Posted by: crudbasher | March 20, 2012

Education In The Face Of Exponential Change

“Few people who know of the work of Langley, Lilienthal, Pilcher, Maxim and Chanute but will be inclined to believe that long before the year 2000 A.D., and very probably before 1950, a successful aeroplane will have soared and come home safe and sound.” – H.G. Wells – 1901

I have found several people to guide me  on this journey of learning. One of them is Ray Kurzweil. I have written about him before. The reason I find his work fascinating is it changed my way of thinking about the rate of technological change. Most people think of change has happening in a linear way. Kurzweil makes a good case that the change is actually exponential.

Why does this matter? Science fiction writers like H.G. Wells have always given us a glimpse of a possible future. For example, most people I would wager believe that eventually we will have robots that can think and interact with us in a natural way. We have seen so many amazing technological innovations in the last 10 years many of us believe this is possible? People don’t really differ much on the question of if, but more of when. If you are thinking linearly, you might think it will take 50-100 years. If you think exponentially like Kurzweil, you realize it will happen much faster than that.

Here is a short video clip with Ray Kurzweil.

The sort of world he envisions where we augment reality with glasses and then contact lenses is not too far off. He also talks about computers becoming much, much smaller, to the point of them being embedded in our everyday lives. Right now we have smart phones but in the future everything will be smart.

So how will the factory model of education fair in these rapidly changing times? Not well I’m afraid. Consider the dilemma of the horse drawn buggy makers of a century ago. I’m sure they were discussing how to reform their product to compete against the automobile. Perhaps the reason nobody has come up with a surefire way to improve public education is because there isn’t one? The biggest reason I don’t think it will survive is because the nature of the system is to deliberately resist big changes. It is designed to protect the status quo. Still, we spend almost a trillion dollars on education in the US every year so it would take maybe 50-100 years for something to come along and disrupt that right?

Here’s my rule of thumb for predicting innovations as learned from Kurzweil: When you are considering what the future may look like, take your best time estimate, and then cut it in half. Radical disruptive change might be right around the corner.


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