one place statistics and other information about enrollments, demographic changes, numbers of colleges and faculty publishing, among other categories.

From the working paper‘s abstract:

The number of undergraduate and graduate students in China has been grown at approximately 30% per year since 1999, and the number of graduates at all levels of higher education in China has approximately quadrupled in the last 6 years. The size of entering classes of new students and total student enrollments have risen even faster, and have approximately quintupled. Prior to 1999 increases in these areas were much smaller. Much of the increased spending is focused on elite universities, and new academic contracts differ sharply from earlier ones with no tenure and annual publication quotas often used. All of these changes have already had large impacts on China’s higher educational system and are beginning to be felt by the wider global educational structure. We suggest that even more major impacts will follow in the years to come and there are implications for global trade both directly in ideas, and in idea derived products. (emphasis added)

Given the explosive growth of Chinese higher education –and potential effects on social, cultural, and economic transformations, it is not surprising that the impact has not been probed. Change may be occurring far faster than researchers and policy directors can measure.

(Thanks to Tom Abeles for forwarding the source article.)