Technology Changes Everything?

Edge World Question Center
Edge World Question Center

Every year the literary agent and publisher John Brockman asks a group of thinkers an important question. Their answers are published on the (horribly designed) website. This year’s question is: What will change everything? What game-changing scientific ideas and developments do you expect to live to see?

More than 140 well known authors have answered the question and it provides for fascinating reading. What struck me was how many of the writers see some technological development as game changing.

Keith Devlin for example writes:

The mobile phone. Within my lifetime I fully expect almost every living human adult, and most children, in the world to own one. (Neither the pen nor the typewriter came even close to that level of adoption, nor did the automobile.) That puts global connectivity, immense computational power, and access to all the world’s knowledge amassed over many centuries, in everyone’s hands.

Many match a development in technology, to a change in how we educate and improve our knowledge (usually to then make this world a much better place; most of these writers are very optimistic).

Chris Anderson (curator of the fabulous TED) has a very rosy-eyed view on how the low physical cost of digital distribution will transform global education through the dissemination of knowledge and inspiration:

Five years ago, an amazing teacher or professor with the ability to truly catalyze the lives of his or her students could realistically hope to impact maybe 100 people each year. Today that same teacher can have their words spread on video to millions of eager students.

Haim Harari is more realistic. He writes:

Of the six billion people on our planet, at least four billions are not participating in the knowledge revolution. Hundreds of millions are born to illiterate mothers, never drink clean water, have no medical care and never use a phone. […] The “buzz words” of distant learning, individualized learning, and all other technology-driven changes in education, remain largely on paper, far from becoming a daily reality in the majority of the world’s schools.

He then asks a very interesting question:

How come the richest person on the globe is not someone who had a brilliant idea about using technology for bringing education to the billions of school children of the world?

Next he posits that the time does seem ripe for this to change:

  • Globalisation forces us to see the enormous knowledge gaps in the world.
  • Technology advances make designing tailor-made solutions for schools and education worth considering.
  • The generation that grew up with computers is know turning up to teach in the classroom.
  • Children participate in web-based social networks forcing education to radically adapt.
  • A connected child cannot be taught the same way people were taught decades ago.

Do you think Harari is right? Will we live to see a game changing development in education through the use of technology?